Welcome to the first annual Browns Rant season preview. Hey, how's everyone doing?
Let's start with a disclaimer. Browns Rant will NOT make any predictions of any kind in terms of record. Any intelligent football fan knows that it's arbitrary and involves too many variables.
Consequently, even if one makes a good prediction it's usually due to some factor that one never considered or was dismissed as irrelevant or was so obvious that everyone else thought of it.
Unfortunately, we still can predict with almost certainty that the Browns will not be good this year. They have too many question marks and I don't see them all getting resolved.
Do I think they are going to be 2-14 like Peter King does? I doubt he even looked at the schedule considering the Browns are playing a team that went winless last year (Detroit); a team that just fired their Offensive Coordinator a week before the season (KC); a team that drafted Darrius Heyward-Bey seventh overall and whose Head Coach reportedly pounded a guy in the face; a team that traded away it's franchise QB, is trying to trade it's franchise WR and features Andra Davis as starting ILB as part of arguably the worst front seven in football (Broncos); and a team who went 5-11 last year and has former Brown and Josh Cribbs' financial guru Dennis Northcutt skillfully hauling in passes at WR (Jaguars).
So Peter, please, do us a favor and write a nice long article about Brett Favre's jockstrap (no, I don't mean Brad Childress) and leave the prophesyzing to Mel Kiper Jr.
Without further ado......
When the Browns tabbed Eric Mangini to be there next coach, everyone thought Randy Lerner was out of his mind or just plain stupid. We would've much rather Josh McDaniels or Scott Pioli, right?
Now these organizations look like Britney Spears; spiraling out of control and repeatedly shooting themselves in the leg.
(Do NOT insert your Plaxico Burress joke here. I can't tell you how many times I heard that stupid joke along with the pretentious exclamatory "no pun intended!" I'm looking at you, Jay Leno. No more.)
There is no question that the Browns will be more disciplined and aggressive under Mangini than Romeo, which really is like saying America will be more liberal under Obama than Bush.
The question is this. Has Mangini learned from his mistakes with the Jets when at times he seemed to play not to lose? He better, or else Randy Lerner will hire Art Shell to take his place in four years.
You would also like to see the Browns develop some sort of identity on offense, and with Mangini, that should mean running the football and a ball control-based scheme, which would be fine if you didn't have Jamal Lewis as your starting RB.
I don't buy into the the Browns rhetoric that they will be a game plan-specific team like the Patriots just yet; then again we don't have toys like Brady, Moss and Welker. Needless to say, the play-calling will be carefully watched.
Obviously, they will tone it down a little for Brady Quinn; I just hope that means more screens to Harrison and Cribbs and not more of Jamal Lewis diving for two yards.
On the defensive side, you have to love Rob Ryan talking like he's Rex and coaching like he's Buddy (you know with the whole 46 defense and all).
The only thing is Mangini is known for his "bend but don't break defense" so either Ryan just likes to talk or (gasp!) Mangini might be coming around on the whole blitzing thing.
We haven't seen a Browns linebacker blitz since Jamir Miller (Sorry Willie McGinest, what you were doing all these years cannot even loosely be described as blitzing). If the preseason is any indication the special teams should be a crack squad.
On a related note, BLAKE COSTANZO MADE THE TEAM!! I begged Mangini not to cut him and force him to trade first names with Browns G.M. Kokinis and he apparently has started to listen to me. Or maybe that's "Jimmy" doing his thing.
Guess what one of the keys is for the Browns offense this year. I'll give you a hint.
The Patriots do it.
The Steelers do it.
Heck, even the Toronto Argonauts do it.
Screen passes. Yes, screen passes will be one of the keys for the offense this year, especially since we're operating with assumption that Brady Quinn will be the starter (even though I fully expect Mangini to send him out with a ski mask under his helmet we should be able to figure out it's him by his biceps) and since the offensive line may have some problems opening up holes (apparently only for Jamal Lewis) we will need some other way to compensate for these yards.
Enter the screen pass, which offers a great way to accomplish the objectives you want from your running game while also getting the football into the hands of your play makers. I'd say chalk up the Brown's up for at least four a game this season.
Obviously, I hope they also do other things to spice it up like the no-huddle and the "Flash" package (which we rarely saw last season). Another thing they shouldn't be shy about is throwing the ball down the field in the beginning of games.
If your afraid Brady will throw a pick, then tell him to chuck it out of bounds. It's imperative that the opponent know that it's in our arsenal.
Let's keep this internal for now.
I expect Lewis to start the first few games, average 1.9 YPC and then to be benched. James Davis has looked pretty solid during the pre-season with a nice burst through the line and a penchant for the big play.
And if you watched the Bears game, you saw Davis doing a great job at picking up the blitz numerous times.
Keep Beanie "The Human Hamstring Pull" Wells. We'll take James Davis.
Even though he seems to have been forgotten, I still expect Jerome Harrison to touch the ball plenty. Remember, Mangini loved experimenting with Leon Washington in N.Y.
Going into training camp I was as high as Michael Beasley (low blow alert-pun intended) on the Browns offensive line.
With the drafting of "The Mack Truck" and the signing of Womack and St. Clair, and with Tuck, Rex Hadnot and Hank Fraley providing depth I thought we were stacked. Now?
Tuck is gone, St. Clair hasn't made anyone forget Kevin Shaffer and they haven't been able to run to the right side the whole pre-season.
Penalties abound and laps have been run. Plus, our "swing tackle" is some guy named Phil Trautwein, who looks like he became a offensive lineman just because he looks like one. Keep your fingers crossed.
If Braylon learns how to catch a football, Cribbs steps up to be a No. 2 receiver, Furrey makes key third-down grabs and Massaquoi and Robiskie develop and contribute this year, we should be good. You get the point.
Royal is a big upgrade when he's blocking over Winslow who after all his bravado blocked like a third-grade girl. We need 70 receptions from the tight ends this year. Steve Heiden is definitely good for 30.
It will be very interesting to see what Martin Rucker can contribute. I really don't see why Phil Savage had to trade his children for this guy; at best he looks like a decent pass catcher. But don't discount the added blocking; I think that more than compensates for Winslow's offense. Well, almost.
Built in excuses for the offense: Jamal Lewis is washed up; John St. Clair keeps on missing blocks; D.A. standing on the field and tripped Josh Cribbs (this joke is approaching Plax overkill status but until then...); Mangini doesn't divulge which plays he wants to run to the team; the elements; Braylon Edwards catches a football like a third grade girl or last but not least: our OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR IS CANADIEN!! How can the players possibly respect him? He speaks French and gets free health care. That's a built in excuse if I ever saw one.
I don't see anyway the offense doesn't improve this season. We're talking about a team who averaged 100 yards per game rushing and less than 150 passing.
Plus, contrary to popular belief we do have playmakers. Your excused if you can't get it to Edwards if he drops passes but we should be creative enough to get into the hands of Josh Cribbs.
We should see a improved running game with James Davis and behind a offensive line that despite its problems, is arguably the best in the division.
Malcolm Mathers is one of the creators of the Cleveland Browns Blog Browns Rant which can be found at http://www.brownsrant.com/.