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Bold coaching sparks Browns’ win

Posted Sep 23, 2013

Senior Editor Vic Carucci says the Browns’ 31-27 victory against the Vikings was a testimony to superb work by Rob Chudzinski and his coaching staff.

It was bold. It was aggressive. It was calculated. It was intelligent.

That last word used to describe the Browns’ coaching performance in Sunday’s 31-27 victory against the Vikings clearly goes hand-in-hand with the outcome of the game, but it’s appropriate nonetheless.

Rob Chudzinski and his assistants put their brain power on full display in the HHH Metrodome. And Chudzinski’s satisfaction with the win went well beyond the fact it was his first as an NFL head coach after a 0-2 start.

He knew, as well as any number of people paying attention to the game throughout the league, that the Browns won with coaching as much as with anything else on a long list of difference-making contributions from players. It would be no exaggeration to say that the Browns outcoached the Vikings in every phase, from beginning to end.

But the real work didn’t start with the opening kickoff.

The real work began early Wednesday night, when the Browns made the stunning announcement that they had traded running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts.

Chudzinski’s first step toward giving the Browns the best opportunity to win at Minnesota was to make sure the team wouldn’t be distracted by the enormous fallout from the move. With the players having already gone home for the day, he called each of his captains to not only make them aware of what happened, but to also explain why it happened – that acquiring a first-round draft pick for Richardson would go a long way toward helping the team to have long-term success. The captains – offensive tackle Joe Thomas (offense), linebacker D’Qwell Jackson (defense), and (linebacker) Quentin Groves (special teams) – would then spread the word, and the reason, to their teammates.

Beyond that, Chudzinski made sure his team leaders would provide a calming effect through the balance of the week. And that was easy for him to do because Chudzinski, himself, remained calm. He gave no outward appearance that he was the least bit upset about the sudden departure of his starting running back. He showed zero indication that he agreed with the overwhelming public sentiment that the Browns were giving up on the season and only focused on the 2014 draft and beyond.

Chudzinski never broke stride from preaching the top, and only, priority for the team: do everything possible to beat the Vikings.

Then, on Sunday, he and his staff went about showing just how prepared they were, with their game plan and play-calling, to do their part. They put on their headsets and were ready to attack.

“It really is our standard,” Chudzinski said of his mindset during his appearance Monday on “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford.” “And that’s how we’re going to approach every game.”

It didn’t matter that the quarterback, Brian Hoyer, was making only the second start of his five-year NFL career or that he wasn’t blessed with as strong a throwing arm as the man he was replacing, injured Brandon Weeden. It didn’t matter that the offensive line had struggled badly in pass-protection the previous two weeks. It didn’t matter that there likely wouldn’t be much of a running game from one that would feature the 31-year-old legs of Willis McGahee, signed as a free agent only days earlier.

Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner were determined to hit on long plays through the air, and that meant trusting Hoyer and the line and a receiving corps boosted by the return of Josh Gordon from a two-game suspension to make the strategy work.

Chudzinski also reached into a bag of trick plays. The first came with the score tied, 7-7, and the Browns with a first-and-10 from the Minnesota 40 late in the first quarter. Because of the score and the fact it was still early in the game, Hoyer was able to sell a nicely executed fake of an inside handoff to Bobby Rainey before pitching to Gordon, who had plenty of green space in front of him for a 22-yard gain.

Then, with the score tied at 14-14 and the Browns facing a fourth-and-one from their own 38, he called for a direct snap to Josh Aubrey, whose 34-yard run helped set up a field goal. And, finally, after getting the ball back two plays later on a T.J. Ward interception, the Browns, lined up for a field-goal attempt on fourth-and-four from the Minnesota 11, had holder/punter Spencer Lanning throw a touchdown pass to Jordan Cameron.

It was clear that the Browns’ coaches had been extremely thorough in their research of the Vikings and of their tendencies, finding the flaws within their kicking game that they could exploit. It also was clear that they leaned heavily on the analytics that guide the vast majority of the organization’s decisions – from player acquisitions to selling tickets – for guidance on the right situations to make such bold moves.

“We needed a spark,” Chudzinski said. “We talked about that as a team that we needed a spark, we needed to get the fire lit. And there were a few opportunities where we had that chance to do it and I felt like it’s the time to try to give our team a spark. And, fortunately, they worked. Sometimes, they’re not going to work. That’s the thing about that style -- that aggressive, attacking style.”

It is a classic, risk-reward approach and, in the NFL, it tends to separate the best from the rest.

Taking what the defense gives you often isn’t worth having because it’s free, such as those short and intermediate routes underneath coverage. Taking what you want – including a first down on fourth-and-one from your own territory or a touchdown with your kicking team lined up for a field goal – carries a hefty price tag that can impact job security, positively as well as negatively.

“But I really think that our guys love being that way, love playing that way,” Chudzinski said. “And I think they’re understanding, even if we don’t make it (work), the next group steps up and goes out on the field and does what they need to do and we’re back on track.”

That’s another way of saying that the players have enough trust in each other to trust what’s being called by the coaches.

Thanks to Sunday’s game, Chudzinski and his staff have provided plenty of reasons to be trusted to do the right thing when doing the bold thing.

>>Caruccis Call is presented by Revol Wireless. Come Save With Us.

>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. ET, for Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Fordon ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on ClevelandBrowns.com.

>>Have a question for Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford? Ask me at Twitter.com/viccarucci or by e-mail at daily@clevelandbrowns.com or by calling 855-363-2459.