Rich's Rant: Second Verse, Same as the First

The dawning of a new era brought back a flood of old memories for Mr. Passan...

So much for competitive advantage.

Eric Mangini tried so hard to get people to believe Brady Quinn might not be the quarterback for the 2009 season opener against Minnesota. Probably thought the Vikings would prepare for Derek Anderson.

The new Browns coach could have shouted from the rooftops that Quinn was his starter and Sunday's outcome would not have been any different. The third-year quarterback looked overmatched.

It was more of the same old, same old at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The only things that seem to change are the faces.

Game after game, season after season, year after year, the futility continues as the Browns cling to the bottom of the National Football League barrel.

Mangini was slapped with a dose of Cleveland pro football reality when he rudely found out what Chris Palmer, Butch Davis and Romeo Crennel felt like after their first game as a head coach at CBS. A telephone call to any of his coaching predecessors would have better prepared him for what he witnessed.

This ain't New York, coach, and these aren't the Jets. That team had some talent. The one you have in Cleveland has far less.

The Vikings, as it turned out, were more than well prepared for Quinn, who must have shocked at least one or two fans when he led the Cleveland offense onto the field for the first series of the game.

They Vikings made him look less than ordinary, disappointing that growing segment of the fan base that believes he's the club's franchise quarterback. They dropped him five times, harassed him on nearly a dozen other occasions and flustered him into two costly turnovers that turned into 10 Minnesota points.

Yes, it's only one game. Yes, things can't get much worse. And yes, there was a silver lining.

After all, the Browns scored their first offensive touchdown in what seems like an eternity (game 10 in Buffalo last season) when Robert Royal introduced himself to the Minnesota goal line with a half minute left in the game.

When the big tight end lunged into the end zone to make the final score more respectable (unless, that is, you don't consider 34-20 respectable), it ended an offensive stretch of futility that consumed a snappy 75 drives, 417 plays and nearly 434 minutes.

It remains – not even arguably – the most embarrassing chapter in Cleveland professional football history. It's a shameful record that will never ever be broken.

Unbelievably, Quinn's favorite target in this mess was Royal, who wasn't brought to Cleveland for his ability to catch a football. Yeah, he'll really scare the opposition with his receiving prowess.

Where was Mike Furrey, the receiving leader during the exhibition season? And rookies Mo Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie? And why were most of Quinn's completions of the dump-off or checkdown variety?

If there isn't a more vertical bent to offensive coordinator Brian Daboll's future game plans, this could be an excruciatingly long season as the opposition loads the box with eight men and snuffs out the running game.

And it might take another game or two, but eventually, Mangini is going to realize his receiving corps is a few notches below ordinary. Shut down Braylon Edwards and you shut down the Cleveland pass offense.

As for his quarterback, it's still too early to judge. Quinn's rhythm and timing appeared to be off. Perhaps the result of getting precious little playing time in the exhibition season to get ready for the opener?

The real star of the first half, when the Browns made the Vikings look quite average, was defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who seemed determined to carry out his pre-season promise to be more aggressive.

It appeared as though he threw at least half the defensive playbook at Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre, using a variety of blitz packages that confused the Vikings, giving fans hope that an upset was in the works. Blitzes came from just about everywhere on the field.

They produced four sacks, nearly a quarter of the 17 they recorded all last season. It was refreshing to see such truculent football after four seasons of passive defense from the Romeo Crennel school of how not to play defense.

But then the Vikings did something in the second half that blew that all up. Minnesota coach Brad Childress decided it was time to play sound, fundamental offensive football up front. How novel.

Mano y mano. Straight up, in-your-face football. None of the fancy stuff. Just give the football to the best running back in the NFL who runs behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL and he'll know what to do.

Favre's best move? Handing the ball off to Adrian Peterson.

Favre was more like window dressing in this one. He was there to be Peterson's best quarterback in a supporting role while the splendid running back shredded the Cleveland defense in the final 30 minutes, slam-dancing Brodney Pool and Eric Wright en route to his 64-yard touchdown run.

The Vikings' offensive line flat out beat up the Cleveland front seven in the second half as Peterson constantly ripped off chunk after chunk of real estate.

No excuses this time for the Browns being tired on defense. They began the second half fresh and with the lead, then permitted the Vikings to will their way to the victory anyway.

They had a chance to get off the field on a third and 10 on the first series of the second half and blew it when Favre beat the blitz with a tight end screen. They had a chance to get off the field on the subsequent series when they forced a second and 18 following a Shaun Rogers sack and blew it by allowing a 21-yard pass to rookie Percy Harvin.

Both times, the Vikings went on to score a touchdown to remove all doubt as to the eventual outcome.

The Vikings' defense, meanwhile, kept their club in the game until their offense got untracked. All they needed to do was stay in Quinn's face.

All the units share the blame for this loss. Even the special teams, despite Joshua Cribbs' punt return for a touchdown that gave the Browns the 13-10 halftime lead. A long kickoff return set up one Minnesota touchdown and a long punt return set up another. That's got to stop.

This one was fraught with all the earmarks of a Crennel-coached team. Inability to stop the run, inability to run the ball with a large degree of success, inability to make big plays on either side of the ball, inability to take care of the ball and an inability to focus and concentrate, resulting in dumb penalties.

How does Mangini explain four false starts, one illegal block and a holding call by the offense? There is no excuse for that. None. And Mangini gives every indication that will be addressed this week.

Funny, Crennel used to say the same thing when he coached the Browns. He seemed to always address the team on lack of concentration and focus. He paved a path to the drawing boards for that one.

It all added up to what the scoreboard revealed at the end of the game. Lack of focus, concentration and attention to detail. A grade of F in all three areas.

Not exactly encouraging from a competitive advantage standpoint.

But now that one secret has been unveiled, can't wait to see what psychological edge Mangini has in store for next Sunday's game in Denver.

Maybe he should try something the Vikings discovered in the second half. Sound, fundamental football.

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