The Browns' well-chronicled, high-profile push to find a starting quarterback is not being overblown.
It's essential. Quarterback is the most important position in team sports. Any offense – even any team overall – can't function without at least a functional quarterback.
And that's especially true in Cleveland, where the offense has struggled to function for way too long.
It has been since the beginning of the fourth quarter at Buffalo that the team has scored an offensive touchdown. In that game, Jerome Harrison burst up the middle and raced 72 yards for a touchdown with 14:47 left in the fourth quarter to help the Browns to a 29-27 win over the Bills on Monday Night Football last Nov. 17,
So the Browns offense went the final six games of 2008 – and all but 13 seconds of the last quarter of the Buffalo game – without getting into the end zone.
That streak goes to seven complete games – 28 full quarters -- if you count the 17-0 loss to the Green Bay Packers last Saturday night in the preseason opener.
Add in the 14:47 of the fourth period of the Bills contest, and it's been 434 minutes, 47 seconds of game action since the Browns offense tallied a touchdown.
Those are staggering numbers, especially for a franchise where 13 of its 15 Pro Football Hall of Fame players are from the offensive side of the ball.
They are staggering, too, when you consider that, in response to the fans' desire to see more points scored, nearly every NFL rule change in the last 30-plus years has favored offenses. After all that, when a team can't score – just when it can't score much, let alone nothing, in terms of offensive TDs – it has little hope of winning.
Indeed, for all of the problems the Browns defense had last year, it did its part in some of the games, even the ones late in the season, to help the team win. In three of the contests during the offensive-less streak, the Browns gave up 16 points or less. But with the offense sputtering, all that resulted were three losses – 16-6 to the Houston Texans, 10-6 to the Indianapolis Colts and 14-0 to the Cincinnati Bengals.
In five other games last year, the Browns surrendered 17 points or less. In three of them, the offense responded and the Browns won – 20-12 over the Bengals, 35-14 over the New York Giants and 23-17 over the Jacksonville Jaguars. In the two other ones – 10-6 and 14-11 losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Washington Redskins, respectively – the offense did nothing.
Mangini was asked Wednesday in his daily press conference if he felt a need for the offense, especially the No. 1 unit, to score a TD in Saturday night's preseason home opener against the Detroit Lions so as to get that ever-growing monkey off its back, and he said, in essence, no.
But for the players left from last year's offense, it would be a relief. Actually, for all of the players remaining from 2008, even the ones on defense, it would be a relief, for the defense probably feels as if they have to pitch a shutout in order for the club to simply play to a scoreless tie.
Other than winning games, the No. 1 objective for Mangini this season is to fix that offense. Nothing will improve the team more – and more quickly – than that.
But it won't be easy – at least it looks that way on paper. Mangini built his resume on defense and Rob Ryan, the team's defensive coordinator, has a long track record in the league. That means the defense is well-fortified with good minds.
But on offense, coordinator Brian Daboll, while he may well turn out to do great things, has never had that job title before and has never called plays before.
Thus, the real challenge is on offense. Can the Browns meet it? Can they get their offense going?
For that matter, can they score an offensive touchdown – and soon?
Though Mangini may not want to admit it publicly and put pressure on the offense – and that's understandable – getting that offensive TD is a whole lot more critical than he let on when asked about it on Wednesday.
Which is exactly why this quarterback derby is the only thing that really matters in what's left of training camp and these final three preseason games.