Making Adjustments
(April 2013)

Before I go on and talk about the upcoming draft and free agents there is one nagging issue about this past Browns season still eating at me. When Pat Shurmur brought both Nolan Cromwell and former Viking Head Coach Brad Childress on board, I really thought that last year’s offense was really going to take off, even with all the youth and inexperience. And to me it all came down to one thing, the inability to make adjustments as the game went on. Looking back on it, the 2012 Browns were an awful second half team. With the addition of Cromwell and Childress to the offensive staff, two proven guys along with Pat Shurmur, I didn’t really expect that.

I have a policy I call the Lennie Wilkens Rule that I use when evaluating coaches. Whether it is on a grass or turf field, a hardwood floor, or an ice rink, the Wilkens Rule applies to how a coach makes in game adjustments after time outs and intermissions. Wilkens’s Cavs teams didn’t always score when coming off a break in the action, but they almost always ran a play or made an adjustment that did give his teams a good opportunity to score. It was Wilkens’s ability to make game time adjustments that made him one of the best coaches Cleveland sports fans have seen in the last thirty years. It was Pat Shurmur inability to make similar game decisions that cost his team victories last year and consequently his job.

Pat Shurmur since his demise as Browns coach has been painted as a poor one. Maybe so, but he did a lot of things right as a head coach. He was a good mentor to the young men on the team; the team did play hard each Sunday; and he protected his young players from the media, for the most part. But he did a very poor job of making half time adjustments, and that inability at doing that caused the team to lose enough games that they shouldn’t have and, consequently, cost him and most of his coaches their jobs.

Lets take a quick look at how halftime adjustments, or better yet lack of halftime adjustments, cost the Browns in 2012:

In week 3 the Browns were down 14-7 to the Bills at half, and went on to score only seven second half points and lose 24-14. In week 4 against the Ravens they were down 9-7 at half then went on to manage only three field goals in a 23-16 loss. During week 7 they were down 14-6 to the Colts at halftime and mange one second half score in a 17-13 lose. During week 9 they were trailing the Ravens 14-9 at halftime, only to manage two-second half-field goals. In a 25-15 loss during week 10 at Dallas the Browns lead the Cowboys 13-0 at halftime only to lose 23-20 in overtime. During week 15 they were leading the RGIII less Redskins 14-10 at halftime only to lose and be embarrassed 38-21. And in the closer at Pittsburgh the Browns were down 10-3 at halftime, and managed only one second half score and lost to the Steelers 24-10.

The Browns win two of those games and we might not of had a coaching change. In each of those games just mentioned, the Browns were very much in each game at halftime. Even if they were down, they were within striking distance of the lead. But instead of doing things at halftime to put the Browns in position to win, they time and time again did what it took to lose, especially offensively.

Nowhere were they more outcoached than the loss at home against the Redskins. The Browns took a 14-10 lead to the locker room, plus the ‘Skins had to deal with the loss of Robert Griffin III for the rest of the game. Conventional wisdom would give the Browns a good chance for a victory, but instead they did not make the halftime adjustments the Redskins did. With RGIII their offense featured a downfield passing attack and a running quarterback. With back up Kurt Cousin the second half featured zone running plays and complimentary short range play action bootleg plays. The Browns did the same thing they did the first half offensively and were out of the game halfway through the fourth quarter.

No team can waste any time at halftime, there is much to. First the players usually get off their feet and get something to drink. If someone needs to be treated for an injury or retaped he gets that done. Other might change their shoes, of if it a hot day change part of their uniform.

The coaches meet by offensive and defensive staffs. Offensive coaching staffs will go over first half stats and charts, looking at what plays worked and which didn’t, as well as what coverages and fronts the defense used against them. The coaches discuss any tendencies they didn’t anticipate, such as blitzing on a specific down or shifting defensive linemen.
What should be done in the second half is discussed next. Have they held back any plays from the first half? What has worked that was expected to work and what hasn’t? Is there any personal changes needed? Anyone injured? Is the defense given us something we haven’t anticipated?

Probably the most important thing the coaches discuss is what needs to be presented to the players before they go back on the field. When talking to individual players and the offensive unit together coaches want to be as positive as possible. You want everyone to have a positive vibe coming back on the field. What the Browns did at halftime is anyone’s guess.

Even during time outs it seemed the Browns were not productive. TV networks love the shot of the star quarterback talking to the head coach on the sideline during time outs. Tom Brady and Bill Belechick, Dan Marino and Don Shula, etc.. Browns fans can vision Bernie and Marty, Sam and Sipe, even Frank Ryan and Blanton Collier, on the sidelines during a time out discussing what to do next in a crucial situation. This year we saw Pat Shurmur looking at his playlist, Pat Shurmur looking at the backside of the playlist, then sending Brandon Weedon back in the game. It did not seem to be a very productive situation.

This year’s Browns offense should be much improved over last year. The young players at almost every position will be a year older and a year wiser. Let us hope Rob Chudzinski and his staff get more out of the talent at hand than the previous coaching staff.

About Free Agency and the Draft…As I write this free agency is just starting and the draft is a month away. I like the cornerback Dee Miller from Alabama. Along with defensive ends Dion Jordan from Oregon and Barkevious Mingo from LSU, one of the three should be there with the Browns sixth pick in the first round. I think were fine with Weedon at quarter back and with Hardesty and Richardson in the backfield. The offensive line is solid with three number one picks, but you can never have too many good linemen. A mentoring wide receiver would be good. Several pass rushing linebackers would be good, and another safety is needed.

I feel very strongly that the Browns return a solid core of players, a team much better than their record showed last year. Last year’s draft was the best in the new era of the Browns, and I will be greatly disappointed if they don’t make the playoffs this season.