Monday, December 20, 2010

Monday leftovers

When Eric Mangini eschewed a standard kickoff following the Browns' last touchdown in Sunday's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, he basically thumbed his nose at his defense.

There were two minutes and 13 seconds left in the game and the Browns had two timeouts plus the two-minute warning timeout. So that's three clock stoppages, which would have given Colt McCoy and his men plenty of time to have a shot at winning the game. Except Mangini opted for an onside kick.

In other words, he felt his odds for winning were greater with an onside kick than turning the ball over to the Bengals in standard fashion and watching Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott continue to dance all over his defense. No other reason to explain the onside kick with so much time remaining and so many timeouts in hand.

That is an indictment on a defense that has played reasonably well this season. Or is it? Was Mangini's snub of his defense warranted? A quick look at the Browns' time of possession in the last two games reveals the answer.

The late-season collapse against the run is due, in large part, to the offense's inability to remain on the field. In the last two games, that offense has played an embarrassing 46 minutes out of 120. When your defense is on the field 62% of the time, attrition is almost expected. The result was 380 rushing yards by Buffalo and Cincinnati.

This defense is worn out, bone tired. With any kind of cooperation from the offense, which is a pathetic 4-for-18 on third downs in those two games (and one of those was via the penalty route), the defense most likely doesn't wear down to the point where every running back looks like an All-Pro against them.

So maybe Mangini did the right thing in attempting an onside kick. Almost worked, too.

How ironic that a late-season surge last season most likely saved Mangini's job when Mike Holmgren climbed aboard and now a late-season collapse this season most likely will cost him that job.

If the coach is going to hang his hat on his team's mid-season blast this season --you remember the glory days of the Saints and Patriots victories, don't you? -- in an effort to hold on to his job, he better do some fast talking and dancing. Holmgren is no dummy and now, he has tangible evidence by which to determine Mangini's immediate future.

When he took over earlier this year, all the team president had was knowledge that the Browns closed strong last season. And Mangini was able to smooth-talk his way to another crack at coaching this club. Now, after watching the Browns stumble and bumble their way to a 5-9 record thus far, Holmgren has a much clearer picture of the direction in which his club is marching. That direction, for the most part, would be reverse.

What in the world is wrong with Joshua Cribbs? He's no longer one of the most dangerous return men in the National Football League. He's not even close. At best, he's been average thus far. And the Browns aren't paying him more money to be average.

OK, so he's got four dislocated toes on one foot. Then he shouldn't be playing if the injury hampers his ability to returns kicks and punts. But even when he was healthy, Cribbs did not display the take-it-all-the-way talents we have come -- perhaps unfairly -- to expect.

Of course, he's not going to take every kickoff all the way. But his inability to give the Browns' offense a short field has made it more difficult for the offense. If he makes it to his 35-yard line now, that's considered an accomplishment. And a disappointment because fans expect him to break one. Not hope. Expect.

Some players get voted into the Pro Bowl year after year based on reputation. In most cases, that reputation is based on solid play. In his first three seasons with the Browns, offensive tackle Joe Thomas was deservedly chosen to participate in the post-season game.

If he is chosen again this season, reputation will have a lot to do with it because his play does not warrant selection. For whatever reason, the big guy from Wisconsin has not played up to the All-Pro high standard that garnered him all those votes in the previous three seasons.

His pass protection has been uneven. And his run blocking -- he is more finesse than smash mouth -- has been less than desirable. It's not like he's having a bad season. He's not. He's just not having the kind of season we've all come to expect from the Pro Bowler.

Call it a hunch because that's all it is. But somehow, I think the Browns will split their final two games at home against Baltimore and Pittsburgh and finish 6-10. It won't save Mangini's job, but it might give some fans a good feeling with which to end the season. I don't know who they're going to beat or how they're going to do it. I just feel it in my bones.

I prefer it to be against Baltimore this Sunday for obvious reasons and because the Ravens could be ripe for an upset. They've played extremely difficult games the past three weekends (against the Steelers, Texans and Saints) and might figure the Browns game will provide an emotional and mental break. That's when letdowns occur.

Quick thoughts: Welcome back, Brian Robiskie. It's nice go see you finally contribute to the cause. . . . Any question that Colt McCoy's favorite throw is the 20- to 25-yard seam route to his tight end? . . . What has happened to the pass rush? Just two sacks against two of the worst offensive lines in the NFL the last two Sundays. . . . How badly has this team missed Scott Fujita at outside linebacker? Rhetorical question. . . . Why do Mo Massaquoi and Chansi Stuckey have such a hard time getting open? . . . Has Peyton Hillis finally worn down to the point where he is no longer effective?

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