Behind Enemy Lines: Questioning the Browns

What is the difference between Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson? How is that run defense in Cleveland, even with Shaun Rogers? How is Eric Mangini being received? Team experts Barry McBride (Browns) and Tim Yotter (Vikings) talk about some of the key aspects of Sunday's opener.

Tim Yotter: It appears Brady Quinn is expected to start the opener. How does that hurt or help the Browns offense?

Barry McBride: Quinn and Derek Anderson have a much different set of attributes as quarterbacks. Anderson is a gunslinger, anxious to throw it down the field, and willing to force balls into double or triple coverage. When he gets good protection and has big, strong receivers to pull the ball away from defenders, as he did in 2007, he's an exciting offensive force. When he doesn't have that help, things can get ugly.

Quinn, on the other hand, brings a more cerebral approach to the game, quickly moving through his progressions and displaying a strong tendency to throw short rather than go down the field. Quinn will make fewer mistakes and has firmer command of the huddle. The downside to going with Quinn is that his tendency to throw in the 5- to 15-yard range may allow defensive backs to cheat up a bit, and assist more in the running game.

For what it's worth, there hasn't been much of a mystery around the starting QB job from our perspective. The OBR has said Quinn was the likely starter since spring and reported it as a done deal since last weekend, well before Terrell Owens had anything to say about the matter. VU subscribers interested in the real deal behind the decision and the reasons for it should check out this link.

TY: The Browns averaged just under 4 yards a carry last year. What are your expectations for them going up against last year's No. 1 rush defense?

BM: It's hard to really pin down the source of the Browns running problems last year. Part of it undoubtedly has to do with Jamal Lewis slowing down a little, although he still gained over 1,000 yards.

It also makes sense to look at two other factors: The first is the loss of RG Ryan Tucker, a very important part of the Browns offensive line who was lost for every game except one. The one game he played was the team's stunning win against the Giants, and it's likely not a coincidence that the Browns running attack was far more effective when he was present. Without Tucker, mediocre play at the center and right tackle positions was exposed, and the Browns right side of the line was significantly downgraded from the year before.

Perhaps an even more critical factor were injuries to both Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn, which left the team starting Ken Dorsey and Bruce Gradkowski at the end of the year. Along with a depleted WR corps, the Browns passing attack wouldn't have frightened a Big 10 team at that point, and teams were able to put as many defenders in the box as they liked, shutting down the run.

While fingers will point at Lewis, it's unfair to him to ignore the significant problems on the line and in the passing attack, particularly during the latter half of the 2008 season.

One thought is that the Browns' secret weapon against the Vikings may be Jerome Harrison, who was seen little in preseason due to injury. Harrison, and new addition Cedric Peerman, are smaller backs that may be able to get outside a bit rather than attempting to run between the tackles.

TY: Speaking of rushing defense, do you expect Shaun Rogers to play, and how much of a difference can he make going against Adrian Peterson?

BM: I absolutely expect Shaun Rogers to play. Mangini kept his "injury" a mystery – let's just say he had "Mangitis" - but he sure didn't look hurt to any observers in Berea. He pedaled a mean sideline bike.

In addition to Rogers, the Browns are getting a good player back in a rejuvenated Robaire Smith so far this preseason, as well as some nice play at nose tackle by second-year pro Ahtyba Rubin. Still, the Browns gave up a lot of yardage on the ground last year even when Rogers was in the game, and it would be unreasonable to expect that Peterson won't have a nice day on Sunday. Despite both teams making headlines with their quarterback situation, this game will likely turn on how effectively both teams can run the ball, a factor seemingly weighed heavily in favor of the Vikings.

TY: How much can we expect the Wildcat, and is Joshua Cribbs the key to that in Cleveland?

BM: Cribbs, a college quarterback, is truly the key to making that approach work. The Browns also have one advantage in using it that they didn't have last year: In 2008 and before, when Cribbs showed up on the field, teams were alerted the potential for gimmick plays of that type. This year, Cribbs should be on the field quite a great deal as he has moved well up the depth chart at wide receiver. It should help the Browns utilize the Wildcat in a less predictable fashion, and hopefully to more effect.

I wouldn't expect the Browns to be heavy users of the Wildcat, but you can expect that Cribbs may both run and pass the ball on occasion. Still, these are guesses based on what's been seen in practices and the preseason, as this is the first game where we'll be able to see Brian Daboll's scheme when it counts. No one knows exactly what he might be cooking up. With closed practices and the team's tight-lipped approach, they might come out using the Wing-T, for all we know. This prospect doesn't seem to be worrying Brad Childress, though.

TY: Eric Mangini is taking NFL secrecy to new levels. How is he being received by the fans in Cleveland after a 4-12 season?

BM: My perception is that fans here are taking a "wait and see" attitude, as one might expect with the fourth new brain trust in the 10 years of the expansion era. It's been 15 to 20 years since the Browns had much on-field success, so fans aren't rushing to conclusions that this new group will be any more successful than the last. Butch Davis and Phil Savage/Romeo Crennel both came to town on waves of hype, and this transition has been comparatively low-key.

The media has been pretty brutal on Mangini, however, both locally and nationally. The local media has basically given him no honeymoon whatsoever, as they seem less than happy about how difficult Mangini is making their jobs, or are skeptical as to how his penchant for secrecy gives the team any real advantage.

Mangini hasn't coached a regular-season game for the Browns, but negative editorials have appeared in the local papers and he's gotten beaten up on talk radio. Hopefully for Browns fans, Mangini will have the last laugh as the season winds to a close.

Barry McBride is the publisher of the Orange Brown Report on Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update.

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