If you had a sinking feeling about the Cleveland Browns lately, it's not just the recurring aftertaste of a Cleveland Indians' season gone horribly wrong. It's because "concern" is now an officially accepted state of mind in Berea.
According to head coach Romeo Crennel, this week he became concerned after the team lost its first preseason game. He grew more concerned with the second and is now apparently really concerned after the third. In the kind of circular statement he could have learned only from his mentor, Bill Belichick, Crennel told the media "every time we lose, I'm concerned, because if you're losing, you're generally not playing the way you need to play to win the game, so we haven't done that."
Of course, this was the same Crennel who after the New York Jets game went to some length to say he really wasn't concerned after that first loss in general and with the two long bombs off the able arm of third-stringer Brett Ratliff in particular. Crennel admitted only that he'd be concerned if it happened again. It did, the very next game.
Though the Browns didn't give up any similar plays on Saturday night against the Lions, that's just parsing. On the Lions' very first series, the defense gave up a 29-yard pass from Jon Kitna to Roy Williams on a 3rd and 8 play. On the next 3rd and 8 play, they gave up 11 yards on another Kitna pass. On the Lions' second possession, Kitna connected with Williams again for 28 yards, this time on a 2nd and 15 play. Dan Orlovsky then got in on the fun. He connected with tight end Michael Gaines for 21 yards and to Shaun McDonald for 19 yards on back-to-back plays. In the third quarter, Orlovsky completed consecutive passes of 20 and 17 yards.
True, none of these were completions were of the 70-yard variety like the previous two weeks. But every one of them was part of a longer scoring drive. Because it's now official policy to be concerned, the most positive thing out of all of this is that Crennel isn't in denial. As a head coach he may not have shown much growth, but he is a realist.
The real question now is whether the Browns and Crennel will turn this concern into full fledged panic come Thursday's final preseason game against the Chicago Bears. Typically, the starters make but a token appearance. And since the Browns are a little shy of starters these days, under normal circumstances this would be quarterback Ken Dorsey's last chance for significant game action before being relegated to permanent clipboard duty for the rest of the season.
Whether Crennel will look for something positive to take into the regular season or just play the game to expected norms is about the only reason to even watch Thursday's game. The length of time in which he decides to risk further injuries to his starting lineup will be a fair measure of his level of true panic. The guess though is that Crennel will again see another short week of preparation, injuries that have piled up and could only get worse and stay the course, meaning some Brady Quinn, plenty Dorsey.
It's been a relatively quiet training camp for receiver Braylon Edwards, mainly because he's only been on the field for a handful of plays during the preseason. But his mouth is in regular season form. According to a story filed by Jeff Schudel of the News Herald, Edwards called out both Jamal Lewis and Eric Wright for their play against the Giants and even took a little swipe at offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski.
Last week Edwards gave an interview to former Giants' linebacker Carl Banks on Sirius Radio. Mistake number one. Banks, acting more as a big brother than an interviewer, basically scolded Edwards and the Browns for relying too much on talent and not enough on attention to detail in their preseason game against the Giants. Banks, referring to the Jamal Lewis fumble, told Edwards, "those are the little things - I'm saying that to you (Edwards) as a player and young leader on your team. When you start to look at the intangibles that takes teams from playoffs to Super Bowls or playoffs to conference champions, it will be little things like that that will prevent you from being everything your team can be. You guys are a young talented team, and you're going to win your share of games with talent, but you would hate to have the little things come back to haunt you and then sit back and say, ‘Dang it. I could have been in that Super Bowl had we not done this or not done that.'"
Taking the bait rather than the advice, which was mistake number two, Edwards said of the fumble "you have a veteran, 1,300 yards last year, fumbling on the two-yard line - that can't happen." That may be true, but given that Edwards wasn't even available for the game because he wasn't wearing spikes while running in practice, Edwards isn't in the best position to level criticism at those who actually were able to suit up. And it's not as if Lewis is Jerome Harrison either. Lewis is a player of some accomplishment that hardly needs to be reminded about taking care of business from someone like Edwards. It was Edwards, most will recall, who was late to a Saturday night meeting and disobeyed his head coach in the process when he put his own interests ahead of the team by attending the Ohio State/Michigan game a few years ago.
Then, referring to how the team let Giants second string receiver Domenik Hixon run wild, Edwards said "you can't go three and out (on offense) and blow coverage assignments as a starting (defensive) unit. You have a guy in [Domenik] Hixon who is not going to be the poster boy for receivers in anybody's fantasy football pool, but here he is with two touchdowns as well as a punt return for a touchdown. These are self-inflicted negatives. These are things we can't do. If we do do (them), we won't be what everybody expects us to be this year." It's actually hard to fault Edwards here, even if he, too, makes his living off the blown coverage assignments of opposing defenses. But it's still rather curious to hear anyone on offense criticize anyone on defense, even in preseason. But again there's precedent when it comes to Edwards. Again, as most will recall, it was Edwards who was so quick to defend Chad Johnson of the Cincinnati Bengals because of the supposedly cheap shots he took from the Browns' secondary a few years back.
As for Chudzinski, Edwards said "Chud calls them sins - Self-Inflicted Negatives. There's a long list. I think the list might be a little too long, but he does have a couple quality points. One is you can't beat yourself. That was our problem last year. We had too many situations where we beat ourselves." It's nice of Edwards to acknowledge that the coach most responsible for unleashing him may have a few quality pieces of advice to share. Apparently, though, there's only so much advice Edwards' brain can handle at one time. No surprise there.
When Edwards goes off like this, it makes one really appreciate the difference between a mere loudmouth and a true leader. Edwards may think he's merely engaged in thoughtful analysis, but he comes off more as someone impressed with the sound of his own voice. Contrast, for example, Edwards' mini-rant with that of LeBron James at the end of the last Cavs season. James, without taking on anyone personally, was nonetheless pointed and vocal in what the team needs to get better. He sent a message in the way it needed to be sent and not at the expense of anyone else. A few months later the Cavs end up with Mo Williams. That's how leadership works. Set the vision and push others to meet it. All Edwards does is give his teammates another reason not to invite him to dinner.
A question to ponder as the Browns enter into the final preseason game with a secondary this bad: What's more painful to watch, short drives that end with long touchdown passes or long drives that end in touchdowns made possible by giving up several 10-yard passes on 3rd and 8?