Rich's Rant: Is It Brady Time?

One of Derek Anderson's most vocal backers is now having some second thoughts...

The Browns have a far greater concern today than trying to figure out Romeo Crennel's unusual clock management skills and his ability to know the in-game difference between a field goal and a touchdown.

No, the mounting problem for the Browns lies with the starting quarterback.

If Derek Anderson has any designs on keeping his job in that role, he had better start playing like he wants to tether Brady Quinn to the bench.

His performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday night conjured up images of Tim Couch, Kelly Holcomb and Charlie Frye. And that's being kind.

For whatever reason, Anderson has devolved into a pedestrian quarterback, one who looks quite uncomfortable while forced into playing the kind of game with which he is not familiar.

Last season, he emerged as a gun-slinging, devil-may-care gambler who enjoyed, almost reveled, in showing off his powerful arm. It captured the imagination of Browns fans and stunned the National Football League.

This season, at least thus far, has given birth to a new Anderson, a tentative Anderson. Instead of reaching for his six-shooter, he has brought a cap-gun mentality to what was thought to be one of the NFL's most entertaining offenses.

Anderson seems unsure of himself. The swagger that was there most of last season is missing. It shows in his body language. He has lost his confidence and if he doesn't rediscover it soon, he'll be the Cleveland quarterback wearing the headset and carrying the clipboard.

In producing just one touchdown in the Browns' first two games, he has become the moderator of an offense that bathes itself with the five-yard slant, the eight-yard out and the dumpoff.

Gone, it seems, are the deep slant, the skinny post, the deep seam route, the occasional go route. In other words, the Browns' vertical game has morphed into the Browns' horizontal game.

Sure, Anderson has opened up against a couple of strong defenses. And yes, Braylon Edwards raised his dropped-pass total to five with two more uglies against the Steelers, which didn't help matters.

But this is not the same Derek Anderson. Something's different. It might be the concussion he sustained in the second exhibition game of the season. Then again, it could be that last season was, indeed, a fluke and he's just returning to his level of his competence. Or incompetence.

The interception he threw in Sunday night's loss with eight seconds left in the first half, no timeouts left and the Browns threatening the Pittsburgh end zone was particularly egregious. His target was Syndric Steptoe. Syndric Stepoe!! A rookie who made the team only because of injuries. What in the world was Anderson thinking? Shades of Couch, Holcomb and Frye.

At times against the Steelers, it looked as though Anderson shot-putted the football instead of throwing it. He was not stepping into his throws. The authority with which he threw the football last season has been absent this season. And that has to concern Crennel and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski.

Perhaps Anderson should pay closer attention to the way Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger plays the game. Whenever the Steelers needed a big play Sunday night, Big Ben delivered. He was clutch. He put up as many points as the Steelers required for the victory.

On the other hand, whenever the Browns needed a big play, Anderson grabbed his throat and squeezed.

You might not like him for his arrogance, but Roethlisberger is a playmaker. And this time, he did it with a separated throwing shoulder. Scary to think what he'll do to the Browns in the next several years with a healthy shoulder.

He has come into Cleveland Browns Stadium and made it his own personal playground five years in a row. It wouldn't be surprising to find out he enjoys winning more at CBS than any other venue in the NFL outside of Heinz Field.

This week, you can be certain Crennel will be asked about his quarterback situation. And you can be equally certain he will stick with Anderson for at least one or two more games. But in the back of his mind, he has to wonder just what the hell is going on here.

At the same time, perhaps he should ask himself the same question regarding clock management and kicking field goals when touchdowns are required.

The latest gaffe by the head coach was opting for a Phil Dawson field goal on fourth and 7 at the Pittsburgh 20 with 3:21 left in the fourth quarter and the Browns down, 10-3. His club needed a touchdown at that point to tie the game. A field goal meant they still had to score a TD to go ahead.

"I felt that gave us the best chance," Crennel said. "The way our defense had been playing, if we stop them and we score, we win." And if pigs had wings, they'd fly.

Apparently, Crennel failed to notice that in the previous 57 minutes, the Browns' offense put up a paltry three points against the Steelers. That kind of flawed thinking drives another nail into Crennel's head-coaching coffin.

What should also alarm Crennel is the offense's inability to run the ball. In order for the passing game to have a chance at succeeding, the running game must provide some relief.

The offensive line, roundly credited with last season's success, can share much of the blame for the club's woes on that side of the ball. Makes no difference whether the Browns run with a balanced or unbalanced line, the results are disappointing.

The only solace the Browns glean from Sunday night's loss is that they at least gave as well as they received. The Steelers, as they have been wont to do the last several years, did not come into CBS and slap the Browns around. They were ready to play this one. At least on defense.

It does not bode well for the Browns that the defense, for the most part, played well enough to win and yet lost. Last year, the offense bailed out the defense almost all season long. Based on early returns, it looks as though that might not be the case this season.

If the Cleveland offense can't get untracked this Sunday in Baltimore against a very good Ravens defense and/or the following week in Cincinnati against a terrible Bengals defense, it's going to be a long season.

Right now, the season is young enough that a sudden turnaround erases a majority of the doubts and concerns. Saying it is one thing. Accomplishing it is something entirely different.

A majority of that rests on Anderson's shoulders. He must take his game to another level if that's possible.

If not, say hello to Brady Quinn and an uncertain future.



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