Browns coach Eric Mangini is a branch on the Bill Belichick coaching tree.
Despite leaving Belichick’s coaching staff to pursue head coaching opportunities and then ratting out his former boss in the Spygate scandal in 2007, Mangini still hasn’t gone far from his roots.
As of Thursday afternoon, Mangini had yet to officially name a starter for Sunday’s rivalry showdown with the Steelers at Heinz Field. That’s a move straight out of Belichick’s playbook.
For some reason, both Belichick and Mangini act like their team’s information about injuries and starters should be as secretive as the country’s nuclear launch codes.
Mangini has two quarterbacks to choose from in third-stringer Colt McCoy and former third-stringer Brett Ratliff, who was most recently on the Patriots’ practice squad. It seems like a no-brainer that McCoy will make his first NFL start on Sunday.
However, Mangini is trying to leave some doubt in the minds of the Steelers, as if the No. 1 scoring defense in the league is trembling with fear over the prospect of which of the inexperienced quarterbacks—who have taken a combined total of zero NFL regular season snaps—they will get to mercilessly blitz.
This isn’t the first time Mangini has pulled these stunts as the Browns' coach, as he played on a similar quarterback carousel last season with the imposing names of Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson, who were traded and released, respectively, in the offseason.
Mangini believes that keeping the opponents guessing about such things provides a competitive advantage. That might be true if he were choosing between Peyton Manning and Michael Vick as his starter, but not in this case.
I would argue that most of Mangini’s success with the Browns has come when the opponent knew what was coming. At the end of the 2009 season, the Browns handed the ball off to Jerome Harrison as if it was the pre-forward pass era, and they won their final four games. The same was true with Peyton Hillis in Weeks 3 and 4 of this season, a narrow loss to the Ravens and a win over the Bengals.
More importantly, Browns fans have to wonder if Mangini has even told the team who is starting on Sunday. If he hasn’t, that might hinder the performance of the person who eventually gets named the starter. Mangini needs to pick a starter and show confidence in him so that the rest of the team can support and believe in that starter—or send him a sympathy card.
Browns fans are already fed up with years of losing and having to guess the starting QB each week. Whoever starts on Sunday will be the 16th different starter for the Browns since they returned to the NFL in 1999. Hold on a second—I need to go cry into my Tim Couch jersey.
McCoy was drafted to be a potential quarterback of the future. Ratliff is a Mangini protégé who was signed by his Jets as an undrafted free agent in 2007. Mangini then traded for him last season as the Browns coach. Knowing how much Mangini loves his handpicked players, it wouldn’t be a shock if he started his boy Ratliff.
However, the right thing to do would be to stop playing mind games and give the ball to McCoy.
Whoever the starting quarterback is faces the unenviable task of taking his first career snaps in Pittsburgh against the vaunted Steelers defense. Mangini needs to find a way to help his starter avoid joining Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace on the injury report. Instead, he’s playing a game of “Guess Who?” where neither choice is attractive.