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Pat Shurmur has to learn how to protect a fourth quarter lead

Sep 13, 2012 -- 4:39pm

By Tony Grossi


Extra Points …

Where criticism is valid: Head coaches get blamed for everything when their teams lose. This is especially true of Pat Shurmur.

Because the Browns lost their opener again, this time by a single point to Super Bowl-contending Philadelphia, Shurmur was blamed for the following, in no particular order:

1. Failing to have Brandon Weeden ready for his first NFL start. 2. Overusing Trent Richardson. 3. Not calling the right plays (again). 4. Using an instant replay challenge on a play that was unchallengeable. 5. Not going for two points when ahead by 15-10. 6. Playing receivers that continually drop the ball. 7. Throwing the ball to Owen Marecic in critical situations. 8. Failing to keep down the price of gas (oops, sorry, wrong column).

Nowhere have I heard the fairest criticism of Shurmur in the opener, and it continued a very troubling trend.

Through 17 games now as Browns head coach, Shurmur has not proved he can protect a fourth-quarter lead. That is a fundamental function of the head coach.

Breaking it down: The situation Sunday was this: Browns ahead, 16-10. They have the ball first-and-10 at their 35 with 9:01 to go in the fourth quarter. It’s the season opener. They’re on their home field. I can name 31 other NFL coaches who would like to be in the same position.

I asked offensive coordinator Brad Childress about the mindset of the coaches and team with a six-point lead in the fourth quarter. Childress had a 40-37 record in four-plus seasons as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings.

“You want to be able to take care of the football,” Childress said. “Move the ball efficiently, run the football. However you elect to do it, you try to take time off the clock. First downs are huge because that’s going to take time off the clock. We’ve got to be more efficient.”

The Browns achieved one first down on a Weeden pass to Brandon Jackson for 14 yards. Their next set of downs went this way: Trent Richardson run for 1-yard loss, Weeden incompletion, Weeden incompletion. The two incompletions, of course, stopped the clock – a huge help to Eagles coach Andy Reid.

After the Browns punted, Michael Vick orchestrated the winning drive.

You can blame the defense for allowing Vick to move 91 yards on 16 plays. But the Eagles had already run 70 plays on a hot day. Sheer exhaustion kicks in at some point. I blame the management of the Browns’ offense when the team critically needed to just possess the ball for one or two more first downs to get into sure Phil Dawson field goal range.

Managing a win (or a loss): This wasn’t just a first game-with-a-bunch-of-rookies problem.

The Browns held fourth-quarter leads in five games last year. They won one time, at Indianapolis. They blew the other four. Their losses with fourth-quarter leads were to Cincinnati twice, St. Louis and Arizona.

Their failings in each of the losses broke down this way:

* In the first game against Cincinnati, they had two possessions and achieved 37 yards on 13 plays.

* Against St. Louis, one possession, three yards in three plays. They also burned a timeout (ouch) and had sacks on second and third downs (double ouch).

* Against Cincinnati the second time, they threw on first down and were intercepted (good Lord).

* Against Arizona, two possession, six plays, zero yards and a lost fumble.

Holding a lead in the fourth quarter is the point in a game where the head coach takes over. Style points don’t matter. The coaches with winning records somehow find a way to mush out that victory. Marty Schottenheimer was a brilliant closer.

Just steer it home to port, skipper. Close it out. Wrap it up and it’s on to another game. Shurmur has got to learn how to do that.

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 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

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