Passan: The Nadir Approaches

After fifteen years of despair, Browns football now appears to be bottoming out....

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There is absolutely no doubt about it. Not even the most ardent Browns fan can deny it. Not if they're completely honest with themselves and still have any relationship with reality.

Your 2009 Cleveland Browns, ladies and gentlemen of Browns Nation, are a bad football team. A very, very, very bad football team. And that's being charitable.

No one who draws paychecks from the Browns, from Randy Lerner on down to the maintenance personnel, can argue to the contrary with a straight face. It has become that bad.

No adjective, no matter how strong or mean-spirited, can aptly describe how awful this team plays the game of football. Embarrassing doesn't even begin to describe how far this once-proud franchise has plunged. The nadir, it would appear, is approaching. And there are still 13 games remaining on the schedule.

This franchise has come full circle since it reappeared in 1999 with an expansion label after being wronged by the National Football League. Since then, with a few notable exceptions, it has been a torturous adventure as Cleveland attempts to regain its proud pro football heritage.

The great fans of Cleveland do not deserve it as they watch their team smeared, maligned and ridiculed on almost a daily basis.

How bad are these Browns? They are the 33rd-worst team in a 32-team league. At least all the other teams can score touchdowns. Even the woeful St. Louis Rams and Detroit Lions find the end zone every once in a while.

Perhaps Peter King of Sports Illustrated wasn't that far off when he predicted a 2-14 finish for the Browns.

The litany of failure rolls on. Make it nine straight losses and 11 losses in the last 12 games. There are those who argue this is not the same team as the one representing Cleveland last season. Of course it's not. It's worse.

Only one offensive touchdown in the last nine-plus games, 97 drives, 525 snaps and 554 minutes. It's gotten to the point where even coach Eric Mangini has no faith in his club's ability to crack the goal line.

He had a chance (more like a statistical possibility) for a touchdown at the third-quarter break in Sunday's embarrassing loss to the former Cleveland Browns in Baltimore, but chose to go the Bill Belichick route when making a command decision.

Down, 27-0, to the erstwhile Browns and facing a fourth-and-goal at the Baltimore 12 on the first play of the fourth quarter, Mangini opted for Billy Cundiff's 30-yard field goal, which he squeezed just inside the right upright. Cundiff had to be wondering why the hell coach called for a field goal when down 27 points.

Well, Mangini explained after the game, "We were looking to try and get it to a three-score game," he said. His team is getting manhandled in every phase of the game with 15 minutes left and he tries to sell his men on the notion they can tie the game with three touchdowns and three successful two-point conversions?

Anyone buy that piece of bullroar? Does this man actually listen to what he says?

To make matters worse, the Ravens were offside on the successful attempt and Mangini declined the penalty. Down, 27-0, with 15 minutes left in the game and he refuses to take three points off the board. Yeah, that shows real confidence in the offense.

The move is somewhat similar to one Belichick, then the Browns' coach, made late in the 1995 season in San Diego against the Chargers. With the Chargers leading, 31-10, Belichick, Mangini's idol, called on Matt Stover to attempt a 40-yard field goal on the final play of the game.

So astonished and incredulous at the move was Chargers broadcaster Lee Hamilton (and a lot of others) at the time, he shouted, "Block that kick, block that kick," into his microphone.

Asked after the game why he chose such an unorthodox maneuver at that time, Belichick said with a straight-face, "It was a chance to score." Maybe that's what Mangini was thinking when he thumbed his nose at his offense. Then again, maybe he was rewarding Cundiff with his first NFL points since 2005.

This club, no matter who reaches under center for the snap, has sunk to unimaginable depths on offense. Makes no difference whether it's the so-not-ready Brady Quinn or the interception machine Derek Anderson.

Early on, it appears to answer one of the pre-season questions regarding the quarterbacking. And the answer won't sit well with the fans. The question: Is it possible the Browns have two quarterbacks who just aren't very good? The answer: Yes. Both men have looked, well, offensive.

But not to worry, Quinn zealots, he'll be back under center next Sunday against Cincinnati. Anderson made certain of that with his triumvirate of picks even though it appeared the club moved better (relatively speaking) under his guidance. It would be surprising if Mangini stays with Anderson. If he does, Quinn's confidence will nosedive to almost unrepairable depths. At least in Cleveland.

So what kind of an offense can Quinn expect upon his return? If Brian Daboll's Neanderthal approach to the game regresses any more, the Browns will be running the single wing before too long. He's making Maurice Carthon look like an offensive genius.

And it's beginning to look as though the defense is about ready to pack it in. How else can anyone explain that on Baltimore's three rushing touchdowns, the ball carrier scored untouched each time? Untouched!! That's unforgivable. Where in the world is Rob Ryan's aggressive, kick-'em-in-the-teeth defense?

Wants some stats? OK, snack on these. The Browns have been outscored, 95-29, so far this season. The defense has surrendered 1,238 total yards (412 a game), 553 of them on the ground (184 a game). Tasty, no?

Mangini assures the fans that the club's problems are "not some big mystery. It's things that are correctable, controllable and we just didn't make them" in the first two games. Didn't make them in the third game, either.

"It's just a function of taking control of them and making sure we get those items addressed," he said.

In other words, back to the drawing board.

Hey, didn't we hear that from Romeo Crennel for four seasons?

Three games and counting and mistakes erupt on an every-game basis. Like missed tackles, blown assignments, bad quarterbacking, little or no pass rush, no running game and failure to stop the run. Nearly 500 yards for the Baltimore offense on Sunday.

Other that that, everything is hunky dory.

And as if he didn't have enough problems on the field, Mangini is also the target of a multitude of grievances by his players in reaction to his totalitarian and micromanaging ways.

Perhaps the embattled coach should worry more about the way his men play the game on the field than how they conduct themselves off the field because right now, he's going to need all the help he can get from his troops.


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