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Kevin Gorman: Steelers can thank Hue Jackson for Browns turmoil

November 9, 2018

If you can believe it, Hue Jackson managed to do something even more amazing than keeping his job as Cleveland Browns coach after following a 1-15 season by going 0-16.

Turning Todd Haley into a sympathetic figure, just in time for his Heinz Field homecoming this Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, might be Jackson’s most impressive accomplishment as a head coach.

Jackson made Haley, his hand-picked offensive coordinator, the scapegoat for the Browns’ 26-23 overtime loss at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday by promising to get more involved in the offense.

“Trust me when I say I’m not trying to create any issue here,” Jackson said, just as he was about to create an issue, “but I think if the offense is not playing well -- and we haven’t over a period of time -- being a head coach and an offensive guy who’s done this, I think I have every right as a head coach to jump in here and see if I can help and assist and get this thing to where I think it needs to be, because we need to be better on offense. If that’s my specialty, I need to be involved more, and I will be.”

It’s true that Jackson has a history as an NFL offensive coach, serving as offensive coordinator for the Washington Redskins, Oakland Raiders and Cincinnati Bengals. But this might be a good time to remind you that Jackson also called the plays the past two seasons for the Browns. They won once in 32 games, thanks to his specialty.

Haley spent six seasons as Steelers offensive coordinator before he and the team parted ways in January despite an offense that ranked third in passing yards and total yards and eighth in points per game.

Haley’s personality conflicts were more of a problem than his play-calling -- the fourth-and-1 toss sweep in the AFC playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars notwithstanding -- and Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell were among the NFL’s most prolific players at their positions.

But the Browns have struggled under Haley, scoring only six points in seven first quarters this season and four touchdowns in the last three games. Of course, Jackson didn’t make it easy on Haley by starting Tyrod Taylor at quarterback over No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield. The Browns took away a pair of playmakers by trading receiver Josh Gordon to the New England Patriots and running back Carlos Hyde to the Jaguars.

Haley is coaching an offense with rookie starters in Mayfield and running back Nick Chubb, and the Browns had three first downs at halftime against the Bucs before rallying from a 14-point deficit with two fourth-quarter touchdowns to force overtime for the fourth time this season.

Jackson has made it a habit to remind everyone who is the coach, a sure sign of his impending doom. The Browns are 3-35-1 under Jackson, including a 2-10-1 record in games within a three-point margin, the difference in three defeats this season. The Browns have lost nine games on the final play, which falls squarely on the coach.

Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey played for Jackson with the Raiders and for Haley with the Steelers, so he’s familiar with what he called a pair of “strong personalities” despite their differences.

“You know what? To be honest with you, there might be some similarities,” Heyward-Bey said Monday. “I’ve had them both as OCs, so I’ll go from that approach. I think they’re both great offensive minds. I think they have a lot of confidence in their ability to call plays. They try to bring that same mentality: that they want everybody else to have that same confidence that they have. If you don’t have it, they have the personality that they’re going to let you know that they need that from you. Some guys don’t like confrontation like that. Those two guys do.”

Jackson promised to “jump in head-first” with the offense.

“He knows the buck stops on him,” said Steelers cornerback Joe Haden, who played for Jackson with the Browns in 2016. “If he’s going to go down, he’s going to go down calling his stuff.”

That could be good news for the Steelers. Haley has won more games at Heinz Field than Jackson has, given his 0-19 record on the road as Browns coach, a title he loves but might not hold much longer.

“Sure, you would like everything to blow up on the sideline right in the middle of our game,” Heyward-Bey said. “But you can’t control how they’re going to handle situations ...

“Hopefully, they figure it out. Hopefully, it’s not next Sunday.”

If the Browns don’t, the Steelers can thank Hue.

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