I want to get everything on the record before digging in here – no matter how the Cleveland Browns finish the season, even if they go winless, Hue Jackson and the members of the newest front office should not be fired. Cleveland has already gone down the one-and-done route and it received well-deserved backlash. Additionally, what the Browns are doing, ripping everything down to the studs and relying on an incredibly young and inexperienced roster, is something which needs time to develop.
With all of that out of the way, something else needs to be hammered home. Simply put, a team cannot go 0-16 and keep everything intact. Going winless is the definition of pure embarrassment, and while there’s still seven more opportunities for Cleveland to prevent such a fate from happening, things certainly don’t look promising at the moment. Should such a result take place, someone is going to have to lose their job.
So, in this hypothetical-but-not-terribly-unrealistic scenario of the Browns going a perfect 0-16, who would get the ax? Quite honestly, determining this really isn’t too difficult. You don’t need to look any further than the defensive side of the ball.
Despite receiving a vote of confidence from Jackson this week, defensive coordinator Ray Horton should definitely be on the hot seat. And, should the Browns season continue getting worse, he’s the most obvious choice on staff to take the fall.
There’s no denying the lack of talent on Cleveland’s defense. Injuries have plagued the secondary, while the front seven is mostly raw in terms of experience. It would’ve been lofty to assume this unit would perform well this season, and it was clear Horton had his work cut out for him.
That said, there’s a difference between a struggling defense and what the Browns are putting forth this year.
To be blunt, Cleveland has been awful defensively. Not mediocre, not just plain bad, awful. In fact, the Browns just set quite an impressive record last weekend, becoming the first team since 1964 to allow 25 or more points in nine straight games.
The reason opponents are having absolute field days against Cleveland goes beyond the level of talent. For one, nobody seems to understand the basic fundamentals of playing football.
Watch any highlight reel from the past nine weeks and you’ll see a clinic on how not to tackle. Numerous times per game, a Browns player will woefully swing and miss on a tackling attempt, whether by taking a miserably bad angle on the ball-carrier or by simply putting forth a terrible effort in general.
Before an opponent gets the ball, he’ll likely enjoy all the free space he can imagine. Cleveland’s secondary has shown very little ability to legitimately cover a wideout. As for tight ends, I’m still not sure the Browns know what this position is. What other conclusion can you come to when, week after week, the opposing tight end isn’t just getting open, he’s not even being acknowledged by the defense in general?
Again, these are not things which can be attributed to just having a lack of talent. Cleveland is failing at a fundamental level across the board defensively. The team can’t cover, can’t tackle, and likely couldn’t stop a runny nose.
Because of this, Horton shouldn’t have any sort of guaranteed job security. His defense has zero redeeming qualities, and actually looks as though it gets worse by the week. As a result, the Browns as a whole look miles away from playing competitive football.
Therefore, Horton is an obvious candidate for offseason firings should they be required. This should be the case if Cleveland goes winless or even if it manages to scrounge up a win or two. This rebuild can ill-afford any significant setbacks, as it’s already going to take quite some time to develop. An example of such a setback would be keeping a defensive coordinator who’s running a team which has given up an NFL-high 3,795 yards and 273 points this season.
We’re still a ways away from playing “who’s job is safe,” but it’s tough for me to believe Horton should feel comfortable regardless of what Jackson says.