Hard Knocks ep. 4 recap: Tyrod Taylor gets lucky, but Hue Jackson just looks worse

August 30, 2018 GMT

You don’t arrive at 1-31 by accident, it turns out, and yet waving around the worst two-year record in NFL history is still just low-hanging fruit if it’s not backed up properly. So here’s the context for why Hue Jackson should be in major trouble (wait, he isn’t already?) with the Cleveland Browns.

He has a terrible way of handling his quarterbacks.

For all the times we’ve heard offensive coordinator Todd Haley screaming at the Browns’ defensive players not to touch the quarterbacks in practice throughout the four episodes of “Hard Knocks,” perhaps it might help if someone slapped Jackson with some sense over his handling of the position.

Last Thursday we saw the Browns play the Philadelphia Eagles in primetime, but the 5-0 Browns victory was the afterthought of the evening. The story was the injury to Tyrod Taylor, who suffered a wrist injury and yet somehow was allowed to return to the game.


Taylor fell to the ground, bracing his fall with his left wrist, and came up clearly hurt. He’s seen up close screaming in pain in the medical tent on the sideline and then taken off for X-rays.

“Oh, my gosh,” Taylor said, “I can’t feel it.”

The sound Taylor makes is not of a player who suffered a mild sprain. It’s obvious he’s hurting badly.

And yet somehow this man — after the scans were negative — was allowed to re-enter the game. A preseason game. A completely useless game. The kinds of games most NFL teams want to cut down by half. Jackson put his starting quarterback back into the game against the Eagles, who go two deep with their waves of pass rushers, after missing two series.

This is the same coach who is heard admonishing a member of the media in the opening scenes of “Hard Knocks” when that person asks if Baker Mayfield will get reps during practice with the first-team offense.

“No! No, no, no, no,” Jackson said for effect. “Tyrod needs every rep.”

Clearly. Even when he’s hurt. Jackson doesn’t even hesitate putting Taylor back in when he runs out of the X-ray room and back onto the field. What a dumb way to go about business. The Browns finally have a good thing going here at QB, and Jackson is doing his best to screw up both ends of it.

This is a man who appears to be coaching dangerously, not knowing how properly to navigate his team out of the abyss into which he’s already led it. Jackson got incredibly lucky — first when Taylor’s injury wasn’t more serious and second when Taylor didn’t aggravate it further with more live play and full hitting.


It baffles the mind against any form of logic. Wasn’t Jackson overruling Haley in the first episode on the matter of sitting players who have soft-tissue injuries that needed managing? And yet here is Jackson, under the auspice of getting his treasured starting quarterback some more work in this “new offense,” sending him back in harm’s way for no good reason.

It’s incredible that Haley is coming off as the more head-coach-worthy man of the two — and in such a short time. He’s been in town about six months and already looks far and away the more savvy thinker of the two, even if Haley clearly has a style unto his own that takes some getting used to.

We wrote Monday about the possibility of Haley perhaps replacing Jackson midseason if things don’t improve dramatically, and Tuesday’s episode went a long way toward backing up that idea — at least as a short-term bandage. Haley is by no means the perfect, ideal head coach. He’s been his own worst enemy at a few past jobs and earned a reputation for being difficult, abrasive and unpredictable.

But there’s absolutely evidence that suggests he understands the big picture better than his de facto boss. Haley has done plenty of ribbing to Browns players, such as making fun of the names of QB Brogan Roback and defensive end Carl Nassib. But Haley also has implored his young leaders, such as Jarvis Landry, to step up in their responsibilities.

In a fascinating exchange, Haley yelled at Landry for not running out two routes against the Eagles with full effort. After Taylor overthrew Landry on a pass that looked wholly uncatchable, Haley yelled out, “Jarvis stopped. Jarvis f---ing stopped.”

The lashing continued on the sideline. After Landry questioned Haley (“What the f--- are you talking about? The ball was out of bounds.”), Haley shot back.

“Catch the ball and make a play,” he said. “Catch the ball and make a play, please. That looks like Friday bulls---.”

But Haley’s bigger-picture coaching points revealed themselves. He chewed out a young receiver, Derrick Willies, for giving a lackluster effort on a play and loafing it back to the sideline. Then Haley explained to Landry how he was involved with Willies’ lack of effort.

“Jarvis, did you see Willies half-ass it on the go [route]?” Haley asks. “Man, we’ve got to get this going, and you’ve got to be at the forefront. I’m going to keep saying it. It doesn’t matter.

“I’m not waiting for some ... what do they call it, a knight in shining armor? You’ve got to push these guys by doing it over and over and over again. Because if one of these young guys sees one time that you stop or don’t go all out, then that’s what the [expletive] they do.

“I just see it over and over again. And one of them’s gotta elevate and help us.”

Then — gasp — Haley apologized.

“I’m sorry for yelling, though,” he tells Landry, who by this point has his pads off.

They hug. Landry seems to get it. Haley knows he has a racehorse with a chip on his shoulder. He’s trying to coax whatever he can out of him in a reasonable way. There seems to be a begrudging respect there.

And if you’ve watched the odd dynamic between Jackson and Baker Mayfield, it pales in comparison between how Haley and the No. 1 overall pick interact. There’s a connection there. But between the head coach and QB, it’s hard to detect how well they relate.

I’m not talking about Jackson having some fun with the prized rookie during a lighthearted film session. During it, Jackson rhetorically asks his players, “Who here wears underwear?” Then we see a shot of Mayfield in his now-infamous skivvies ad where he’s posing shirtless with the tiger and the Rolls-Royce from “The Hangover.”

There’s nothing wrong with what Jackson was doing there, save for his dad-humor awkwardness. It’s easy to paint Jackson as the seventh-grade civics teacher you really want to like but who keeps making you cringe with awkwardness at the things he says and does. But it’s the fact that this man is really the superintendent and he’s potentially running the school into the ground with his odd management style.

In the moment when Taylor got hurt against the Eagles, there was a sense of, “Wow, maybe Mayfield will start Week 1 after all.” You could feel it. The sideline could. The fans could. Joe Buck and Troy Aikman talked about it on the broadcast. It felt like a legitimate possibility that the young QB who was not allowed to practice at all with the first team suddenly could be thrust into the starting role.

Knowing Mayfield’s makeup, he surely was ready for the chance. Every opportunity he’s received in football, he’s seized. It’s only a matter of time before he gets that chance, and nearly everyone expects him to run with it whenever it comes. But if you’re Mayfield, do you trust Jackson to put you in a position to succeed? If you’re GM John Dorsey, do you like Jackson handling your racecar on the open road?

This is, along with the 1-31 record before Dorsey ever arrived, why Jackson is almost certainly toast. His handling of the team’s most important assets feels shaky at best and dangerous at the worst.

Taylor has said he’s fine, having dodged a bullet. But at some point, Jackson’s luck is going to run out. This Browns team has something potentially special brewing here. Chaotic, sure, and that’s not all on Jackson.

But you can’t understate the nervous feeling he gives when watching him run this team. The players aren’t dumb; they sense it. Certainly Mayfield, who carries a real self-confidence to him, knows what’s up. Why do you think Dorsey chews all that gum? Watching Jackson play Russian Roulette with his team has to give the man major anxiety.

If Jackson was coming off an 8-8 season, this would still be a problem. Firing him is inifintely easier down the road if this wantonly careless way of managing his team continues.

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