Passan: Games Before Games

Rich has heard enough of "undecided" quarterback battle, and ponders whether Eric Mangini is engaged in a transparent ruse that could backfire. More contrary opinions from the long-time Cleveland sportswriter...

Eric Mangini continues to amble along in that make-believe world of his insisting he doesn't know who will quarterback the Browns in the season opener Sept. 13 against the Minnesota Vikings.

The Cleveland coach knows it will be Brady Quinn. The fans, except those few who remain staunchly in Derek Anderson's corner, know it will be Quinn.

Even the Vikings know it will be Quinn, although they'll play along with Mangini and say they'll prepare for both quarterbacks. But you can bet Minnesota coach Brad Childress has directed Leslie Frazier, his defensive coordinator, to game-plan for Quinn. And Quinn only.

It will be interesting to see how Mangini, in his infinite wisdom, equally divides the quarterback repetitions Thursday night in the final exhibition game in Chicago against the Bears.

We all know that the starters work maybe a series or two in the final exhibition in an effort to reduce the possibility of injuries. That game is reserved for players on the bubble. So be prepared to see a lot of Brett Ratliff and Richard Bartel at quarterback.

In other words, the charade will continue.

All in the name of competitive advantage. What a joke.

If Quinn isn't under center for the first snap of the regular season, a lot of people will be stunned. It would make no sense.

Sometimes, Mangini has a tendency to outthink himself. He envisions himself as some sort of psychological technician when it comes to outsmarting the opposition.

"I'll look at the tape and talk to the coaches and continue to evaluate it," Mangini said with a straight face following the Browns' 23-17 exhibition victory over Tennessee Saturday night. He later proclaimed, "I don't really have a timetable on it."

Of course, he does. That timetable is Sept. 13 at 1:01 p.m. when he sends Quinn out to direct the Cleveland attack.

What do Anderson and Quinn have to do in order to convince Mangini he's the man? Work harder in practice? That won't work with Quinn, a much better performer in game situations.

Even Anderson senses he'll be a spectator for the Vikings game. "It's out of my hands," he said, almost resignedly, after the victory over the Titans in which he played just two series.

So why doesn't Mangini relent and make it official? Reveal once and for all that Quinn is the man. By doing so, he would finally create a united locker room. Such a decision would eliminate any lingering doubts as to the offensive leader of the team.

The Cleveland offense needs to know which voice will be heard in the huddle. As it is, this offense is far from being ready for the regular season, having scored just two touchdowns in three exhibition games.

The running game is virtually non-existent. The right side of the offensive line is suspect at best. And the receiving corps is nothing about which to brag.

The offense needs stability. In order to be effective, it relies on rhythm and timing. And playing quarterback carousel is counterproductive to that end.

Quinn and Anderson vocalize their cadences differently. They want the center snap delivered differently. Laces up or laces down. They hand off the ball differently on running plays.

The offensive line needs to hear the same cadence play after play, series after series. Enough of this switching already.

Each man has his weaknesses. Each man has his strengths. They are as disparate as you can get when judging them.

Let's be perfectly honest here. Neither quarterback has exactly distinguished himself thus far. Neither has stepped up and separated himself from the other with outstanding play.

Maybe it's because Mangini has tinkered with their timing by switching back and forth. Can't establish a rhythm from the bench.

The lead was there to be taken and neither man has seized it. As a result, the offense has suffered.

If this is what to expect when the Browns have the ball when the regular season begins, it's going to be a very long season. Unless, of course, the defense overachieves, something it hasn't done since the return in 1999.

Since someone has to take that first snap, Quinn gets the nod because he has been the better quarterback, but only by a small margin.

And when Mangini finally reveals his choice, I can't wait to hear the reasoning behind it. That should be interesting.

"I'm not trying to be difficult for the sake of being difficult, I promise," he said Monday, again with a straight face.

Cross your heart and hope to stop playing games?

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