New Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Todd Haley addressed his hiring by saying that the 2017 Browns “obviously” played “a lot of close games.”
One could forgive the fans if they said it didn’t seem that way.
Such is life for a winless team whose record overcomes a final score.
The Browns finished with a point differential of minus-176, which means they lost by an average of 11 points. That was the worst in the league, by 34 points. They lost six games by six points or fewer, and Haley saw two when his former team, the Steelers, beat the Browns by three and four points, respectively.
Were the Browns that close last season? Here’s a look at the games that were out of reach and those that weren’t:
Out of reach
At Baltimore (24-10), at Indianapolis (31-28), Cincinnati (31-7), at Houston (33-17), Minnesota in London (33-16), Jacksonville (19-7), Baltimore (27-10)
Average point differential: 15 points. The Colts score looks close, but that result was deceiving because the Browns were blown out in the first half. Jacksonville was a three-point game in the fourth quarter, but the offense never moved the ball consistently. In the rest, the other team was simply better.
With some luck, maybe
Pittsburgh (21-18), Tennessee (12-9 in overtime), at Los Angeles Chargers (19-10)
A play here or there would have changed momentum in each of these games, though the Browns would have had to create their own good fortune to finish each with a win.
Two plays made a big difference in the opener against Pittsburgh. Down three and trying to hold the Steelers without a first down for another chance in the final minutes, Antonio Brown somehow caught a fly ball from Ben Roethlisberger that descended as if it had a parachute. Brown leaped and made the catch between two Browns defenders. Previously, late in the third quarter, DeShone Kizer threw a pass that was intercepted by T.J. Watt at the Pittsburgh 17 — a pass basically thrown to nobody. Either of these plays could have changed the feel of the game, given the Browns a chance and helped Kizer’s early-season confidence. At times, the Steelers seemed to treat the game as more of a glorified scrimmage, but in the end the Browns had chances.
In the overtime loss to Tennessee, the Browns could not sustain enough drives and threw three interceptions. The score was close, but the Browns never threatened to take the win.
Philip Rivers threw for 344 yards and controlled the Chargers game, but in the first half, Kizer missed a wide-open Josh Gordon for what would have been an easy touchdown. Does that play change the result? Maybe not, but it could have changed the feel of the game.
Winnable with a play or a break
New York Jets (17-14), at Detroit (38-24), at Cincinnati (30-16), Green Bay (27-21 in overtime), at Chicago (20-3), at Pittsburgh (28-24)
Each of these games warrants a closer look.
A key play in the Jets loss came when coach Hue Jackson went for a first down on fourth-and-2 from the 4 early in the fourth quarter and the Browns down 10-7. A field goal would have tied the score, but Zane Gonzalez already had missed two and Jackson thought it was time to win the game, not tie. He was roundly criticized for it when the Browns didn’t make the first down. Naturally, the Jets followed with a 97-yard touchdown drive that essentially put the game away. Two other important plays earlier in the game also affected the outcome. Kizer threw a goal-line interception to snuff out a scoring threat when he misread the coverage. He also had a poor pitch on an option play at the goal line that led to a fumble inside the 10. If any one of those plays goes differently, the Browns have a chance to win. This game counts as one that got away.
In Detroit, a couple of missed chances affected the outcome of a two-touchdown game. The end of the first half was a lesson in clock mismanagement and ended when Kizer thought he saw an opening for a quarterback sneak on second-and-goal from the 2 with 19 seconds left and the Browns out of timeouts. The Lions stuffed the play, and the Browns got no points. Later, with Kizer sidelined with sore ribs, Cody Kessler overthrew a sure touchdown to a wide-open Bryce Treggs. Earlier, Seth DeValve‘s fumble gave the Lions a defensive touchdown. The Browns actually led by seven late in the third quarter. They could have won this game.
One key play in Cincinnati still has the Browns banging their foreheads on their desks. The Bengals led by seven in the fourth quarter and faced third-and-5 from the Browns’ 40-yard line. Andy Dalton threw down the sideline to Josh Malone, who caught the ball just before receiving a hard tackle from safety Jabrill Peppers. Officials called it a hit on a defenseless player, and Peppers was flagged, which allowed the Bengals to score the clinching touchdown. The Browns were bitter about the flag, and their position seemed justified when the league rescinded a fine on Peppers. If that play goes the Browns’ way, Cleveland at least has a chance to tie.
The Packers loss remains toothache-style painful, especially because the Browns blew a 14-point fourth-quarter lead. Any of three plays makes this a Browns win. First, David Njoku dropped a third-down pass with 2:59 left and the Browns up seven that would have meant a first down and an opportunity to run out the clock. On the ensuing punt, the Browns gave up a 65-yard return on a Keystone Cops effort that gave the Packers the chance to tie the score on the second-to-last play of the game.
