Monday, December 17, 2007

Coach 80

There has been a lot of talk this year about the reason for the Browns’ success. The revamped and ridiculously effective offensive line. The change at quarterback. The hard nosed, 4 quarter running back that has been very effective in keeping defenses honest. Josh Cribbs and the unfair field position effects he imposes. But I am going to say that all of those things are merely products of another aspect: Kellen Winslow.

Winslow’s effects are easily seen on paper and in the box score. He almost has 1,000 yards receiving, he has a ton of catches, and all of his numbers need to be adjusted for weeks 1 and 15 when he had Charlie Frye throwing him the ball and a Hothesque snow storm to deal with, respectively.

Even beyond his numbers, his effects on the rest of the team’s strategy cannot be put into words. His over the middle prowess keeps safeties honest leaving single coverage on either Braylon or Jurevicious almost universally. His short yardage prowess and virtual invincibility against linebackers makes running the ball SO much easier. And his hands are so reliable and at times spectacular, that he makes the quarterback look good almost all of the time.

But there is an X factor that he brings and that is leadership. Yes, that Kellen Winslow is a leader. I will actually go as far as saying that he is more responsible for the winning culture the Browns have adopted this year than the head coach. And I am not a Crennel basher. I think Crennel is the coach of the year, but he has help from his on field coach, Winslow.

First off, Winslow got a bad rap as a “head case” from his showboating and his famous “soldier” sound byte. As far as showboating, he’s always been the best player on his team. He’s always been unstoppable. And he went to the University of Miami whose football culture is showboating. Michael Irvin, Ed Reed and Winslow’s game was talking trash, it makes them better. As for the soldier issue – his only real mistake was misjudging the era he lived in. An era when athletes are no longer allowed to be “heroes” and using the word “soldier” in any context outside of supporting the ones in Iraq is blasphemy. Winslow plays a game in which men are hitting each other as hard as they can, and trying to hurt the enemy. In fact, to bring up George Carlin’s famous jokes, the quarterback is a field general, hurling bombs and launching an aerial assault. In the heat of the moment, it is war, and he was a soldier. But this made him a head case.

People have been surprised at Winslow’s maturity and focus this year. This was a guy who completely destroyed teams in college, and in the pros had never played on a team that could be remotely called good. Now that his team is winning, and he is playing a huge role, he’s matured. He’s still talking trash, showboating and keeping his mouth open. He’s the same guy, but the winning makes people think he’s “matured.”

I really believe that Winslow has been more than the best player on the team this year, and has that X factor. That culture creating, inspirational factor than outweighs what any other future pro bowler is doing. These are some examples I have noticed this year. Keep in mind, I’m sure there are more but these were visible to me, and I think important.

- Week 1, After the rout was on, Frye was pulled and the Browns still sucked, DA fumbled. I was at this game, and I can’t express the sorrow that was prominent throughout the stadium. There was no cheering, no hope and no excitement. The year was over. Crennel mistakenly challenged Anderson’s fumble, and the offense slowly walked off the field. It was hard to remember that there was 35 minutes of football left, and we were only down 17. We were ready to go home. But as the offense walked off the field and the defense walked on, one person bucked the trend. Winslow stayed on to greet the beleaguered defense. He walked up to each tired and outmanned defensive player and grabbed each one of them. I was 100 yards away, but I could understand what he was saying. He was getting in their face and not letting them forget this was still a football game. He walked off the field and raised his arms, begging the 80,000 tired, wet and hopeless fans to rise up and give us hope. He was here to win.

- Week 1 again, The Browns finally scored. Down a ridiculous and insurmountable deficit, Derek Anderson threw his least important touchdown of the year. He found Lawrence Vickers in the back right corner of the east endzone. Vickers started to do a touchdown dance and humiliate himself. Winslow walked over to him, told him to stop and sent him back to the sideline. He then calmly picked up the ball and brought it back to Vickers. It was his first career TD, Winslow wanted him to have it.

- Week 2, The Browns were getting beat by the Bengals. They still hadn’t found that stride we’ve become familiar with today. 3 drives had resulted in 6 points, and if they were going to stay with the high powered Bengals, they would need to put together some drives. Winslow had 1 catch for a few yards. Then on third and long, Anderson found Winslow over the middle. First Down. Winslow gets up, throws his hands up and stares at his own bench. You can almost hear him saying “See what happens when you throw my direction. We get first downs.” Some would view this as selfish, but Winslow isn’t selfish, he wants to win and knows that in order to win, they half to look his direction. He’s the most talented player on the field and if he’s open, give him the ball.

- Week 15, Winslow was a non-factor in this game. No game winning catches like in Baltimore. No ridiculous TD catches like against Houston. The snow took away his strengths (footwork and hands) and made it a muscle game. Winslow knew this. Late in the second quarter, with the Browns moving the ball, they broke huddle and Winslow walked across the huddle and headbutted Jamal. That play (like 32 others) was a run to Jamal. When a team calls a running play, they break huddle and block. Winslow wanted to give his boy a jolt. This may not seem like a big thing, but for a guy many perceive as selfish and arrogant, it showed his true priorities. He wasn’t on that day, but he wanted to know he had Jamal. I loved this moment.

That’s the thing about Kellen. He is an on field coach. He wants to win more than anyone I’ve ever seen. His attitude is as contagious as anyone’s. Not to mention he might be the most talented player on a team that could have seven pro bowlers. Of those seven, no one deserves it more than him.

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