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Chudzinski's Debut Spells Out Shurmur's Shortcomings

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Brandon Jackson was one of several players that took advantage of his opportunities during Rob Chudzinski's coaching debut in the Browns' preseason-opening win over the St. Louis Rams. Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images.
Brandon Jackson was one of several players that took advantage of his opportunities during Rob Chudzinski's coaching debut in the Browns' preseason-opening win over the St. Louis Rams. Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images.

Not surprisingly, the Cleveland Browns continue to try to distance themselves from their recent past -- five consecutive losing records and enough angst to fill up the Terminal Tower and Lake Erie combined.

But at the same time – in part to get a handle on where the team is now and where it might be headed – it’s important to look into the rear-view mirror, especially at the last two seasons under former coach Pat Shurmur. What his successor, Rob Chudzinski, did last Thursday in his debut as a coach at any level, illustrates just how poorly coached the club was in 2011 and 2012.

In a 27-19 victory over the St. Louis Rams at FirstEnergy Stadium in the preseason opener, Chudzinski and his staff – particularly his two coordinators, Norv Turner (offensive) and Ray Horton (defensive) – were everything Shurmur and his staff were not. They were organized, thorough, prepared and able to think quickly on their feet. It looked like a professional staff. It looked like they knew what they were doing.

It was truly refreshing, unlike the last two seasons:

1) The Browns appeared crisp and there seemed to be a purpose and a plan to all that was happening on offense, defense and special teams. It was easy to see what the team was trying to do and why, even though mostly basic, vanilla schemes were used. The schemes fit the skill-sets of the players in the game, instead of the players being pigeon-holed into roles that weren’t right for them.

2) The club was the aggressor, dictating to the Rams the flow of the game, instead of simply reacting to everything that happened. Yet when the Rams made adjustments, so did the Browns in order to keep pace instead of continuing to do the same thing and have it be unsuccessful over and over again, like a scene from the movie “Groundhog Day”. Chudzinski and his coaches weren’t really playing to win, but they were practicing on playing to win.

3) The calls on offense and defense were sent to the field in plenty of time for the players to know their assignments and line up properly. There weren’t any of the maddening situations where a timeout had to be burned to get everybody on the same page.

4) When players made mistakes (such as TE Jordan Cameron on a pass route), they weren’t banished to the bench, never to be heard from again (as RB Brandon Jackson was last season). Instead, they were pulled from the game, addressed on the sideline for a play or to two. When it was determined they understood the problem and what they needed to do in order to correct it, they were sent back onto the field and given another chance.

5) Chudzinski served as the CEO of the team on the field, taking a global view of what was going on in all aspects instead of having to ignore the defense and special teams because of his insistence on being the de-facto offensive coordinator and calling the plays.

6) Because of the quick tempo in every phase, the team was exciting to watch and the game was entertaining. It was fan-friendly.

Cleveland’s performance was far from perfect and the club still has a long, long way to go to close the gap with the rest of the teams in the AFC North. Nothing that happened Thursday night – or will happen next Thursday night against the Detroit Lions and in the final two preseason contests against the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears – count in the standings.

But the way the Browns played against St. Louis – and the way they were coached – was good enough to inspire a legitimate hopefulness they were a little bit closer to the Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals than they were at the opening kickoff.