That was the seventh-longest punt return in the NFL last season. In overtime, Kizer held the ball too long — Gordon could not get off the line for a quick slant — and was hit as he threw. The resulting pass turned into a pop fly that the Packers intercepted. They scored the game-winning touchdown soon after. This loss was a teeth-gnasher.
A 17-point loss in Chicago shouldn’t have had any meaningful plays for the Browns, but in this game one defensive play could have altered the outcome. On the first play of the second half, defensive end Myles Garrett returned an interception for a touchdown that would have put the Browns up 10-6. It was the kind of uplifting big play that energizes a team, but it turned out that Carl Nassib was flagged for offside, negating the interception and touchdown. It’s not inconceivable to think the Browns win if the play stands.
The season ended in Pittsburgh with a crushing mistake, as Corey Coleman dropped an easy catch at the Steelers’ 10-yard-line with 1:46 left. Kizer had played by far his best game, and he was guiding what appeared to be a last-minute, dramatic, game-winning drive. Instead, Coleman’s drop turned into a play that will live in Browns lore. The Browns had two turnovers on their previous drives on a Kizer interception and a Duke Johnson Jr. fumble, but the Coleman drop stands out as almost excessively cruel.
That adds up to six games when a play or three could have swung things for the Browns.
Source — Washington Football Team to hire 49ers executive Martin Mayhew as GM
The Washington Football Team is hiring Martin Mayhew as its new general manager, a source told ESPN on Thursday, adding another experienced voice to help coach Ron Rivera.
Mayhew interviewed with Rivera on Jan. 16 and had long been considered a strong candidate. Among the other known interviews, Washington also spoke with Ryan Cowden, Tennessee’s vice president of player personnel, Nick Polk, Atlanta’s director of football operations and JoJo Wooden, the Los Angeles Chargers‘ director of player personnel.
Mayhew had a longer track record in front offices and also had earned a reputation for knowing how to work with his head coaches. In Washington, Rivera has the power so the general manager will report to him. He and Mayhew share the same agent, but Mayhew also brings a wealth of experience. He served as Detroit‘s general manager from 2008-15 – after eight years in the Lions’ front office. Rivera has said he wanted someone who also could handle the administrative duties of the position.
ESPN had previously reported that Marty Hurney was expected to be named the team’s new general manager.
Mayhew was named Detroit’s GM late in 2008 after the Lions finished that season 0-16. Detroit was 8-24 in his first two seasons. The Lions made the postseason in 2011 and ’14, the only two years in which they had a winning record during his tenure. Overall, Detroit went 41-63 in his seven-and-a-half seasons.
Mayhew hired Jim Caldwell in 2014 to replace the first coach he had signed, Jim Schwartz. Detroit fired Mayhew midway through the 2015 season. But his hiring of Caldwell paid off: Detroit finished with three winning seasons in Caldwell’s four years with two playoff appearances. It was the first time Detroit had posted consecutive winning seasons since 1994-95.
One person who coached under Mayhew called him “smart, analytical, level-headed” and someone who stayed calm. He was able to have disagreements without it becoming divisive. He also said Mayhew sometimes lacked a gut feel for players, but felt that issue could be lessened if someone else on his staff offered that quality.
Mayhew was the New York Giants’ director of football operations in 2016 before joining San Francisco’s front office a year later. He spent two years as a senior executive and the past two as the vice president of player personnel.
Mayhew played four years as a defensive back in Washington, winning a Super Bowl in the 1991 season. His time in Washington was sandwiched between one season in Buffalo and four in Tampa Bay.
What the Nick Sirianni hire means for Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles – Philadelphia Eagles Blog
Sirianni’s name emerged late in Philadelphia’s extensive coaching search, which included 10 official interviews and plenty of informal flirting. They reached out to gauge the interest of Oklahoma Sooners coach Lincoln Riley. They put in a request to speak with Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, though any potential conversation was pushed until after Sunday’s AFC Championship Game. They considered hiring New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
But in the end, the Eagles ended up going with the 39-year-old Sirianni, who follows the only Super Bowl-winning coach in the team’s history, Doug Pederson. He comes to Philadelphia without any playcalling experience and with some major shoes to fill.
What does this mean for quarterback Carson Wentz?
