Rich's Rant: Mountains to Climb

Sunday's game against the Steelers just illustrates how much farther the Browns need to go before they are competitive. As losses against Pittsburgh pile up, the Browns seem stuck in low gear...

It has become numbingly apparent to the fans. The media, too. So isn't it about time Eric Mangini at this stage of the season at least hinted at it.

The Cleveland Browns are a terrible football team. The talent quotient on this roster is so far below mediocre, it is seriously challenging the roster quality of the 1999 expansion team.

Outside of maybe four or five players, the current Cleveland roster is devoid of anyone who can make an impact on a game. 

This so-called rivalry – it's a rivalry only in the geographic sense – with the far superior Steelers proved once again there aren't hills to climb to even think about placing the words Browns and respectability in the same sentence. There are mountains.

They have no clue on offense (four touchdowns from scrimmage in six games this season), play the game marginally on defense (543 net yards by the Steelers) and suffer from what can charitably be called questionable coaching.

Where was Ron Ryan's ball-busting, sellout, aggressive, rattle-your-teeth, in-your-face, attitudinal defense against the Steelers? On more than one occasion when he dropped back to throw, Ben Roethlisberger had time to take a power nap, awake and still have time to deliver the ball to whomever he wanted.

On Heath Miller's touchdown grab at the beginning of the second quarter, it looked as though Roethlisberger was auditioning for Dancing With The Stars with a combination of the Texas Two Step and Lambada while waiting for Miller to come free. He had at least 10 seconds to throw.

The defense actually had a chance to change the direction in which the game was headed after the Browns pieced together a scoring drive of 66 yards – blind squirrel syndrome? – to pull within three points at 17-14 early in the third quarter.

All they needed was a stop to build momentum. Instead, they ole'd the Steelers to an easy six-play, 80-yard drive featuring plays of 45 and 21 yards that stretched the lead back out to 10.

Then the Steelers uncharacteristically tried to give the game to the Browns by turning the ball over three straight times late in the third quarter. Good teams take advantage of such largesse. But the Browns aren't such a team and then proved it by regurgitating the ball back on two strip sacks by the relentless Pittsburgh blitzkrieg.

Stop me if you've heard this one before. The Browns can't run the ball, stop the run, own a below-average pass rush, tackle like a high school team and now have no passing attack. Anyone? I can't hear you.

Here's the difference between the two teams: The Steelers' defense has intimidators. The Browns' defense does not. The Steelers play with a chip on their shoulders and always look for ways to win. The Browns play not to lose. The Steelers play nasty. The Browns play nice. The Steelers have leaders. The Browns have followers.

Ryan is all bluster when he talks about his defense and what he expects of it. "We're a work in progress, but this is a team that this city is going to love," the defensive coordinator told the media late last week. "We're a tough city. We're tough people out here in Ohio. We're just going to keep getting better and eventually everybody's going to see that the plan is laid in place and it's perfect."

Well, if this is evidence of his plan and it is considered perfect, it's scary to think of what it would look like if it were imperfect. Nice game plan against Hines Ward. Eight catches for nearly 160 yards and a touchdown. He's No. 86 by the way. In the black and gold. Wide open all afternoon.

Five hundred and forty-three yards of total offense by the Steelers . . . back to the draw . . . oh, never mind.

It's time for Ryan to shelve the swagger and concentrate on actually getting his men to play as boldly as he talks.

Now to the offense.

Coordinator Brian Daboll has become more predictable and less imaginative than Maurice Carthon. Yikes!! Of the Browns' 10 possessions against the Steelers, seven began with a run. Six were by Jamal Lewis, who gained a paltry 14 yards on those carries. Second and long became the norm.

Of the Browns' 20 first-down plays in the game, 12 of the first 17 started with a run. The first-down pass total climbed to eight only because the last three came on the final drive when the Browns desperately needed to move the ball quickly.

The Steelers adjusted nicely to the wildcat formation. After Joshua Cribbs opened the game with an 18-yard run from the wildcat, the Browns ran it 12 more times for 39 yards.

The Steelers' coaches, it seems, have no problem making adjustments during the game. Identify the problem, shut it down and move on. Probably because they have far more talent on their roster. The Cleveland coaches, meanwhile, can work only with what they've got. Unfortunately, that isn't much.

Derek Anderson is not the answer at quarterback. Not exactly a bulletin. But neither is Brady Quinn, although supporters of the Notre Dame kid probably will argue that Anderson has done nothing to chisel this job for the rest of the season and lobby to see their man this Sunday against Green Bay.

Given the mercurial manner in which he handles his quarterbacks, it wouldn't be surprising if Mangini caves and pulls a switcheroo again and hands the starting job back to Quinn against the visiting Packers. In that case, all bets are off as to the atmosphere of the dressing room. Sides clearly will be taken and the end result will not be pretty. That's why he'll probably stick with Anderson.

Yes, there were six more drops of Anderson passes against the Steelers. On the bright side, that's three fewer than last week. Nevertheless, it's time to scuttle that excuse and wonder whether Anderson can actually come through in the clutch when it's needed. We know Quinn can't.

Carrying it one step further, can't anyone on this team come through in the clutch? Put your hand down, Mr. Cribbs. You're a given.

Too bad he can't be cloned.

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