Monday, December 27, 2010

Monday leftovers

One of Eric Mangini's weakest areas throughout the season has been time management. It reared its ugly little head again in Sunday's loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

Trailing, 13-7, and marching resolutely down the field with time winding down in the first half, the Browns reached the Baltimore 13 following a Colt McCoy scramble. With about about a minute left and all three timeouts, the Browns huddled as though it was the middle of the quarter.

There was no hurry up, no timeouts called, no spiking of the ball to stop the clock. Precious seconds ticked off and the Browns made no attempt to stop the clock. Why? Try to follow the logic of Mangini as he explained his strategy following the game.

"Get the points that are available from our perspective and not give their offense, which is a really good offense, a chance to go down and score," he said, giving the Ravens' offense much more credit than it deserved. That's called defensive coaching. And he has convinced at least two of his players it was the correct move.

"That's what we wanted to do from the sideline," McCoy said. "We weren't trying to not score. We took some shots at the end zone. But these guys, they're very good when you get down tight. Taking care of the ball, getting three points going into halftime without giving them the ball back, we have the momentum at that point."

Of course they weren't trying to not score. But what weren't they trying to not score? A touchdown or a field goal? And why were they so frightened of a Baltimore offense that had scored only 13 points to that point?

"It was good football," seconded offensive tackle Joe Thomas. Really? Playing conservatively for a field goal instead aggressively for a touchdown when you're in the red zone and down by six points is good football? No, that's defensive football. Conservative football. A pessimistic approach to football. Bad football.

In his first true test of playing in the capricious wind bowl known as Cleveland Browns Stadium in the winter, McCoy all but flunked. He found out you cannot float the football to your receivers as well in December as you can in October. Three interceptions later, lesson learned. Maybe. We'll find our this Sunday against Pittsburgh.

"Turnovers killed us today and most of it is on me," said McCoy after the game. "I've got to fix that. I've got to take care of the ball . . . As a quarterback, you have to go back and watch it. I'm going to play (the Ravens) for a long time."

Since the Ravens took away one of his favorite throws, the deep seam route, McCoy was forced to throw outside the numbers for the most part, revealing the weak part of his game. It remains to be seen whether his arm is strong enough to complete passes longer than 20-25 yards without floating them.

There is no question he has huddle presence and the team makes fewer mistakes when he's under center. But if teams continue to pack eight men in the box and dare him to throw, he's got to elevate his game and prove he can make all the throws necessary for them to back off.

Mangini has at least one supporter as his days seem numbered as the Browns' coach. "This team over the last two years just keeps getting better and better,'' said Ravens coach John Harbaugh following Sunday's game. "This is a legitimate football team. How many close games have they played in? You just go down and look at the scores and you’re like, ‘Oh my goodness.’

"Then they dominate two of the best teams in the league — the Patriots and the Saints. We haven’t been able to do that this year against that kind of competition. This football team is really, really good. They may have their quarterback. I think they’re really well-coached on both sides of the ball and special teams. We knew what we were in for coming in.”

The Browns keep getting better and better? In what way? After losing to Pittsburgh next Sunday, they'll be 10-22 under Mangini. That's better?

And how many close games have they played? Way too many. And how many of those close games have they lost? Way too many.

Yes, they dominated two of the best teams in the league. But what about those losses to Jacksonville, Buffalo and Cincinnati and the lucky victories against Carolina and Miami? Do those count, too?

If I were Harbaugh and had knocked off Mangini four times in four attempts the last two seasons, I'd want to make certain he stayed right where he was.

Peyton Hillis is tired and hurt. Perhaps its time to limit the big running back's involvement in the offense and see what Mike Bell can do. Bell looked good in the limited time he was in there against the Ravens. His slashing style contrasts nicely with Hillis' bull-like running.

Hillis, meanwhile, has crafted a very nice season that very well could be rewarded with a selection to the Pro Bowl. In the ultimate sign of respect, several Ravens said they voted for him. That includes Ray Lewis, an admirer of Hillis' running style. Not surprising since Lewis loves the mano y mano style of football.

Stream of consciousness: Where is the pass rush? On at least three occasions Sunday, Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco had time enough to order a five-course meal and eat it while waiting for one of his receivers to come open. . . . An onside kick to open the second half while trailing by only three points? Nothing wrong with the element of surprise, but the botched attempt by Phil Dawson is just another piece of the Murphy's Law jinx that hangs over this team. . . . The National Football League postponed a game in Philadelphia Sunday because of a blizzard. Wusses. I once sat through a game played in a blizzard at the old Municipal Stadium in the late 1950s. Ah, for the good old days when only lightning could postpone a game. . . . The right side of the Browns' offensive line and the flanks of the defensive line need a lot of help. Fortunately, finding players to fit in those areas is a strong suit of General Manager Tom Heckert Jr. . . . The way he has played the last two weeks, it seems as though the light has gone on for wide receiver Brian Robiskie. It'll be interesting to see if it carries over into next season.

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