When they lose, he’s third-, fourth- and fifth-guessed.
When they lose for the 10th straight time to a bitter rival because of sloppy play and debatable decisions, as they did Sunday, Shurmur should wear a flak jacket. Not only was his coaching ability questioned endlessly Monday, some members of the media and fan base called for new owner Jimmy Haslam to abandon his plan of evaluating Shurmur at the end of the season and fire him now.
Shurmur is familiar with the routine after 19 losses in 25 games. He sighed, “Oh, boy,” as he sat down for his news conference Monday, then discussed his role in the 25-15 loss to the Ravens.
“There are some decisions when I look back on them now that don’t work out. Then I’ll say, ‘Well, you know what? Maybe we should have done something else,’” he said. “But that’s what you do on Monday.”
The sexiest second-guess involves his decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 with 3:53 and two timeouts left on Cleveland’s 28-yard line.
“I would consider doing something different if I can guarantee I’m gonna get the ball back,” Shurmur said.
Shurmur referenced the Giants’ decision to punt from deep in their territory Sunday, then watch the Steelers pick up enough first downs to run out the clock. His choice to go for it against the Ravens has been contrasted with the punt call on fourth-and-1 at the Colts 41-yard line two weeks earlier.
The Browns (2-7) trailed by seven Sunday and four in Indianapolis, and there was 6:38 left against the Colts.
Both moves were loudly criticized.
“Because we didn’t get it, sure, I’m going to think about doing something different,” Shurmur said. “You try to make your decisions based on what’s best. And I think it’s important you’re aggressive. I think it’s important you’re smart. And I think you think through all of those situations.”
Quarterback Brandon Weeden fired too high for receiver Greg Little on a slant, the ball went over to the Ravens and they kicked a field goal to take a 10-point lead.
“We just didn’t execute it well,” Shurmur said. “I’ve gotta give them a better play and then we’ve gotta make it, and then you’re talking about it being a gutsy call to keep the drive alive.”
As with any loss, the game wasn’t decided by a single play. The Browns didn’t score a touchdown in five trips inside the red zone, while the Ravens were 3-for-3.
Weeden didn’t throw a pass into the end zone as the Ravens often dropped seven in zone coverage to take away the deep shots. Shurmur tried to counter with shorter catches-and-runs, but they weren’t successful. The lone touchdown — an 18-yard slant to Josh Gordon — was called back by an illegal-formation penalty on running back Chris Ogbonnaya.
“You want to be aggressive, but you also want to have a huge amount of concern for the football,” Shurmur said when asked if Weeden was too timid.
Were there plays to be made in the red zone?
“A couple that we could have been a little bit more heroic or aggressive with,” Shurmur said. “Then there are plays throughout the game, not just the red zone, that I wish we would have executed better.”
Execution wasn’t a strong point in many phases. In one third-quarter sequence, right guard Shawn Lauvao had a false start, left guard John Greco had a false start and Shurmur burned his third timeout of the game because the play call didn’t get in on time.
“I’ll take full responsibility for all of it,” he said. “I think we can streamline some things to help the players execute better.”
Shurmur and coordinator Brad Childress discuss the possible calls, then Shurmur gives the choice to Weeden through the headset. Simultaneously, the corresponding personnel package is supposed to enter the huddle.
“There’s a lot that goes on and that’s where we need to be better than we were in all of that and make sure it happens,” Shurmur said. “There was a couple situations getting the right people in the game, getting the play to the quarterback in a timely fashion and then him calling it properly.”
Shurmur joked “that’s why I look like I do” when asked about Ogbonnaya’s costly and easily avoidable penalty. The stress of the job hasn’t aged Shurmur like it has Barack Obama, but he looks tired a lot.
“You don’t want that to happen,” Shurmur said of the penalty. “There aren’t a lot of great answers sometimes for it, other than you get it fixed so it doesn’t happen again. That’s where the mental toughness comes in. You find a way to correct it and move on.
“And then you have to overcome it. There’s a lot of football left after that play. So you keep going.”
The young roster has struggled in that crucial area. When a play, break or call has gone against the Browns, they’ve often been unable to recover. The problem has manifested itself in poor fourth quarters.
“I wish I had the answer for it,” linebacker and captain D’Qwell Jackson said. “It’s just one of those deals where you fight for four quarters and you have a chance to win the game at the end and for whatever reason you can’t find the play or the call to get you over that hump.
“The difference between us right now and the (undefeated) Atlanta Falcons, they’ve had close ballgames I’m sure, but they’re able to come out on top. They’re able to make those big catches, those big stops when you need to.”
“We’ve just gotta finish better,” Shurmur said.