There is no where to go but up for the Cleveland Browns' offense. Well, technically that isn't true. They are 31st in team offense, 31st in first downs, 31st in third down percentage and tied for 30th in scoring.
The Browns return from their bye to face the Baltimore Ravens in Cleveland Browns Stadium on Monday night and, at 1-7, need a turnaround in a hurry. Coach Eric Mangini has decided Brady Quinn is the quarterback to lead the charge. Mangini left the team and their followers in suspense until making the announcement Wednesday morning.
Derek Anderson started against the Bears on Nov. 1, the last game before the bye, and was pulled with about three minutes to play. Quinn played only one series, but that was enough to create uncertainty that lasted 10 days.
But before Quinn can work any miracles, Mangini wants to see other improvements. When the Browns were in Baltimore on Sept. 27, they turned the ball over four times in a 34-3 loss. Quinn started and threw one interception. He was pulled at halftime with the Browns trailing 20-0. Anderson threw three interceptions in desperation mode in the second half.
"There are a lot of things we can do to make the offense more effective," Mangini said. "The starting point is protecting the football. We're giving it away too often."
Only the Carolina Panthers (24 turnovers) have turned the ball over more often, but just barely. Both teams have lost 10 fumbles, but the Panthers have thrown one more interception, 14 to 13, than the Browns.
Compounding the problem for the Browns is they have run only 463 offensive plays. Only the Raiders (435) have run fewer. The Browns turn the ball over once every 20 plays. By comparison the Patriots, with only seven giveaways, turn the ball over only once every 73 plays.
"We need to do a better job as a show team (in practice) constantly pressuring the ball, almost to the point where it's overkill, because that's the amount of emphasis you have to put on it," Mangini said. "Whenever the running back is finishing the run, you want to have two, three guys tearing it away to keep giving that awareness to the running back or to the receiver. Every play we want to get those guys pressuring the football."
Anderson has been charged with three lost fumbles, Quinn with two, Josh Cribbs with two (both after catching passes) and Jerome Harrison, Steve Heiden and Mohamed Massaquoi one each. Anderson has thrown nine interceptions and Quinn three. Cribbs has thrown one pick.
The fumbles by Massaquoi and Heiden were pivotal in the 30-6 loss to the Bears in the Browns' last game before the bye. The score was 16-6 when Heiden fumbled at midfield in the third quarter. It was 23-6 by the time Massaquoi fumbled with 11:54 left in the fourth quarter.
"I have to be more conscious of protecting the ball, but it all comes down to having fun and playing the game," said Massaquoi, the rookie second-round pick from Georgia. "You want to make every play into a big play, but that isn't always going to be the case. You make the plays you can make. In doing so it goes back to having fun because that's when you're relaxed.
"Those are the things you learn. You pick up little tidbits from the veterans."
SERIES HISTORY: 22nd regular-season meeting. Ravens lead series 14-7. The Ravens swamped the Browns 34-3 in September, and if a recent pattern holds true, the Ravens will win on Monday. The Ravens swept the series in 2006, the Browns swept in 2007 and the Ravens swept last year.
--A home night game against the Ravens on Oct. 6, 2002, was a memorable one. Tim Couch, the No. 1 pick in the 1999 draft, was flattened and suffered a mild concussion on the play. Fans cheered as Couch lay on the ground.
Afterward in the locker room, Couch became misty-eyed and was visibly distraught about how fans treated him in the 26-21 loss. But Couch got the last laugh that year in Baltimore in a game played on Dec. 22. Ravens fans mocked him for crying in Cleveland. The Browns won the game, 14-13, and as he trotted from the field Couch waved to the crowd.
--The Ravens hammered the Browns 34-3 in the third week this season and dominated just as the score indicates. They outgained the Browns 479 yards to 186. Joe Flacco threw only one touchdown pass, but he passed for 342 yards and had a passer rating of 111.8.
