Offense? Defense? The Browns Need Help Everywhere

Marty GitlinContributor IMay 19, 2009

BEREA, OH - MAY 02: Head coach Eric Mangini of the Cleveland Browns looks on  during rookie mini camp at the Cleveland Browns Training and Administrative Complex on May 2, 2009 in Berea, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Those who have winced watching running backs slash through gaping holes in the Browns' defensive line or opposing quarterbacks scan the field with nary a care in the world might be disappointed that Eric Mangini is now their head coach.

After all, Mangini plans on retaining the 3-4 defense that has been shredded both on the ground and through the air for the past several years. And the team's first three selections in the April draft indicate that his major priority this season will be attempting to restore the offense to its explosive 2007 form.

However, one thing is certain—anyone arguing that familiarity indeed breeds contempt wouldn't use Mangini as an example. He brought in several Jets through free agency and trades to try to bolster the Browns defense, including potential starters such as defensive end Kenyon Coleman, safety Abram Elam, and linebackers David Bowens and Eric Barton.

Mangini's New York Jets ranked a woeful 29th in the NFL against the pass last season, but were third in the AFC with 41 sacks, which calls their secondary into question. But they were also among the stingiest teams in the league in stopping the run.

Statistics can be analyzed ad nauseam, but success or lack thereof is determined far more often by talent level than coaching philosophy and strategy. The Browns defense was dismantled in 2008 despite the brilliance of Pro Bowl nose tackle Shaun Rogers and inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, greatly because end Corey Williams never adjusted to the 3-4 alignment and outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley continued to regress.

Enter new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who comes to Cleveland with a reputation for energizing the pass rush. The son of Buddy Ryan, who built the lock-down Chicago Bears defense of the mid-1980s, brought respectability to the Oakland Raiders pass defense. He helped Nnamdi Asomugha blossom into arguably the finest cornerback in the game. But the Raiders also ranked last in the NFL against the run during the five seasons he served as their defensive coordinator.

One of the younger Ryan's primary tasks will be to further the development of young cornerbacks Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald, whose struggles have been the result of both inexperience and the lack of a pass rush.

The Browns' offensive direction has yet to be determined. The addition of possession receivers David Patten, Mike Furrey, and Brian Robiskie indicates that Mangini might be leaning toward Brady Quinn over Derek Anderson as the starting quarterback. Quinn doesn't boast a strong arm, but he is better suited in an offense that features a short to medium range passing game.

A trade of enigmatic featured receiver and deep threat Braylon Edwards could all but secure a starting spot for Quinn. Anderson is far more accurate passing downfield and has proven uncomfortable and mistake-prone dumping the ball.

The selection of center Alex Mack in the first round of the April draft also signals Mangini's desire to re-establish a potent ground attack. Veteran Jamal Lewis will pound away behind Mack and the left side of the line, which features two-time Pro Bowler Joe Thomas and dependable Eric Steinbach.

The trade of one-time Pro Bowl tight end Kellen Winslow, whose distaste for blocking was legendary, and the acquisition of block first Robert Royal at that position also further indicates that Mangini is giving top priority to improving the running game.

Mangini utilized both Thomas Jones and Leon Washington extensively last year. Waiting patiently in the wings for the Browns is scatback Jerome Harrison, who has displayed an ability to bolt quickly through holes and elude tacklers in the open field. Mangini will likely show less hesitancy to utilize a two-back system, particularly considering Lewis no longer has the freshest of legs and that Harrison is the team's lone breakaway threat.

Mangini hired Brian Daboll to serve as the new offensive coordinator. Daboll worked with Mangini as a quarterback coach last season, and all was rosy until Brett Favre collapsed in the final five games and took the Jets along with him.

Daboll is an unknown quantity as an offensive coordinator, but it won't take much creativity for the Browns to be more difficult to defend this season. Opposing defenders weren't shy about criticizing the offense last year for its predictability. The result was that the Browns established a dubious NFL record by failing to score a touchdown in their last six games.

The bottom line? You can't make chicken out of chicken salad. Mangini and his coaching staff might prove to be brilliant tacticians and creative play callers. But without a wealth of talent, no team can thrive. And most agree that the Browns simply don't have the horses to run a winning race.


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