Progress of any kind in the Browns' struggling offense is encouraging, even if it comes in a game when they don' get close to the end zone.
As the Browns prepare for their game Sunday against the Lions in Detroit, a game between two 1-8 teams in strong contention for the first pick in the draft, coach Eric Mangini believes Brady Quinn showed improvement in the 16-0 loss to the Ravens on Monday night. The Browns were 5 of 16 on third downs.
Considering they were 6 of 30 on third downs during the 10 quarters Quinn started at the beginning of the season, that is progress -- though certainly not enough to win games. Though the Browns were better on third down, the loss to the Ravens was the first time the Browns have been shut out this season.
"I've tried a lot of different things (to get the offense going) and obviously it's not been successful enough," Mangini said. "We're going to have to keep trying things until we get to the point where we need to be. Running the ball as efficiently as we possibly can, but also to me, it comes down to third down, being able to sustain the drives on third down. We just haven't done that effectively enough."
Quinn will start against the Lions despite posting a 23.5 passer rating against the Ravens in his first start since he regained the job from Derek Anderson. The Browns were in Ravens territory only once and never penetrated the Baltimore 45.
Anderson was given five starts after replacing Quinn at halftime of the first Baltimore game. The offense looked the same under both quarterbacks, particularly recently.
Anderson passed for 99 yards against the Packers on Oct. 25 and 76 yards against the Bears on Nov. 1. Quinn passed for 99 yards against the Ravens.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, only one other time since 1990 has a team's quarterbacks played three straight games with fewer than 100 yards passing. The 2005 San Francisco 49ers, with rookie Alex Smith at quarterback in two of them, went three straight games with sub-100 yards passing and lost them all.
The Lions gave up 344 yards passing last week, but that was to Brett Favre and the Vikings' potent offense. Quinn cannot be expected to shred the Lions as Favre did, but he is keeping a positive attitude in a bleak time.
"We've had some moving parts," Quinn said. "We're trying different things. As a team, we're not executing the way we need to. I don't know why that is. It's hard to answer and put a finger on at this point.
"If you asked our coaches and players, I think they would say the same. It's one thing here and one thing there on each play that seems to take away from executing or making a bigger play than it is."
The Browns came out in the no huddle against the Ravens. They might try the same thing against the Lions, but generally once the Browns use a new strategy they store it in mothballs the next week.
SERIES HISTORY: 18th regular-season meeting. Lions lead series 13-4. The Browns have won only one time in Detroit dating back to 1952, and that was in the Pontiac Silverdome in 1983. The re-born Browns have not played a regular-season game in Ford Field.
--With the exception of the Minnesota Vikings, the Browns have beaten the Lions fewer times than any team that was in the NFL prior to 1995. Their 4-13 regular-season record gives them a winning percentage of .235 against the Lions. The only team that has dominated the Browns more is Denver. The Broncos are 18-5 against the Browns, including a 27-6 win in Denver this season.
--Paul Brown is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he never beat the Lions in the regular season and he was just 1-3 against them in playoff games.
Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, Browns fans regard the Steelers as their biggest rivals, but in the 1950s the Lions were the true rivals.
The Lions beat the Browns in the 1952 NFL championship game, 17-7, in Cleveland and again a year later, 17-16, in Detroit. Otto Graham that day completed only 2 of 15 passes for 20 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. He had a 0.0 passer rating. Still, the Browns led, 16-10, until Lions quarterback Bobby Layne changed the play at the line of scrimmage and threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Jim Doran with 2:10 left in the fourth quarter.
The Browns finally got revenge in the 1954 NFL championship by beating the Lions 56-10. Graham rushed for three touchdowns and threw three touchdown passes. Three years later, with Graham in retirement, the Lions paid them back with a 59-14 whipping. Browns rookie Jim Brown rushed for 69 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.
--Browns coach Eric Mangini is unconcerned about a visit from the NFL Players Association to check out how Mangini conducts his practices. Last week, offensive co-captain Jamal Lewis said practices are 2 1/2 to 3 hours long and so physical that by game day the players are worn out.
Mangini said his practices are two hours long following a 30-minute walkthrough. He conceded they could be longer if mistakes have to be corrected.
"I'm comfortable with how much we practice, our schedule and our routine," Mangini said Tuesday. "The union can come in and take a look at whatever they want to look at. There's nothing being hidden here. That's not the case. There's transparency.
"We practice the amount of time I told you we practice. I don't think it's different than a lot of other teams. I'm sure it's less than some teams."
--Mangini is fighting back criticism for Brady Quinn throwing a pass to Josh Cribbs on the final play of the 16-0 loss to the Ravens on Monday night. Cribbs lateraled to Robert Royal and a moment later was flattened with a forearm to the chin by Baltimore defensive lineman Dwan Edwards. Cribbs was immobilized and taken by ambulance to Cleveland Clinic. He was treated and released early Tuesday morning.
Why, Mangini was asked, risk injury on the final play when trailing 16-0?
"It was a competitive moment," Mangini said Tuesday in a teleconference. "In retrospect, I probably would have done it differently if I had to do it again. But it was competitive. I though Josh could make something happen."
Mangini said he would have called a running play if he could have a do-over.
BY THE NUMBERS: 2.1 -- The Browns averaged 2.1 yards a play when they passed against the Ravens.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Look at everyone in this room, coaches and players. I'm not worried about any of them. We are all professionals. We will continue to work hard and believe in each other." -- Browns guard Eric Steinbach.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Punter Dave Zastudil was placed on injured reserve Wednesday with a right knee injury that has bothered him all season. The injury flared up late last week and prevented him from punting Monday night against the Ravens.
The Browns conducted emergency tryouts last Friday and settled on Reggie Hodges, a journeyman who punted for the Rams, Eagles, Jets and Titans in a career that began in 2005 as a sixth-round draft choice of the Rams.
For an offense struggling as mightily as the Browns' offense is, a reliable punter is a necessity. Hodges punted nine times against the Ravens, and though he doesn't punt as far as Zastudil, the results were enough to get him a second opportunity. He averaged 38.6 yards a punt with a net average of 38.0.
Zastudil was an expert at feathering the ball inside the 20. He punted 49 times and put 20 inside the 20.
It is worth noting Zastudil was the only punter and Phil Dawson the only kicker in training camp. Zastudil is out now and Dawson missed five weeks with a calf injury.
GAME PLAN: Using the no-huddle offense as the Browns did against the Ravens could work better against the Lions than it did against Baltimore. The Lions have given up 20 touchdown passes and their pass defense is last in the league, allowing 271.1 yards a game.
The Browns' no-huddle is not a hurry-up offense. It is designed to keep the defense on its heels. On Monday the Browns twice caught the Ravens with too many men on the field.
"I think there's always some effectiveness to a no huddle or whatever else you're doing offensively," Brady Quinn said. "I think there's always another side to it and how you can affect a defense."
The Browns did not cross the Ravens 45.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Browns CB Eric Wright vs. Lions WR Calvin Johnson. The Browns' cornerbacks have been burned often this season. They have not tackled well. Wright has to keep Johnson from getting behind him, because at 6-foot-5 Johnson has a definite advantage over the 5-10 Wright.
Browns RG Rex Hadnot vs. Lions DT Grady Jackson. The Browns have had spotty success running the ball, but it has been better since Hadnot replaced Floyd Womack. Jackson has 16 tackles and no sacks. He does a good job of clearing blockers for middle linebacker Larry Foote.
INJURY IMPACT: The Browns will have to jockey the offensive line if St. Clair cannot play because of a shoulder injury. No one on the depth chart is listed behind St. Clair or starting left tackle Joe Thomas.