--Given all the quarterbacks the Browns have used since their rebirth in 1999, it might take a few tries to find the one who passed for a franchise high in yardage against the Ravens. It was Charlie Frye, who passed for 298 yards on Sept. 24, 2006, in a 15-14 loss.
--If Cleveland Browns Stadium looks empty at the start of the game it means a fan protest has been successful. A pair of fans is organizing a boycott and asking fans to buy tickets and attend the game but to stay in the concourses for the opening kickoff to protest the direction the Browns are heading.
The protest is getting enough attention that team owner Randy Lerner met with the boycott organizers for two hours last week. He did not meet with the media about George Kokinis being fired as general manager, but he met with the disgruntled fans.
--The game against the Ravens is in danger of being blacked out. The Browns have sold out every regular season game since their rebirth in 1999, a string of 83 straight sellouts. As of Wednesday, about 3,000 tickets were available.
BY THE NUMBERS: 1 - games won by the Browns in their last 11 played in Cleveland Browns Stadium.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think we're definitely making progress every week. Sometimes you can't see it on Sunday and that's the frustrating part." - Browns rookie receiver Brian Robiskie.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Inside linebacker Eric Barton was put on injured reserve Tuesday because of a neck injury suffered Nov. 1 in Chicago. The Browns will be without both starting inside linebackers the remainder of the season. D'Qwell Jackson, the leading tackler in the NFL last year, suffered a torn pectoral tendon on Oct. 11 in Pittsburgh. He was shelved two days later.
Coach Eric Mangini tried to stop the bleeding by elevating Marcus Benard from the practice squad. Benard is an outside linebacker and Mangini plans to keep him there rather than overwhelm him by asking him to learn the responsibilities of an inside linebacker.
Elevating Benard gives Mangini options with David Bowens and Jason Trusnik. Both are outside linebackers normally, but each can play inside. Trusnik started outside and Bowens started inside next to Barton in the Bears game. Rookie Kaluka Maiava also plays inside.
--LB Josh Stamer, a seven-year veteran who played most of his career with the Bills, was signed Wednesday.
--TE Robert Royal is practicing again. He missed the last two games with a hamstring injury.
--WR Josh Cribbs could benefit from the switch back to Brady Quinn at quarterback. He caught seven passes from Quinn in two games and four from Derek Anderson.
--WR Mohamed Massaquoi said he has to relax more the second half of the season. He dropped six passes and fumbled once in the first half.
--LB Alex Hall has become a forgotten man, but he continues to work hard in practice. He has three tackles and no sacks after eight games. He had 26 tackles and three sacks last season.
GAME PLAN: Coming up with a scheme to produce an outcome good enough to turn around a 34-3 defeat six weeks ago will not be easy. One thing is certain; Brady Quinn cannot force the ball. He threw one interception against the Ravens in the first meeting and was benched - not because of the pick, but because, although he completed 6 of 8 passes, he was 0 for 4 on third down.
Derek Anderson relieved Quinn and forced the ball while trying to overcome a 20-0 deficit. He threw three interceptions.
The Browns have to be patient and rely on their special teams. The offense isn't potent enough to give away points and earn them back.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Browns RB Jamal Lewis vs. Ravens LB Ray Lewis. This will be the last time Jamal Lewis plays against his former team unless he changes his mind about retiring after this season. It has been a difficult year for Lewis. He missed two games with a hamstring injury; one of them was against the Ravens. He has only one 100-yard game in the six he played.
Browns QB Brady Quinn vs. Ravens safety Ed Reed. The Browns play in a division that has two of the best safeties in the NFL. Unfortunately for Quinn, neither plays for the Browns. Quinn will have to be aware of where Reed is on every snap. He won't have to worry about Troy Polamalu until Dec. 10.
INJURY IMPACT: The Browns are adjusting without starting inside linebackers Eric Barton and D'Qwell Jackson. Both are on injured reserve. David Bowens and rookie Kaluka Maiava are the likely replacements in the starting lineup.