If there is No Struggle, there is No Progress

These words were made famous by Frederick Douglass, and his famous quote accurately describes the last season and a half for the Browns. Over the past twenty-two games, the Browns are 1-21, leaving Cleveland fans (again) clamoring for another clean out the front office. As for Coach Hue Jackson, the feelings are mixed. I feel for Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta, the ringleaders of the current front office. If Hue gets axed, I’ll feel for him, too.

If the Browns decide to hire a General Manager, and said General Manager wishes to bring in his own coach, ninety-five percent of Browns fans and NFL fans in general are going to give credit to the wrong group of people when the Browns start winning. Why? Brown and DePodesta have built a foundation for the team. When was the last time an incoming General Manager could say that? Furthermore, Brown and DePodesta tore down a roster to its bare bones when they inherited a franchise nothing short of a train wreck.

I’m astounded when fans think Hue should be winning and are already labeling guys such as DeShone Kizer and Corey Coleman busts. For one, Kizer and one of his NFL Draft brethren, Mitchell Trubisky, have an identical completion percentage. Kizer’s is actually better, at 50.9%, then Trubisky, at 49%. For another, Corey Coleman has played twelve of his first twenty-two games as a Brown, meaning he’s missed half his possible games. In these twelve games, Coleman has forty receptions. If one averages this out to a full season, they’ll get fifty-three receptions. He also has four touchdown receptions, which is on pace for five over a sixteen-game stretch. Great numbers? No. But at this point, rookie tight-end David Njoku is on pace for thirty-five receptions for eight touchdown grabs as he shares time with tight-ends Seth DeValve and Randall Telfer. Running-back Duke Johnson is on pace for seventy catches, and is averaging 5.6 yards per carry on the ground. What do these kids have in common? They’re all in their third seasons as a pro, or less.

Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta have built a foundation on offense, yet many fans fail to see it. Fans point to winning as the only statistic that matters and in the long run, it does. But when you break a roster down to men who are either rookies or rejects, sans tackle Joe Thomas, back in 2016, I’m not sure what the fans are expecting. Especially in Year Two of what’s supposed to be a five-year plan. I’ve previously written this season reminds me of that pivotal 2000 season, after which the Browns fired Chris Palmer and courted Butch Davis. At that time, the Browns were in Year Three of the Expansion Era, and Palmer was supposed to be in the driver’s seat, not Davis. Palmer built a budding foundation, and Davis reaped the benefits in Years Three and Four. When Davis changed the culture, and brought in his own guys in Years Five and Six, he fell flat on his face, ultimately resigning in November 2004 after leading the Browns to a 3-9 start.

I love history because it can teach us what works and what doesn’t work. The fanbase is impatient and frustrated, and they have every right to be, but for once the Cleveland Browns as an organization need to learn from their history and see this storm through until the end. Hiring and firing coaches and personnel every two seasons has gotten the Browns into this mess. It doesn’t work. It’s never worked. Why would they even consider?

The Browns will win under any new coach and front office, but they’ll be doing so under men acquired by the previous regime. If this happens, a tornado siren should be going off in the minds of every Browns fan. What if the next regime wishes to bring in its own people? The process will never end. I like looking to the Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA, who through three abysmal seasons record-wise, stuck with Head Coach, Brett Brown. In Year Three, the Sixers went 10-72. In Year Four, their record was 28-54. This season, many NBA analysts are projecting a lower-end playoff berth. The same could be said for the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs of the NHL, or the Houston Astros of the MLB. If the Browns wish to finally get this right, they need to stick out the storm, ignore the critics, ignore the fans, and keep their eye on the final prize.

Growing Pains and Coming Out Parties

DeShone Kizer learned what it’s like to play the Ravens on the road. Today was a learning experience, but Kizer proved one thing: he doesn’t surrender. He left the game in the second quarter with a migraine, and re-entered the game in the second half. Sure, he completed fewer than fifty percent of his passes, and threw three picks (one was on his receiver), but he didn’t surrender the game.

Ditto for a defense who allowed some rushing yards today, but managed to hold Baltimore when it mattered most for much of the game. The defense stepped up at key moments, and never allowed the game to get out of hand, as it would’ve last year. In fact, many games did get out of hand last season, in route to a 1-15 record, the worst in franchise history.

Rashard “Hollywood” Higgins looked like the receiver he was at Colorado two years ago, hauling in seven catches for ninety-four yards. On a day where Kenny Britt and Corey Coleman struggled to get open, Higgins stepped up, and made several key plays. He was also wide open in the end zone, but Kizer forced it behind him and the pass was picked off. Okay, growing pain day, but Higgins looked like a diamond in the rough. Now, he must prove today wasn’t a fluke.

For the second straight week, the Browns played a tough division opponent, this time on the road, and didn’t back down. With a committee of backs keeping everyone fresh, the run defense had its hands full in the fourth quarter. Alex Collins broke one for a big gain, and the ball was stripped and turned over to the Browns. Last year, the defense would’ve given up. This year, a new defense has come to light.

Sure, the Browns stand at 0-2, and are 1-20 since Week Fifteen of the 2015 NFL Season, but they’re finding players. Guys like Joe Schobert and Rashard Higgins are coming into their own. Corey Coleman had a good game against Pittsburgh last week, and Seth DeValve is looking like a legitimate NFL tight-end. Each player mentioned was drafted in 2016. Shon Coleman is making his mistakes at right tackle, but he’s holding his own, especially after facing Terrell Suggs today. Suggs beat him a few times, but Coleman is a much better option this year than Cam Erving and Austin Pasztor were last season. Carol Nassib and Emmanuel Ogbah each made a few plays, and they were also 2016 draftees. Jabrill Peppers, the second first-round pick in 2017, is looking like a mutant hybrid of Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed.

One must wonder what this defense will look like when top pick Myles Garrett re-enters the line-up. He’s supposed to transform a defense, but how do you transform a defense that’s finding their rhythm. This is the second straight week the defense played well enough to keep the Browns in the game. Sure, they didn’t win, but no one expected them to beat neither Pittsburgh nor Baltimore. They nearly beat Pittsburgh and they played Baltimore well enough on the road to keep fans watching until the end.

This is a better team than last year, and they’re set up for long-term success. They must continue to grow this season, and after playing tough opponents the next two weeks, they have a break against Indy, a much weaker opponent. I’m not saying the Colts are a joke, because they too stayed in it against a beaten and battered Arizona Cardinals team, but the Colts are neither the Steelers nor the Ravens if one’s placing teams into Tiers. The Colts are a team on the same level as the Browns, but they’re moving in the opposite direction, whereas the Browns are building for the future.

When you’re building for the future, games like this are unavoidable. This is the youngest team in the NFL, and they played their two strongest division rivals with vigor. No, they aren’t a good team, but they have good, young players in Years One, Two, and Three building something big together. Not to mention, they have two of the most respected coaches in the game in Hue Jackson and Gregg Williams. This team isn’t building for a single-year success, they’re building for the same success the Steelers and Ravens have had over the last ten to fifteen seasons. And for that, they’re being built correctly.