I’m going to open this piece by getting straight to the point – this Sunday’s game might be the most important in Hue Jackson‘s career. In fact, it could end up determining his fate as head coach of the Cleveland Browns.
Sure, such a label sounds a bit daunting when referring to a Week 7 contest. However, when you consider Jackson’s situation, as well as the Browns’ most recent game, you realize just how important Sunday’s match-up against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers really is.
Cleveland is coming off its worst defeat of the 2018 season. The team headed into its bout with the Los Angeles Chargers soaking in renewed excitement from fans after a strong start to the year, only to get absolutely waxed to the tune of 38-14. The Browns looked unprepared and jarringly out of sorts from the first minute to the last.
Not only did it appear as though the players got caught reading their own headlines and assuming two victories in one season makes you a playoff team, it also sure looked like the bulk of them quit. Even more concerning was the fact Jackson spent the days ahead of the game insisting his team needed to stay grounded, imploring that nobody should feel as though anything has been accomplished with just two victories.
To hear a head coach say this, then watch his team look worse than it has at any point in the season, was a lot to digest.
It was the kind of loss you’d expect from a young team still learning what it takes to win consistently in the NFL. However, it’s also a defeat which could make or break the 2018 season.
Which brings us to Jackson, and why his time with the Browns will be defined by how his team plays this weekend. Will Cleveland bounce-back from its miserable showing last week, or will the players show up to Tampa with their tails still firmly tucked between their legs?
A well-coached team takes a loss like last Sunday’s as a learning experience, refocusing and returning with a much stronger effort in the following game. However, a poorly coached club will let in linger, with the blowout loss serving not as a rallying cry, but instead as the first step towards a season spiraling out of control.
Should the Browns come out Sunday and look like a team which learned from its mistakes, a team which spent the past week realizing it needs to prove itself beyond winning just two games, it will say a lot about Jackson’s coaching ability. It’ll imply he was able to rein his young and inexperienced players back in after they got over-hyped by early results. A bounce-back showing would ensure Jackson is able to help his team rebound from a potentially season-altering loss.
If the Browns instead show the same effort Sunday as they did in their blowout loss to L.A., looking completely checked out while getting throttled by another opponent, it would be a damning statement against Jackson.
Such an outcome would prove he wasn’t able to convey any lessons from the week before. That he watched his players look unprepared and undisciplined and didn’t do anything about it. Worse yet, it could imply his attempts to get his message across were largely ignored.
Pairing this with the incredibly daunting three games Cleveland has left before the bye week could be a recipe for a disastrous slump, the likes of which could cost Jackson his job.
Remember, the regime which originally hired him is no longer in the picture. John Dorsey and company were forced to work with Jackson, under the owner’s insistence he was the right man for the job. If he instead becomes the coach who let a promising season tailspin out of control, there’d be no reason for the front office to consider keeping him around.
Which is why so much hinges on this Sunday’s game. The Browns are both young and needing to prove they can recover from a brutal defeat. Their confidence, which was at an all-time high coming into last week, is likely shaken.
Essentially, they’re in need of a great coach to guide them out of a deflating defeat and get them back on track. This weekend, we’ll find out if Jackson is that coach.