Two games in. A big, ugly 2 in the loss column. It's normally about this time that I fall into Cleveland-fan-default-mode:
I invent reasons for why this 0-2 start isn't as bad as it seems. Minnesota is a Super Bowl contender, and maybe Denver is much better than we thought…
I look for any sign of hope and cling to the flimsiest thread. If the Browns somehow manage to beat Baltimore this weekend (we have surprised them before!) we could face Cincinnati with the chance to get to .500 and then who knows?
For a few more weeks I feel vaguely optimistic that the Browns will get it turned around. Okay, 0-3 is bad, but we played better against the Ravens than the first two weeks… and the Bungals are always beatable… and 1-3 is a step in the right direction…
It's usually not until mid-October that I'm beaten fully into submission. When I have children, I'm going to raise them to be fans of another team. I want them to have a better life than I did.
Every year I know better. Every year it happens anyway.
I'm not proud to admit this, but as I sat down to work on my first article as a guest writer here at the OBR, a tiny voice was squeaking: technically, the Browns can still make the playoffs – look at the schedule and let's discuss how it happens.
This year, things will be different.
Not the Browns. They're still going to lose. Some games will be closer than others, but many of them will be ugly, really ugly, hug your mother ugly.
But I'm going to approach it differently. Watching the 2009 Cleveland Browns is going to require big-picture thinking to make it through. Why?
Because the NFL provides us with enough statistical information to put this season into perspective. And perspective is exactly what the fans – and front office – need in order to make good decisions.
Optimists: this is going to sting at first, but hang in there.
Pessimists: don't get too comfortable. Your predictions of an orange apocalypse don't mesh with NFL history.
Let's start with the optimists.
The Browns can still make the playoffs, right?
Since 2000, an 0-2 team has about an 11% chance to make the playoffs. The other 89% is comprised of teams like the Browns.
We just need to find some guys to help with the OL… Mangini needs to light a fire under his team… If they just execute better!
That collection of thoughts is better known as wishful thinking: wishing the roster was different, wishing the talent discrepancy could be overcome with Rudy-like inspiration, wishing one or two more plays would have turned out differently.
We need to find someone to help the OL… Two games into the season, the guys who aren't playing aren't playing for a reason. You're not going to find someone to come in and save the offensive line. It's going to be a problem all season. Get over it and move on.
Mangini needs to light a fire under these guys… Mangini can stand on the sidelines with his arms crossed or he can parade up the down the sideline like a screaming maniac. It won't make a difference. The defense is good enough to make the Browns competitive, but the offense isn't.
Nothing Mangini does or says will change that. He has a quarterback with five games under his belt, a running back at the end of his career, a number one receiver who drops drive-killing balls, and a number two receiver who hasn't played the position before. A few years from now, maybe they'll all be stars. That won't help the team win games this year.
If they just execute better… Exactly. But that's what bad teams do. They fail to execute. Bad teams say it all year. "If we only execute better…"
Derek Anderson at least has experience. Let's bring him in so we have a chance to win some games.
Why? This season is over, except for development. It's not fun to hear that in September, but that's the way it is. Do you think DA is the key to getting into the 8% of teams who make the playoffs after an 0-2 start?
We know what DA can do. He's not a franchise quarterback. We don't know about Quinn yet. (And if you think you do, keep reading.)
If the Browns are ever going to become regularly competitive again, they need to install – and stick with – a system. The first year of that system is usually ugly.
But it has to happen. And the fans have to be patient. I know it hurts. It's been so long. We keep hitting the reset button.
I think Mangini is putting in a system that will finally take us to the next level. Some of you don't like him. Which brings me to the pessimists.
The Mangini hire is already a disaster. Any chance Lerner will fire him after the season?
Okay, first of all, relax. You're being very undude.
Let's look at what Mangini has done in his first three years as a head coach.
He took over a 4-12 New York Jets team from Herman Edwards. A team with one Pro Bowl player: DB Justin Miller. Remember him? Me either.
In his three years with the Jets, Magnini went 23-25, a winning percentage of .479.
I looked at nine other coaches to see what they did in their first three years of coaching. This is their rank, by winning percentage:
- Tony Dungy (24-24) .500
- Eric Mangini (23-25) .479
- Bill Parcells (22-25-1) .458
- Mike Shanahan (16-20) .444
- Bill Walsh (21-27) .438
- Bill Belichick (20-28) .417
- Dick Vermeil (18-26) .409
- Jimmy Johnson (19-29) .396
- Chuck Noll (12-30) .286
- Tom Landry (9-28-3) .225
As I'm sure you know, all of those other coaches have won the Super Bowl. Jimmy Johnson went 1-15 in his first year. Tom Landry didn't have a winning season until his 7th year with Dallas. Chuck Noll went 12-30 and then went on to win four Super Bowls.
