Passan: How to Strangle a Quarterback

Rich Passan feels the Eric Mangini era is in its "winding down" stages now. And none too soon, both for Rich and a Browns quarterback who has been put in a play-calling straightjacket...

Look familiar?

While watching the Browns' 16-7 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday, did you get the feeling you've seen that before?

You should. Turns out it was somewhat of a microcosm for how the extremely forgettable 2009 season has unfolded.

All you have to do is go back to the Monday night game against the Baltimore Ravens a couple of weeks ago at Cleveland Browns Stadium and you have the blueprint for the Bengals loss.

You know the litany by now. Good defense for the most part, an offense that needed a laxative in the worst way, lots of punts, way too many dropped passes and a return to the bad old days. As in same old, same old.

Get used to it. There's more on the way as Eric Mangini begins the wind-down phase of his head coaching career in Cleveland.

The only difference between this stinker and the Baltimore loss is the 55-yard belch that resulted in the Cleveland touchdown early in the third quarter and falsely raised, yet again, the hopes of a frustrated fan base.

Optimists would say that at least the Browns weren't shut out this time. Pessimists would say, "Is that all there is?" to the offense. Edge to the pessimists.

After last week's 37-point onslaught against the Detroit Lions, many skeptics wondered just how real Brady Quinn's touchdown bonanza was. Idealists expected something similar against the Bengals. Realists knew better.

The Bengals, you see, know how to play solid defense. They don't allow opposing receivers to run wide open like the Lions. And they shut down the run, also unlike the Lions.

Two of the main reasons they're 8-3 and the Lions are 2-9.

Oh, you can fool them on trick plays, like the Joshua Cribbs to Quinn connection out of the wildcat formation (showing the receivers just how to catch the football) on the touchdown drive. And Quinn's nine-yard TD romp on a quarterback draw out of an empty backfield in shotgun formation, the first time we've seen that play this season.

But that's where Brian Daboll's imagination merry-go-round came to a screeching halt. Only once did the offensive coordinator have Quinn throw the ball downfield, turning the quarterback into somewhat of an automaton with a small mind. And if there is such a thing as a play fake in the playbook, we haven't seen it nearly enough.

Against the Lions, Quinn looked confident, wasn't afraid to throw downfield, took charge of the no-huddle scheme and played perhaps his best game as a pro. He looked nothing like that against the Bengals mainly because they strangled the field against him.

Eight men in the box was not an unusual sight when Quinn lined up his offense. But the Bengals frequently rushed only four and sustained only moderate pressure against the confused quarterback, whose accuracy was nowhere near what it was against the Lions.

With help from Daboll, Quinn retreated to the stagnant offense to which the fans have become accustomed. The result? Eleven first downs (one by penalty). At least six dropped passes (did Braylon Edwards sneak back into a Browns uniform?) Only 170 yards of total offense (a puny 46 in the first half). Four three-and-outs in 10 possessions.

Other than the 55-yarder for the TD, the most yardage the Browns gained on any drive was the 33 on the opening possession.

A common sight was Quinn and his cronies trotting off the field, passing punter Reggie Hodges, after another failure to move the football. Hodges earned his keep with eight punts.

It's the seventh time (in 11 games) the offense has scored seven or less points. If not for the aberration in Detroit, the Browns would be averaging less than 10 points a game, not the miserable 11 they currently boast. Sarcasm intended.

The defense rebounded nicely from last week's drubbing by the Lions (at least from a scoreboard standpoint) to effectively shut down Carson Palmer, but once again had trouble getting off the field on third down, a malady that has plagued that unit all season.

That's what happens when you allow the opposition more than 200 yards on the ground. Once again, Rob (I've stopped the run everywhere I've been) Ryan's warriors failed to get the ball back for its offense.

Palmer, whose stats weren't much better than Quinn's, had a better handle on dialing up the right play to extend drives, although the Bengals scored just the one touchdown. They owned the ball for 16 more minutes

The outcome of this one was pretty much decided on the Browns' second possession of the second half, shortly after the Bengals had taken a 16-7 lead on Shayne Graham's third field goal of the afternoon.

Cleveland had scored its touchdown on the previous possession and began the drive from its 40-yard line when Graham's subsequent kickoff sailed out of bounds. A gift. Perfect field position with momentum built from the scoring drive.

Seven plays, one first down and 17 yards later, Hodges and the offense crossed paths again. So much for momentum. The Bengals' defense basically said "enough" and slapped the lid on the Cleveland offense.

The closest Quinn and his buddies got to the Cincinnati goal line after that was their 46 with two minutes left in the game and a Bengals victory assured.

Now, it's home cooking for four of the remaining five games. And lest you think that's advantage Cleveland, consider this: The Browns were a failed Billy Cundiff field goal away from being shut out twice in a row at CBS in the last two games there after scoring 40 in their first two.

November and December is when teams, especially those who experience early problems, look for improvement. Except the Browns, who have been stuck in reverse gear for just about the entire season.

And with San Diego and Pittsburgh on deck, this can get only uglier. If you think the Bengals play good defense, wait'll you see the Chargers and Steelers. They make the Bengals look ordinary by comparison.

January 3rd can't get here soon enough.

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