Browns-Steelers: Report Card

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INSIDE SLANT

The Cleveland Browns will be hiring their third coach in four years following the firing of Eric Mangini.

Team president Mike Holmgren fired Mangini after the Browns second 5-11 season in a row -- one that ended with a four-game losing streak and an embarrassing season-ending loss to Pittsburgh at home.

"We just didn't win enough games," Holmgren said after praising Mangini effusively for his character and work ethic.

Now Holmgren gets to cast the Browns in his image by hiring his coach. He refused to get into specifics, except to say he had contacted several teams about interviewing assistants. The only one that immediately became public was Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell.

Holmgren no doubt also will reach out to Jon Gruden and John Fox, both unemployed, but he ruled himself out of the coaching search "at this time."

"As of right now, I am the President of the Cleveland Browns and my job is to find the best coach available, the right coach available for this job," he said. "That's what I am trying to do and that does not include me right now."

Which means that Holmgren will stay in the role he's in -- unless he can't find a coach he likes. If that happens, Holmgren would suddenly put himself on the search list.

NOTES, QUOTES

--PR Josh Cribbs has been an ardent supporter of Eric Mangini, so it followed that he was one of the more disappointed players regarding his firing.

Cribbs stated after the Browns' loss to Pittsburgh that he was not interested in starting over, again, that he believed in Mangini. Team president Mike Holmgren did not agree, prompting Cribbs to post on Twitter that he was "'sad they let go of my coach, great man, great coach, just bad situation ... "

Cribbs spent two years under Mangini, Prior to that he played for Romeo Crennel. He will welcome his third coach when Holmgren makes his hire.

--QB Colt McCoy got a valuable lesson in the final two games of the season, neither of which was very good for the team's rookie quarterback.

McCoy threw three interceptions in a loss to Baltimore, then threw three more and was harassed endlessly by Pittsburgh. In the two games, McCoy threw one touchdown pass and had six picks.

The Browns viewed it as NFL reality, especially in the AFC North where Baltimore and Pittsburgh reside. McCoy viewed it as a learning experience.

"I've got so much I can learn from," he said. "I can watch these tapes, I can watch these films, and I can watch our division opponents as they're in the playoffs, and see what they do. That's going to make a huge difference, if I go back and I learn from these mistakes."

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER NOTES

--PK Phil Dawson, the last remaining member of the 1999 team, who returned to the NFL after a three-year hiatus, may have played his last game as a Brown. Dawson is a free agent, and the Browns have shown no interest in re-signing him. Dawson has been the ultimate professional for 11 years. He will be missed.

--RB Peyton Hillis was badly slowed by bruised ribs, the result of a shot to the back in a loss to Baltimore. Hillis carried just six times for 13 yards against the Steelers. The dismal finale did not, though, diminish Hillis' excellent season. He was voted the Browns Player of the Year by the local chapter of the Pro Football Writers.

--TE Robert Royal was the first free agent signee of Eric Mangini's tenure. In the finale against Pittsburgh, Royal dropped two passes in the end zone and another later near the end zone. It epitomized the Mangini era -- it came up just short.

--S T.J. Ward had a strong season, but was victimized on the Steelers first offensive play as Ben Roethlisberger went deep to Mike Wallace for a 56-yard touchdown. Ward said he was the culprit on the play as he bit on play-action and lost sight of Roethlisberger, which allowed Wallace to get behind him.

REPORT CARD VS. STEELERS

PASSING OFFENSE: D -- The Browns were able to come up with a touchdown pass to Brian Robiskie, who made a nice catch as he fell, but overall the passing game was a downer. Pittsburgh's pass rush was able to tee off on Colt McCoy after the Steelers took an early lead, and the Browns never found an answer. The effort was epitomized by a late attempt to go for two, as on consecutive plays McCoy and Seneca Wallace were treated rudely by a Pittsburgh pass rush that left them sore and bruised on the failed attempts.

RUSHING OFFENSE: F -- As Peyton Hillis goes, so goes the Browns offense. Peyton Hillis was injured and ineffective against Pittsburgh, so the rushing offense went nowhere. The leading rusher was quarterback Colt McCoy (19 yards) and the Browns ran for 43 yards as a team.

PASS DEFENSE: F -- The Browns were victimized on the Steelers' first offensive play on a 56-yard touchdown. They also were victimized on a reverse pass from Antwan Randle El to Hines Ward when Randle El slipped, almost fell, spun around found Ward with nobody on the Browns in the same area code. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 280 yards and two touchdowns. It was a long day for the Browns.

RUSH DEFENSE: D-minus -- The Steelers didn't run for a lot of yards, but they didn't need to. Pittsburgh's 100 yards on 30 carries was plenty effective, and Pittsburgh Rashard Mendenhall scored on two rushing touchdowns. Mike Holmgren said there was nothing good about the game for the Browns, and he was right.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- Phil Dawson made his only field goal, but the thinking behind kicking the field goal was bizarre -- and emblematic of the Eric Mangini era. The Browns were down 14-0 with a 5-10 record, and on fourth-and-goal from the 2 Mangini elected to go for the field goal instead of the touchdown, which angered fans. Mangini put his heart into special teams, so it figured that he went out pinning all his hopes on special teams.

COACHING: F -- In a game when the Browns knew their coach was in danger, they came out and played terribly. It was the first time all season the Browns were blown out, but it was a humiliating way to end the season. Mangini did a lot of good work in Cleveland, but he went 2-10 against the AFC North, and in the last game showed that the Browns remain light years from the Steelers. Mangini was fired the day after the loss, as the Browns again tried to find the answer at coach.


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