Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Monday, er, make that Tuesday leftovers

He's doing it again.

In an attempt to keep New York Jets coach Rex Ryan guessing as to whom the Browns' starting quarterback will be when the two teams meet Sunday at CBS, Eric Mangini once again has put on his tap-dancing shoes and performed the terpsichorean shuffle.

Now that Seneca Wallace is healthy enough to practice and Jake Delhomme isn't too far behind, the Browns' head coach has enough bullets in his coaching gun to play that silly little game called "Who's My Starting Quarterback" with opposing coaches.

With Colt McCoy injecting more life into the Browns than a Die Hard battery, it has become quite obvious to just about everyone in the National Football League who will be under center Sunday. Anyone other than No. 12 and the world of football will be stunned.

And yet, Mangini continues his little charade. "(McCoy is) making the discussion harder and harder each week," he told the media Monday with a straight face. "We'll see where Colt and Seneca are and we'll have that discussion. But (McCoy is) definitely making it a lot harder." Really?

Ryan in New York must be quaking with uncertainty and fear with every Mangini utterance on the quarterback situation. Yeah, right. You can bet he's preparing for just one quarterback. Hmmm. Wonder who that would be.

Mangini's strange obsession with trying to confuse the upcoming opponent's defensive coordinator is becoming stale. Instead of playing cute little games with opposing coach's minds, how about concentrating on playing cute little games with opposing teams on the field.

Lost in the euphoria of the latest two victories was the performance of the plug uglies along the offensive line. In those two games, McCoy has finished each with a relatively clean uniform. Just one sack and only five hits. At the same time, they have provided Peyton Hillis with enough running room to pile up significant yards.

Late in last Sunday's victory over the New England Patriots, Hillis was dropped for a five-yard loss on the first play of a drive when ex-Brown Gerard Warren jumped into the hole vacated by guard Eric Steinbach, who pulled for a trap block. On the next play, Steinbach and tackle Joe Thomas double-teamed Warren, sealing him off, opening a hole through which Hillis cut back against and ran for 15 yards.

That was the drive the big running back made his personal tour de force, carrying all six times for 60 yards and the game-sealing touchdown in the 34-14 victory. Thomas, Steinbach, center Alex Mack, right guard Billy Yates and right tackle Pork Chop Womack are worthy of all the accolades coming their way.

And let's not forget fullback Lawrence Vickers. Playing at a level that should warrant his selection for the Pro Bowl, Vickers might turn out to be Phil Savage's best contribution to the Browns. Right now, the sixth-round raft pick is arguably the best blocking fullback in the NFL.

He plays the position like a heat-seeking missile. And when Hillis pairs up with him in the backfield in an offset or straight I formation, you can bet something positive will eventuate. With Hillis' penchant for always falling forward and tremendous ability to rip off huge chunks of yards after contact, Vickers has become a huge weapon in offensive coordinator Brian Daboll's arsenal.

Did anyone notice how McCoy was able to reach the end zone on his 16-yard scoring run against the Patriots? Joshua Cribbs came across the field and delivered a devastating block that cleared one path and Hillis arrived late to seal off another defender just before the rookie quarterback scored.

It's little things like that help win games. They often times go unnoticed by fans, but you can bet the coaches take notice and feel rewarded that their work is beginning to pay off. More often than not, coaches harp on the little things like that which contribute to victories.

Why is Evan Moore not a major part of the game plan? The big tight end (he's not a tight end; he's a big wide receiver) does nothing but make significant contributions every time his number is called. At 6-6 and 250 pounds, he's a huge target for McCoy. His 17-yard catch on a jump ball at the New England 2 helped set up the first touchdown of the afternoon. It was the only time he was targeted. Why?

He's got large hands, rarely drops a ball, runs good routes, isn't afraid to go over the middle and makes plays. OK, so he doesn't have wide receiver speed. Neither did Dave Logan and Joe Jurevicius and they had nice NFL careers. Both ex-Browns could always be counted on to make a play.

So why not Moore? He'd be better suited to team up with Mo Massaquoi than Brian Robiskie. He wouldn't look out of place. After all, he did play wide receiver at Stanford.

The Browns' latest surge toward respectability has caused one to look differently at the upcoming schedule. At one time, the Jets' game was no doubt written off as a loss and the game in Jacksonville game was a possible loss.

Look at that schedule now and, based on the way they have played the last three games, you say there is no such thing as a sure loss for the Browns. If they continue to play at this level, there is every reason to believe they approach these games knowing they can win rather than thinking they can win.

It's all about confidence and they've got a boatload of it now that they appear to have found out how to finish games. Who knows where they would be had they not blown three fourth-quarter leads at the beginning of the season -- 5-3, maybe 6-2, instead of 3-5?

One niggle on Hillis: He has to learn when to go down. Most of his fumbles have occurred when he twists and turns trying to get extra yards. That, it appears, is when the ball is most vulnerable to be stripped. Even so, it was nice too see Mangini stick with him even though he lost a fumble against the Patriots. Despite his proclivity to lose the ball, he should never be removed from the starting backfield.

Has anyone noticed the Browns have taken fewer penalties lately? After averaging about seven penalties and 57 yards a game in the first five games, they have averaged just four penalties and 35 yards a game in the last three. And we all know who the quarterback has been the last three games. Coincidence? I think not. Someone has removed his finger from the self-destruct button.

Rarely now do we see a false start or motion penalty or procedure penalty such as six men on the line of scrimmage. Mistakes are way down. The reason has to be a combination of good coaching and the new kid at quarterback.

The Browns now need to feed off the Patriots victory, not dwell on it. Mangini's greatest challenge this week is getting the undivided attention of his players to shift their focus to the Jets. He'll have plenty if company in Rob Ryan, who would love nothing better than to beat his twin brother.

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