Once Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie fired Pederson on Jan. 11, it became clear the Eagles preferred the path of trying to keep and fix Wentz instead of trading him, and they gravitated toward candidates who were on the same wavelength. Wentz was at his best when Colts coach Frank Reich was the offensive coordinator in Philadelphia. Sirianni was Reich’s right-hand man in Indianapolis and coached quarterbacks in San Diego when Reich was the Chargers’ O-coordinator in 2014 and 2015.
Sirianni has majored in the QB position and is in lockstep with Reich, whom Wentz trusts fully. The odds of Wentz staying in Philadelphia went up when Pederson was fired and likely ticked up another few notches with this decision on this coach.
What drew the Eagles to Sirianni?
Philadelphia had an interview with Sirianni on Tuesday that reportedly spilled into the next day. Buzz began picking up soon thereafter that he was a front-runner for the job alongside McDaniels. He helped the Colts finish in the top 10 in offense two of the past three seasons despite a rotating cast at quarterback. He similarly got a lot out of the Chargers’ receivers when he was their position coach from 2016 to 2017.
A source said Sirianni has “great people skills,” is good with player evaluation and has a strong work ethic. Though maybe not the loudest of personalities, Sirianni is said to have more of an edge to him than it may first appear.
There are also internal dynamics to consider. Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman are deeply involved in the Eagles’ football operations. In order for that power structure to stay intact, the coach has to be amenable to it. Sirianni doesn’t come in with the clout of a McDaniels, for instance, and will likely be fine initially with fitting into that construct and focusing on the coaching side of things.
Did the late start affect whom Philadelphia could hire as coach?
Yes. The Eagles had interest in Arthur Smith, Robert Saleh and Brandon Staley, but those candidates were too far down the road with other teams to seriously consider reversing course once the Eagles jumped into the mix after waiting a week to fire Pederson.
With the hot names quickly scooped up, the only real course of action was to take a deliberate approach and find the right fit.
The Eagles were also coming off a train-wreck 4-11-1 season and didn’t enter the market from a great position of strength. Questions about how things ended with Pederson, the tricky quarterback situation with Wentz and 2020 second-round pick Jalen Hurts, and the poor salary-cap outlook for 2021 impacted the job’s attractiveness.
What are the concerns about Sirianni?
Sirianni has never called plays. Will he assume those responsibilities while adjusting to his first head-coaching gig? He’ll be making that big leap while operating in one of the country’s most intense media markets. His previous NFL stops were Indianapolis, Kansas City, San Diego and Los Angeles. He’s in store for a whole different experience in Philly.
Sirianni must now build out a staff. The pool has already shrunk with assistants around the league getting snatched up by other new coaches. That process needs to begin in earnest.
Is it the right hire?
There was a strong case to be made for Duce Staley. The degree to which current and former players advocated for him both publicly and behind the scenes is very rare. Staley has the respect of everyone within the Eagles organization, can command a room like few others and earned the opportunity after 10 years as an assistant in Philadelphia, including the past three years as assistant head coach.
There is a legitimate question as to whether Staley’s blunt style would have vibed with Wentz, but there’s a case to be made that you should hire the best coach and let the coach guide the team, and the quarterback room, the way that person sees fit.
Los Angeles Chargers coach Brandon Staley makes sure to connect with QB Justin Herbert
“I called him on my way back home,” Staley said about who he contacted first when he learned Sunday that he would be the Chargers’ head coach. “I promise I called [wife] Amy first, but then I called Justin because I wanted him to hear my voice. And I wanted him to know about my family … and then I just wanted to listen for a little bit. Wanted him to hear my energy, maybe see a little bit of vision of what I have for what we want to get accomplished together.”
The 38-year-old Staley said he FaceTimed with Herbert on the way to the Costa Mesa facility Thursday for the introductory news conference “because I wanted him to see us before our big day.”
Staley was the coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams‘ top-ranked defense. And while he wouldn’t go into specifics as to what he’s looking for in an offensive coordinator or offensive scheme, the former college quarterback has an understanding of what it takes on both sides of the ball.
“I’m looking for somebody with character and capacity and that can lead our staff and be part of our vision for how to get the best out of our players.”
Staley did say he would be making the defensive calls and hopes to have a staff in place “in a few weeks.”
Chargers general manager Tom Telesco was asked why he hired a guy with so little NFL coaching experience, including zero on the offensive side.
“Having his background, coming up in high school and college on offense. I think that helps,” Telesco said. “I’m watching the Baltimore and Buffalo playoff game and one coach [Sean McDermott] had a defensive background and the other [John Harbaugh] had a special-teams background. And they both have young quarterbacks and they’re both doing very well.
“There are different ways to do this,” said Telesco, adding that Staley’s brain is “very sharp.”
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