All the talk of legacy leading up to the Super Bowl culminated with the Giants edging the Patriots thanks to some dropped passes and fortunate bounces of a football. In the end, the reputations of Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning were enhanced, while Bill Belichick and Tom Brady were seemingly knocked down a peg in the annals of Super Bowl history.
Funny how this works – as instantly, one dropped Wes Welker pass relegates the best football coach on the planet to an afterthought. Or, how about the following inane commentary from a spoiled Boston football scribe?
Not So Safety Call: Blame Brady For This One.
Suddenly, M.I.A. giving the middle finger makes so much sense.
Anyway, I would think that logical football fans could see past such mind-numbing commentary and realize that both the Giants and Patriots are products of franchise stability – the kind of thing that fosters a label like "legacy" in the first place. In our own particular place in the NFL universe, let's hope that the Browns have already taken these initial steps towards either exaltation or defamation.
In the meantime, it's worth again comparing the distance the Browns have to travel to reach the level of either the Giants or Patriots.
Keep It Simple, Stupid
You can usually distinguish the successful NFL offensive coordinators from the novice by listening to a color commentator reference coaching scheme-specific buzzwords. For example, the more times a commentator (let's just use Rich Gannon as an example) cites the West Coast Offense, you'll quickly realize just how entrenched a coordinator is in his own narrow play calling design. Or, did you know that Pat Shurmur is a student of the West Coast offense?
Sunday night, there were only fleeting references made towards Giant veteran offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. Some of us may remember Gilbride from his run and shoot days in Houston, when the Oilers threw the ball all over the Astrodome. Now, some two decades later, Gilbride simply runs an offense that makes effective use of downfield passing.
Obviously, the gimmicks are gone, but there are fleeting images of Gilbride's original design. However, it's clear that the Giants' offensive personnel have helped to shape the team's play calling – rather than the ill-fitting alternative currently found in Cleveland. Because the Giants have a skilled quarterback in Manning and three reliable targets in Victor Cruz, Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks, Gilbride can take advantage of downfield matchups and effectively keep his team in constant scoring position.
Micro League Football
It's easy – and sort of cruel – to point to the biggest similarity found between the Patriots and our rebuilding Browns. Based on last night's performance, it's clear that both the Patriots and Browns need to hold several catching clinics this offseason. While the Browns' offense is light years removed from the Patriots' attack in terms of potency and production, the same issue that plagued the likes of Jordan Norwood, Mohamed Massaquoi and Ben Watson surfaced last night on the game's most elevated stage.
In most respects – and barring yet another last second comeback by Eli Manning – the Patriots could have nearly clinched the Super Bowl had Wes Welker hung on to a fourth quarter Brady pass. The Patriots could have begun to drain the clock with another couple first downs – putting them in prime position to seal another championship. However, this basic fundamental appeared to be lost on the Patriots last night – as several dropped passes doomed an otherwise solid offensive performance.
In the Browns' specific case, improving this area of the offense can translate to at least modest levels of production in 2012. While the Browns will still be limited offensively, at least the most basic levels of improvement can begin. Or, maybe the Browns can begin the initial steps towards reaching a level comparable to the Patriots.
Watching the Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul, I couldn't help imagining which version of Browns' management would have drafted such a raw prospect. Discarding the inept Dwight Clark, I'm thinking that only Butch Davis would have had the confidence to take Pierre-Paul – who could easily become one of the best defensive ends in NFL history. Assuming that both Phil Savage and Eric Mangini would have drafted exclusive 3-4 scheme talent, this leaves the decision in the hands of current GM Tom Heckert.
Obviously, Heckert grabbed Joe Haden in the 2010 draft – a selection that has proven quite successful. However, the question that has to be asked is whether the likes of Heckert and Team President Mike Holmgren would take a chance on a raw athlete like Pierre-Paul or even the likes of the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez – tremendously talented athletes who don't necessarily fit a specifically defined NFL role.
Perhaps the best example of such a decision could come in April if the Browns have a chance to land Baylor's Robert Griffin III. Assuming Griffin is available, Heckert, Holmgren and Shurmur have to decide if their rigidly defined offense can fit a player with Griffin's unique skills. Otherwise, a "safer" pick such as the more conventional Ryan Tannenhill will be Cleveland-bound.