Skip to main content

Browns Cultural Crisitunity

The final press conferences of the season by Cleveland Browns players stood out, addressing some of the challenges presented by the pandemic, their regrets and plans to address them in the future.

A theme emerged throughout the exit interviews of Cleveland Browns players with the media, notably a lack of cohesion between offense and defense and a focus on improving the team's culture, both acknowledging the challenges presented by the pandemic and a desire to improve the situation heading into next season.

Contrasted against lasting institutions within the AFC North in the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, both of which are well into their second decade of consistent organizational structures, the 2021 season served as a harsh reminder that the Browns as a functioning operation and worthwhile team are provisional. Two years may feel like a decent amount of time relative to the Browns, but it's nothing to teams like the Ravens and Steelers.

When the Browns enjoyed success in 2020, players were happier, more positive which made it easy to believe this team had established a lasting culture. This year when faced with challenges, struggling throughout the season, it became apparent just how much work was still needed.

I've always bristled at the notion that wide receiver Jarvis Landry was the player that established the culture. It made for a great fairytale, but it was always an oversimplification, ignoring what is actually required to set a lasting standard. Landry has made meaningful contributions to this team in that regard. but it's simply not a job that that can be accomplished by a single individual. It's a shame that his tenure may approaching its end with the only receivers likely to benefit from his presence being Donovan Peoples-Jones and Anthony Schwartz as the team overhauls the position.

The notion that Landry was the point of origin for the Browns culture invalidated the exhaustive efforts from players that predated Landry as well as the sheer amount labor required to establish one with any permanence.

Likewise, Landry didn't fail in that role this past season as vulnerability emerged. He endured arguably the most physically and emotionally taxing season of his football career. After putting so much time and energy into changing his body, believing that he and close friend Odell Beckham Jr. were going to be able to relive the glory days of their LSU past, Landry got hurt two snaps into the second game of the season, sustaining a knee injury that would cause him to miss games for the first time in his career, short-circuiting his season just as it had begun.

He and Beckham would only be on the field for a single game the entire season, hosting the Denver Broncos on a cold and wet Thursday evening. Fresh off of injured reserve, Landry went out and sustained another injury to the same knee.

When the team was unwilling to trade him at the deadline, Beckham would resort to attempting arson to excuse his struggles as well his ensure his departure from the Browns, leaving Landry behind to languish in an already depressing season.

Save for taking a few questions at his second annual Thanksgiving Food Drive, Landry hasn't spoken to the media since October 28th in part because he doesn't want to answer questions about those events. Considering the misfortune Landry has endured this season, who can blame him?

It always took more than Landry and they will need a village to carry when he's no longer a part of the team.

Given the disappointment of how the season ended and changes that will be coming in the offseason, the lingering question following this team into the offseason is how they respond. And since my brain is wired to put everything that happens in my life through the filter of the first ten seasons of The Simpsons, the term 'crisitunity' springs to mind.

The lack of cohesion between offense and defense is disappointing. It's also not surprising given the circumstances. They were physically separated as the team was operating with two locker rooms to try to limit the potential spread of COVID-19. The interaction between the two sides of the ball was limited by design, providing an added challenge to chemistry and continuing the efforts to establish their identity.

Without that natural exposure to each other, everything to fill that gap becomes extra work. Necessary, but one more task to accomplish. When the team is winning, it's easier to want to put in that energy in addition to the fact winning cures so many ills.

Read More

Losing breeds blame and contempt. Adding in this extra element of now needing to work to try to keep the team united proved difficult, let alone getting closer.

Beckham's departure seemed to highlight the divide between the two sides. Defensive players like Myles Garrett and John Johnson III were players that were outspoken in their support of Beckham when he left.

That didn't really happen on offense, the guys who were dealing with him on a more consistent basis. When asked, most would wish him well, but they didn't go out of their way. Much of that may have been out of respect for quarterback Baker Mayfield, who received a substantial amount of the blame from Beckham for his lack of effectiveness on his way out.

That doesn't make one side right and the other wrong. It simply highlights the difference between the two.

What makes me optimistic is listening to rookies Greg Newsome and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah speak in a straight forward manner with clear goals on how to improve the situation. The Browns have leaders, but to get two players who were successful on the field, immediately pivoting into constructive ways to improve, expand on the efforts being done off of it is encouraging.

"On the players’ parts, some of the young guys like us, we have to find a way to gel in there, as well. I think that just takes time. It was a really new team from that team the year before. It was a lot of new faces so that takes time to get used to everybody and to get to know what people like and know their family. That all takes time. I think in Year 2, when you have some of the core guys coming back again, we will find a way to start getting to know people more.” - CB Greg Newsome II

It's worth remembering that the defense which improved over the course of the season was largely put together this past offseason. Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward have been with this team as well as a handful of others, but the team integrated numerous players on that side of the ball.

"There are a lot of things that we need to get better at, but I would just say that is one of the things that I took away just by my observations just of abilities for us to bond closer and abilities for us to build that chemistry that is needed at a level that we will appreciate.” - LB Jeremiah Owusu-Kormoah

Garrett used this season to find his voice as the leader of the defense. We watched him evolve over the course of the year, including a breakthrough moment coming out of the bye week when he called on the entire team to step up their attention to detail ahead of their rematch with the Baltimore Ravens. The team responded and the Browns won the game, validating Garrett and empowering him to continue in that role.

Newsome, JOK, Jadeveon Clowney, John Johnson III, Troy Hill, and Malik McDowell are some of the players that the Browns added this past offseason. A large amount of the energy on that side of the ball was spent getting to know each other, nailing down their defensive assignments. Worrying about the offense was low on their list of priorities.

Their efforts on that side of the ball paid off as standards were set and players that had to step in due COVID-19 as well as injuries prepared in part out of fear they would let the team down if they fell short.

With the expectation the defense stays together, they should work to maintain those standards, but the confidence gained over the course of this season should also enable them to make improving the cohesion of the team a higher priority. 

The offense has more work to do in improving the on field element, but they also have the players with the most sweaty equity and credibility on the team. Players like Joel Bitonio and Nick Chubb have less to prove and more to offer players willing to listen. Chubb, often a man of few words, said he intended to become a more vocal leader.

"I'm gonna do whatever I need to do to win games. If have to step up and say something, I will." - Nick Chubb

If these players follow through on the proclamations while the team makes the necessary on field improvements, there could be a snowball effect. Winning doesn't replace the work required to sustain a lasting culture, but it can certainly act as a lubricant that makes the labor easier.

There's no escaping the disappointment of this past season for the Cleveland Browns, but if players use it as fuel to address the shortcomings of this team, making them more resilient in the future, it's reason to be optimistic for what's to come.