From a Coach’s Point of View: Did Seattle Change the Blueprint for the Browns?
When the Seattle Seahawks defeated the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, they won with a team blueprint different then the one the Browns have been presenting to their fans during the Haslem era. Seattle won with a solid ground game; a great defense; and a functional quarterback. I am not putting down Russell Wilson, in fact I think he is quite good, but he had to do nothing super for his team to win. He just had to do his job and let the team take care of everything else. In contrast, the Broncos were counting on Peyton Manning to be Superman, which the Seattle defense had something to say about, and the rest is history.
The Browns have been telling fans they need a franchise quarterback. Maybe that will change with the end of the Banner/Lombardi regime. Instead of looking for the next Tom Brady or Peyton Manning it might be better to find another Russell Wilson, instead of dreaming about Superman showing up and saving the day. The Browns need to be more like Seattle by building up the rest of the team, starting with the defense; give whomever is quarterback some more weapons; and draft a solid running back or two so the team has a ground game.
How many young franchise quarterbacks are out there? Andrew Luck is going to be a very good quarterback, and Jameis Winston is going to be the number one pick in next year’s draft. However, the rest of the good young quarterbacks of this era, whether in the pro’s or still in college, are going to be Russell Wilsons, good quarterbacks who will depend greatly on the quality of their teams to get them to championships. Because too many of them spent too much time being running spread option quarterbacks in high school and college and missed out on the learning process of reading pass defenses, the chances of any ofthem being superstar pro style quarterbacks is not what it once was.
The list of those who have crashed and burned is endless, including Vince Young, Pat White, and RGIII. Cam Newton is in his fourth season in Carolina and his team is finally showing signs of success, because he has made the transition from running college quarterback to pocket pro quarterback. His statistics have been solid for four years, but it wasn’t until this year with Newton playing more like a traditional pro quarterback and less like a running college quarterback that the Panthers made the playoffs. The team has gotten stronger around him, and he didn’t have to be Superman for them to make the playoffs.
Seattle’s championship run last season is not the first time this blueprint has been used to win an NFL championship. The New York Giants won with both Phil Simms and Jeff Hostetler at quarterback in 1987 and 1991; the Baltimore Ravens did it with both Trent Dilfer and Joe Flacco as quarterbacks; the 2002 Tampa Bay Bucs did it with Doug Johnson as quarterback.
The Seahawks won the Super Bowl with a great defense lead by cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas, and an offensive ground game lead by Marshawn Lynch. Those are the types of players the Browns need to find.
The search for the next Tom Brady or Peyton Manning is almost a lost cause. Yes, it would be nice if the Browns did draft the next big thing, or at least the next Drew Brease or Ben Rothlingsberger, but it is a more solid game plan to build of the rest of the team and being happy with a good but not great quarterback. The final four teams this past season featured only one first round draft pick (Peyton Manning) at quarterback: Tom Brady was a sixth round pick; Russell Wilson a third round pick; and Colin Kaepernick was a second round pick.
The Browns are unsure at quarterback as ever. I’m a big fan of Brian Hoyer, but he does not have the arm strength to lead a team to a championship. He would be great to be a back up and mentor to whomever is the quarterback. Jason Campbell and Brandon Weedon are gone. As I’m writing this I hear rumors of the Browns going after free agent Matt Schaub.
As the Browns head into this free agent period and upcoming draft, with their abundant cap room and extra picks, hopefully the front office will realize that most championships are made with strong defenses, solid running games, and good, but not great, quarterbacks. Go find a good quarterback.
Some closing thoughts…Is it just me, or does it seem like many colleges are drifting away from the spread option offense and back to a traditional pro look? This past bowl season I saw Alabama, Stanford, and Vanderbilt amongst others with a quarterback under center and two backs in the backfield. I have a hunch that the defensive coordinators on the college level have found too many ways to stop the spread option. This will be something I’m going to keep an eye on this fall.
And finally…One of the story lines for the 2014 NFL draft and the upcoming season will be Michael Sam as the first openly gay player in the league. I have been asked several times what would happen if he ended up in Cleveland. I have responded each time ‘nothing.’ In the tradition of Louis Sockalexis (first native American in major league baseball), Lenny Ford and Marion Motley (first African American pro football stars), Jesse Owens (1936 Olympic champion), Frank Robinson (first major league African American manager), Lennie Wilkens (African American NBA coach), Hank Greenburg (Jewish American General Manager of 1948 championship Indians), Martina Navratilova (1975 teenager member of Cleveland Nets), John McLendon (first black college coach at a predominately white university Cleveland State in 1966), Cleveland and its sports fans have a history of accepting any athlete or coach, as long as they gave it their best and represented the city well. I think Michael Sam would benefit greatly by becoming a Cleveland Brown.
(Greg Cielec is a Cleveland based freelance writer and novelist has has over thirty years of football coaching experience, including sixteen years on the college level. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his website at www.gregcielec.com.)