Since their return to the NFL in 1999, the Browns have always taken the safe route. Conservative roster choices and even more conservative playcalling have led to a “Play Not To Lose” mentality that supersedes – and may even accurately define – the “Play Like A Brown” mantra that Mike Pettine and Ray Farmer have adopted in their time here.
Today, in an effort to “play not to lose,” Mike Pettine named Josh McCown the starter over Johnny Manziel. Manziel is coming off a win in which his offense produced 21 points, he finished with a QB rating over 130, and he threw two touchdown passes over 50 yards. His game winning touchdown was one of the best throws any quarterback has made this season, and stopped the Browns in their tracks from “playing not to lose,” as they were in the midst of blowing a 21 point lead because Pettine and Co. admittedly “got too conservative.”
Manziel won the game. He did it by game managing, but also by making big plays in the situations where his team needed them most. He proved that he can win the way the team will ask McCown to win, and he can also bring more to the table.
But these are the Browns. It’s not about being bold, and taking chances, and playing to win. It’s about playing not to lose. So enter Josh McCown. The 36-year-old journeyman is great in the QB room. He’s been a spectacular mentor to Manziel, who has dramatically improved in the playbook and with his reads. But on the field, McCown is 5-14 in his last 19 games. He rushes his throws under pressure, he has a propensity to turn the ball over in big situations, and he has a track record of losing. So do the Browns. I guess that must be why Pettine sees this as a match made in Heaven.
For now, Johnny will wait. And here’s what will happen: McCown may get the Browns a win at home over Oakland (if he doesn’t, Pettine becomes the most fireable coach in the National Football League). From there, he’ll keep the Browns in most games, and they’ll lose most games. The schedule gets tougher, and the offense will need playmaking ability. That ability will sit on the bench while Pettine tries to run the same 2-yard HB dive up the middle, milk the clock, and put the ball in the hands of the opposing offense, relying on the inconsistency of his defense.
Once the Browns are firmly out of the playoff picture (barring another injury to McCown), they’ll turn back to Manziel. Pettine will then say it’s time to “evaluate what we have.” The problem is, “what we have” would have gotten us more wins than the safe, conservative route.
It’s another example of Pettine’s allergy to playmaking talent. He doesn’t want to score quickly and score often on offense. He wants to play ugly, and win it on defense. He admitted himself yesterday, in one of the most staggering statements ever made by a really bad list of Browns coaches since 1999, that he “couldn’t justify throwing the ball up 21 points in the 3rd quarter.” That philosophy, as mind-numbingly dumb as it is ignorant, is the same philosophy that gives us McCown this week in Oakland.
“Play not to lose,” don’t “play to win.” It cost Pat Shurmur his job here in Cleveland. Unless he has a dramatic change of heart, it will cost Mike Pettine his job as well.