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Struggling Browns special teams continues mistake-riddled Amos Jones’ NFL tenure

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Special teams lapses have hindered the resurgent Cleveland Browns so far in 2018, so who’s to blame?

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Amos Jones has been around football longer than many reading this have been alive. He’s earned respect amongst the football community while working over the last 35 years in the industry.

But how many special teams coordinators have a website dedicated to having them fired?

This is an unfortunate reality, but given the Cleveland Browns’ defensive and offensive improvements, the team’s currently being hindered by its special teams play. And it’s really unclear how they’re going to make any improvements.

If you’re looking for any kind of visible remedial action by head coach Hue Jackson, you’re probably going to have to wait for another game-changing miscue before anything happens. Jackson has stuck with the veteran coordinator, at least for another week.

What exactly is wrong with the Browns’ special teams, then, and is it Jones’ fault? That’s the key question here that Jackson needs to figure out, and he needs to do it fast before those problems end up costing his team another win.

For starters, the shift to Jarvis Landry as punt returner last week at least gives the appearance Jones is able to recognize Jabrill Peppers has had awful decision-making when choosing whether to return punts or fair-catch them.

Then again, that might be giving Jones too much credit.

“Jabrill at that point in time had gotten to the sideline, and not sure to whether he was injured or whatever, but it was a scenario where it was time for Jarvis to be able to step in,” said Jones on moving Landry to punt returner in Week 3.

“Jabrill needed a break,” he added. “Jarvis was the next man up so to speak in that situation.”

Everyone not in Jones’ position can plainly see Peppers needs permanently replaced in the punt return game, so let’s hope he was being kind to his young player’s psyche by coachsplaining around the question.

The next, and easily most concerning issue for the 2018 Browns so far, is the special teams’ protection schemes. Jones’ units have had a history with poor protection leading to missed field goals, blocked kicks, and poor coverage.

“When you take away your five best cover guys and your kicker doesn’t have his best year and your punter doesn’t have the year he is capable of having, it ain’t got a damn thing to do with coaching,” then Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said in Jones’ defense before the 2017 season.

Well, the Cardinals got those five key players back, then they added veteran kicker Phil Dawson, and they still struggled in 2017 with one of the worst special teams unit in the league in nearly every measurable.

“The bottom line though is, there’s no excuse. Our special teams, it’s been unacceptable, point blank,” Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said last December. “It’s something that needs to improve and I’ll just leave it at that.”

If you want to dive deeper into the wide-stretching special teams problems in Arizona under Jones during his five season there, head over to ESPN to check out Josh Weinfuss’ thorough breakdown. Weinfuss succinctly summed up the problem around the same time Keim expressed his frustrations:

Throughout the past five years, 148 players have taken at least one snap on special teams, including five punters, four long-snappers and three kickers.

And while the players change, there’s been one consistency: special-teams coordinator Amos Jones.

Arians never wavered up until his retirement, continuing to blame his players and not his coordinator. Jones was predictably not retained after Arians retired following five seasons of disastrous special teams performances.

Through three weeks in Cleveland, Jones’ unit has had multiple blocked kicks, coverage lapses, missed kicks, and poor returns. The fully monty of futility, we’ve seen it all.

The wide-ranging issues and Jones’ history bellows loudly that there’s an underlying and fundamental coaching problem responsible for these lapses. It’s either a wild coincidence or evidence of a real coaching deficiency that these problems seem to follow Jones to every destination. But, unlike in Arizona, the coach may not be getting the same benefit of the doubt in Cleveland.

“We have to shore [special teams] up. We can’t have it become the Achilles heel. We know that teams are going to scratch where it itches,” Jackson said following the team’s Week 3 win. “Right now, that is one of the areas that is itching, and we have to fix it. We have to put a Band-Aid on it as fast as we can.”

Hopefully Jackson’s added focus on his team’s special teams problems will result in a better overall performance this week in Oakland.

If not, you have to wonder how long this goes on before the Browns decide to make a change, whether that’s personnel-wise or in the coaching room. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another loss to shake things up. There’s only so many places to deflect blame before it becomes readily apparent to everyone where the real problem exists.