By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
Going with what they’ve got: Brian Hoyer was lightning-in-a-bottle for the Browns. Don’t expect that to happen again this year.
No quarterback savior is going to fall from the sky – much less the waiver wire – to rescue this Browns season.
When the Browns sat on their hands the day after Hoyer’s injury and didn’t place a call to the just-released Josh Freeman – big and strong-armed, only 25, 60 NFL games experience, and minimum-salary cheap -- they made the conscious decision to ride out the season with what they had at quarterback.
So pick your poison: Brandon Weeden or Jason Campbell?
In just two games, Hoyer showed how a leader on the field can pull every ounce of character out of the rest of the team and free it to achieve. Or over-achieve.
The Browns are an incomplete team, to be sure, in the first year of this latest reboot. But Hoyer proved they could win now with exemplary play at quarterback.
Now what? The Browns have three choices:
1. Let Weeden wing it 50 times a game and weigh the consequences of deflating sacks and interceptions vs. a home run or two to Josh Gordon.
2. Try Campbell, who scratched himself from starting the fourth preseason game in Chicago and then finished his Game 2 relief stint in Baltimore with an under-handed toss.
3. Shift the focus of the offense from the quarterback to the offensive line and the running game.
Martyball: The surest way to stabilize a faltering or destructive passing game without changing quarterbacks is to choose option No. 3.
Many successful coaches have done this over the years. Bill Parcells did it when he lost Phil Simms to injury in the 1990 New York Giants season. Brian Billick did it in 2000 with the Baltimore Ravens. More recently, John Fox did it in Denver in 2011 (pre-Peyton Manning) with Tim Tebow.
For the most part, they ran the ball. Yes, the quarterback had to make a play, or two, at times to win a game. But the team and, most importantly, the offensive line, developed a mindset that it would physically dominate a defense by running the ball.
The man who most famously authored this blueprint was none other than former Browns coach Marty Schottenheimer. In 1984, Schottenheimer took over a 1-7 team from Sam Rutigliano at mid-season. Schottenheimer brought Earnest Byner off the bench and ran the ball, played defense and special teams and won four of the last eight.
In 1985, the Browns planned to manage the season through veteran QB Gary Danielson. But after Danielson mangled his shoulder, the team had to rush in gangly rookie QB Bernie Kosar sooner than it wanted. Schottenheimer took the ball out of Kosar’s hands as much as he could and gave it to Byner and Kevin Mack. They each topped 1,000 yards rushing and the Browns plowed their way to a playoff berth with an 8-8 record.
It wasn’t always pretty. Kosar, who made a few plays along the way, hated it. But it was effective.
Now, Schottenheimer actually took Martyball too far in post-season games and in seasons in which he had quarterbacks capable of leading their teams. But as a band-aid, Martyball was effective in stabilizing an offense and giving his teams their best chances to win.
I asked Chudzinski, who worked under Schottenheimer in 2005-06 in San Diego, whether Martyball was an option for him. Lord knows confidence in Weeden is flagging, internally and externally.
He answered: “I think that what we really need to do is stay the course from a philosophy-strategic standpoint. The run and the pass really go hand-in-hand of where we’re at right now and I think we’re improving in the running game. Just to ditch the passing game and go 100 percent run, I don’t think it will be in our best interest. I think that we need to continue to get better in both, whether it’s Brandon, whether it’s the offensive line. I thought our offensive line really responded and played their best game yesterday. I think that we’re improving in running. They go hand-in-hand. You can’t do just one thing in this league.”
Here’s a plan: Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman are recognized as two of the most creative offensive minds in the NFL today. With the 49ers receiver situation bleak and quarterback Colin Kaepernick suffering because of it, the 49ers climbed back into the thick of the Super Bowl chase by running the ball.
In Green Bay, where the Browns play on Sunday, the Packers have also suffered hits to their famed passing game by losing receivers Randall Cobb and James Jones to injuries. So what are they doing to stabilize their season? Running the ball.
On his weekly radio show with Jason Wilde of ESPN Wisconsin, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said, “We are a top five running and throwing the football offense. This is exciting. It’s exciting offensive football. Running the football has opened a lot of that stuff up.”
The Browns built a 17-7 halftime lead over Detroit on Sunday because they were creative in the running game. They had 115 yards rushing, using every available ball-carrier, including third tight end MarQueis Gray from the Wildcat. The offensive line was dominating the game. Weeden was an accessory to the offense, not the focal point.
That has to be the blueprint going forward. The Browns’ only hope of staying relevant this year is turning Weeden into Trent Dilfer, circa 2000, with the Baltimore Ravens. Don’t let him lose games. Give the game to the offensive line and run the ball.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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