Coaches need to worry about team psyche

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
10:30
AM ET
The Cleveland Browns had won three-of-four leading up to Sunday's loss at Lambeau Field to the Green Bay Packers.

You'd never have known it spending time with the team.

Players discussed mistakes and seemed badgered by questions dealing with negativity. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton was (ahem) defensive as he discussed his unit, and came ready with numbers and stats to back up his claims.

[+] EnlargeJosh Gordon
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsBrandon Weeden had problems connecting with receiver Josh Gordon in the Cleveland loss.
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner sounded a little resigned when he talked about trying to make the most of the team's running game.

All this going on, mind you, for a team that had won three of the previous four.

This is life in Cleveland with the Browns, where so many bad years and so many catastrophic sports plays have the populace waiting for something to go wrong. Each loss feels like four, each mistake seems like it never happens to anyone else. The constant losing put fans on edge, and when a loss happens the negatives are magnified.

The Browns carried this to Green Bay, and after losing that mental load became heavier.

There's a lot going on with this team, and at this point more of it is mental than physical.

Against the Packers, players made mental mistakes. They didn't get off blocks. They missed tackles. They didn't compete for passes on offense.

And after the game many seemed weary at the offensive futility.

The quarterback seems to have thought himself into a straightjacket. Brandon Weeden did not play well. At the same time he's had so much hammered into his head about what not to do that it seems like he's playing with fear of making a mistake. That won't work in the split-second world of the NFL.

In Green Bay, the Browns wanted to max protect and go to quick passing. It didn't work. At times the receivers didn't win. At other times Weeden didn't trust he could get the ball to his receivers, at times he missed them and at other times he seemed unwilling to take a chance on throwing them the ball.

This screams of a guy playing afraid of failing, as opposed to a guy who will play winning football.

Weeden has many things against him. Consider that Aaron Rodgers has been in the same system in Green Bay his entire career. Weeden is in his second in two years.

That doesn't excuse poor play, and he played poorly. But at the same time he's so bound up in himself it looks like he can't just go play.

The game started with some bad throws and some drops. It continued with more drops, and with Josh Gordon making what appeared to be a lackluster effort at a key fourth-down throw.

After the game, the same group of receivers that didn't talk after the Lions game spoke, but with short words. They may have been angry, and nobody could blame them. But it smacked of a team starting to fray.

The Browns learned what it was like to win the two games Brian Hoyer started. They liked it.

They saw they could win in Buffalo after Hoyer was hurt and Weeden took over. But they've seen little go well the last six quarters. Since taking a 17-7 halftime lead against Detroit, the Browns have been outscored 55-13.

That's a scary number. And it's a number that can burn into a team's psyche.

Rob Chudzinski's biggest challenge this week isn't to coach around his team's limitations, it's to ensure his team's mind is right as it heads to Kansas City.

Because if the Browns have shown nothing else the past few years, they've shown is a season can go South in a hurry.

And this one seems to be teetering right on that edge after seven games.

Pat McManamon

ESPN Cleveland Browns reporter

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