Rich's Rant: Aggressive DC the Real Star

While the QB competition caught all the headlines, it was the aggressiveness of Rob Ryan's D that stole the show, Mr. Passan says in his latest. Although, he still has some opinions on the raging QB debate...

Although the "Who's Going To Be The Browns' Starting Quarterback?" traveling circus and sideshow remains the hot topic, the real star of Saturday night's exhibition victory over the Detroit Lions was Rob Ryan's defense.

Ryan promised a more aggressive approach when appointed the Browns' defensive coordinator. In the exhibition opener against Green Bay, vanilla was the flavor of the game. Against the Lions, it was just about every other flavor imaginable.

And the good news is what he showed was most likely just a small portion of what promises to be a voluminous defensive playbook.

Ryan attacked from every conceivable angle on the field. Blitzing with stunning regularity, the Browns befuddled the Lions' offensive line. Sometimes, the blitz came off the corner. Other times, safeties and linebackers rambled up the middle.

The Browns often lined up with anywhere from five to nine men on the line of scrimmage just before the snap and never rushed the same number more than twice in a row. Sometimes, the pressure came from the weak side, sometimes from the strong side.

You don't succeed with such tactics without solid press coverage by the cornerbacks and that's exactly what they got from Eric Wright, Brandon McDonald, Rod Hood and Corey Ivy.

Even though the starting front seven did not record a sack, they forced rookie quarterback Matt Stafford to throw well before he was wanted to. And Kenyon Coleman was especially stout at left end against the run.

One got the feeling that after the Packers ran against the Browns as though they weren't there last week, this game was dedicated to stopping the run. The tackling was sure and crisp. There appeared to be no missed tackles in the first half.

After all the years of witnessing read-and-react defenses, this was a pleasure to witness. There's nothing like intimidating football on defense.

Of the Lions' seven series, three ended in three-and-outs and two others produced just six plays. In the first six series, they made only one first down. It wasn't until drive No. 7 that the Lions mounted an attack. And that went 59 yards in 11 plays before the Browns took over on downs. In 33 first-half plays, Detroit amassed just 112 yards (40 on the ground) and three first downs.

Granted, the Lions were without their top three wide receivers and rookie Matthew Stafford started at quarterback. But playing in front of the home folks for the first time seemed to energize the Cleveland defense.

Now the quarterback situation, which coach Eric Mangini has turned into a soap opera. After Derek Anderson's strong performance against the Lions, the prevailing feeling here is that Mangini really doesn't know who will begin the season.

As promised, Brady Quinn and Anderson have been given the opportunity to win the job and each had impressive moments that make the decision that much more difficult. But both quarterbacks have had moments thus far that prompt one to wonder just why they are considered strong candidates for the job.

Each man has made head-scratching mistakes that produce serious doubts as to whether either young man can become what Mangini and his coaching staff is looking for.

Is it possible, therefore, that the Browns have two very average quarterbacks, neither of whom is capable of stepping in and becoming the man? Their performances thus far have been pockmarked by inconsistency.

Anderson, who looked awful in his limited time against Green Bay in the first exhibition game, brought back memories of 2007 with his showing against the Lions Saturday night.

He was confident, stood tall in the pocket, did not rattle and seemed to be in near perfect rhythm in the opening quarter. The offensive line kept him clean, reminiscent of its performance in the 2007 season.

Given the opportunity to show off his powerful arm, Anderson obliged by stepping into his throws and carving up the soft Detroit secondary with pinpoint medium-range passes. His passes were delivered in three seconds or less with four completions of 20 yards or more. Mangini had to take notice.

Anderson's only blemish in an otherwise solid performance was the interception in the final seconds of the first half that bounced off the hands of James Davis. It was a two-minute drill that began with just 49 seconds left and the ball on the Cleveland 28 and eight Lions dropping into deep zone coverage. Anderson believers say it was a catchable ball. Quinn partisans say it was thrown too hard.

Mangini, whose cloak-and-dagger ways suggest he wear a trench coat on the sideline, isn't making it easy on the team by vacillating at this point with just two more meaningless exhibition games remaining.

The so-called dress rehearsal for the regular season against the Tennessee Titans this Saturday at CBS might will be Quinn's last chance to settle the debate once and for all. That, of course, is if Mangini sticks to his rigid schedule of giving each candidate the opportunity to win the job and it is Quinn's turn.

The Titans present an important litmus test with a strong running game and a defense that is strong, fast, quick and mean.

The final game for fun in Chicago against the Bears is strictly to determine who fills out roster spots 40 to 53. The starters will play one, maybe two series and then remove the pads. It is the most meaningless of the meaningless games.

The rest of the offense needs to know now who will be under center Sept. 13 against the Minnesota Vikings when the real National Football League season commences. They need to know whose voice will command the huddle.

Quinn appears to hold the key. If he plays well against the Titans, the job is his no matter how much Anderson would complain. If he doesn't, Mangini is right back where he started when he foolishly opened up the competition.

But if Ryan holds up his end of the bargain and sustains his promise of being more aggressive, all the pressure to succeed won't necessarily be on the boys called on to move the football.


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