So what exactly about Mangini has been a disaster? His coaching? When compared to nine coaches who all have rings, Mangini has the second highest winning percentage after his first three years in the league.
His attitude? Did you take a look at that list? Are all of those guys player favorites? Or media favorites?
Or is it his 0-2 start here in Cleveland? You can't mention Mangini without thinking about Belichick. Belichick took over an 8-8 New England Patriots team from Pete Carroll and turned them into a 5-11 team in his first year.
What's the common thread? These guys have systems, and they take a year or two to implement before they're successful.
Give it time.
Stop saying Brady Quinn only has five starts. He's been with the team for three years! Stop comparing him to rookie QBs.
Brady Quinn has five starts. It's fair to compare his stats to the first five starts of other quarterbacks, regardless of how long they've been on the sideline.
Being on the Browns for three years doesn't give Quinn three years of experience. I rode in cars for 16 years, but when I showed up to take my driver's test, I didn't have 16 years of driving experience.
It's the game time that matters. Speaking of Quinn's first five games…
I've seen all I need to see of Brady Quinn. He's not the one.
You must be related to the fire-Mangini guy.
I admit, the statistics for Quinn's first five games are brutal:
1-4, an average QB rating of 55.8, a 55.5% completion average, with 4 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
Ouch. Maybe you're right, maybe you have seen all you need to see.
Except those aren't Quinn's numbers. Those numbers belong to Peyton Manning for his first five starts. Quinn's numbers are slightly better:
1-4, an average QB rating of 62.9, a 56.8% completion average, with 3 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.
You want really bad numbers? How about:
0-5, an average QB rating of 45.4, a 42.9% completion average, with 3 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.
Those numbers belong to Eli Manning for his first five starts. During that five game stretch, Eli had a QB rating of 16.9 in one game and 0 in another game. Zero. A QB rating of zee-roh.
Will you call for Quinn's head if he throws up a QB rating of 0 this weekend?
If you're wondering, Eli Manning is 6th in the league this year with a QB rating of 103.2 and a Super Bowl ring on his finger.
I'm not saying Brady Quinn is going to be Peyton Manning, or even Eli Manning. But based on the numbers, it's way too early to tell that he won't be.
And if you think you can tell based on the early numbers, you would have been wrong about some very good quarterbacks in the past.
The Browns were terrible last year, they're going to be terrible this year… give me one reason to believe we will ever see them win the Super Bowl.
I'll do my best. Here goes:
The Browns had a losing season last year. They hired a new coach, and will most likely have a losing season this year. Do they have anything in common with other teams who have gone on to win the championship?
In the history of the NFL, 26 coaches have won the Super Bowl.
15 of those coaches took over a losing team.
Of those 15 coaches, only 4 of them had a winning record in their first year.
The point? In a field of only Super Bowl-winning coaches, 73% of the coaches who took over a losing team failed to post a winning record in their first year. Some of them were not even competitive:
Chuck Noll (1-13), Bill Walsh (2-14), Bill Parcells (3-12-1), Tom Coughlin (6-10), Dick Vermeil (5-11), Jimmy Johnson (1-15), Mike Ditka (3-6 in a 9 game season).
The good news? Less than half of those coaches had a losing season in their 2nd year.
2 of those coaches won the Super Bowl in their 2nd year.
3 of those coaches won the Super Bowl in their 3rd year.
4 of those coaches won the Super Bowl in their 4th year.
The other 2 coaches won the Super Bowl in their 6th year.
IF Eric Mangini turns out to be the coach who takes us to the promised land, there is a 73% chance that they will not have a winning record this year. (Check.)
More good news: we shouldn't have to wait long to know if he belongs in the championship category, because next year we can expect a:
55% chance the team will finish 8-8 or better, and an
82% chance the Browns will win the Super Bowl in the next four years.
Although most of the coaches with Super Bowl rings struggled in their first season, and some of them in their second season, they did turn the team around quickly. If Mangini is the guy, we'll know soon enough. But we do have to slug through this first losing season.
If that's not enough to convince you to give the system time to work, think about this the other way: the season is a bust and Mangini gets fired.
The crystal ball starts working in Berea and Randy Lerner is able to look into the future and select a coach he knows will win the Super Bowl.
Even in that case, there is only a 27% chance the 2010 Browns will have a winning record.
Let's hope we found the guy. The alternative is too depressing to contemplate right now. Straitjacket depressing.
Cleveland Browns depressing.
The optimists – and the pessimists – in Cleveland deserve better.