December 22, 2010 § 13 Comments
Added a new poll feature, because of all the overwhelming feedback that took time from people. Figured I would make it easier. Also there is a Facebook “like” button if you click on the individual posts. Thanks again everyone for the support.
Eric Mangini, from the Mangenius to Mangustus Gloop, is one of the most polarizing figures in the history Cleveland sports. There does not seem to be any middle ground. No one says, anything other than maxims. The problem is, most of the people who seem to be sharpening pitchforks do not seem to have anything to say, save a precious few clichés.
As for the major knocks on Mangini, there are only a few. First the win/loss total, then the 2009 draft, the few marquis trades, and the offensive game planning, including sticking with Jake Delhomme over Seneca Wallace. The problem is that they were actually solid moves, granted I have the luxury of hindsight. Nonetheless, the most adamant Mangini haters out there, do not make an intelligent argument against him.
Fans Are Like Passengers In A Race Car; An Analogy
You are driving stick in a race with a passenger. You are trying to go as fast as you can, obviously. The passenger has been in cars, and knows that every time he has been in a car, that they are going faster in higher gear. As a result, he wants you to start out in fifth. No matter what happens, he wants you in fifth. Anything you do or say is viewed as wrong, even if you are a hair out of winning pace, and because you did not change your mind you are arrogant. Now you know how Mangini feels. Actually you would need to wake up to hack sports writers’ misguided opinions in a third rate paper every day, and one that the residents of the city actually believe is worth reading.
First and Foremost, the roster sweep. You can pretty much always throw out any year in which that many positions are changed. Last year was setting the foundation for the system to be ran for the future and filling holes in the roster with role players.
There is nothing like quarterback stability, and the Browns have had nothing like it. One has to figure at least a couple games of slow starting every time there is a change at QB for any reason, look at J. Kitna and K. Collins this year. The words ‘shaky at best’ should describe most QB transitions. Further, there were four adjustments, and looks like the fifth is coming up. This is counting Delhomme’s return as the fourth, assuming his few quarters were not enough to establish rapport, and assuming McCoy is another upcoming adjustment.
Without even giving much of a benefit of the doubt…1) a roster sweep and 1-11 start then pull it together for four wins in a row to end the ‘09 season. All things considered, pretty much par for the course record with a bonus of being a testament to the character of the team to fight hard when there was nothing to play for. 2) In 2010, through 12 games, the Browns are 5-7 having played only two teams with losing records thus far and four new QBs. 2 of the 5 wins were dominant wins over the defending Superbowl champion Saints and perennial Superbowl favorite Patriots. Really, they are a few bad bounces of a football from being 10-2. They can compete with, and beat, the best teams in the league. More importantly, they are built to cause match up problems with the pass heavy, top tier teams, that is to go deep if they could get into the playoffs.
The 2009 Draft
The Trade Backs:
Teams usually want to get out of the top 8 picks because of the price tags. This is not even because they are cheap, rather that the risk becomes greater if the player is a bust. In that case, not only is it a waste of a pick, but it also eats up 8 or so million dollars from the salary cap as well, making future acquisitions tougher to work around. Football is a game that is based on getting the right individual talent in complimentary positions within a cohesive system. Unlike other sports, where everything centers around the general talent of each individual, and a handful of superstars is all it takes to win.
Even all-pro football teams would not be nearly as dramatic a change as other sports all stars. Defense for example would be 4-3 linemen and 3-4 linebackers, usually a box safety, and corners that come from systems where safeties play 2 deep. They will be individually more talented than most teams, but smart money would be against them against most teams in the league.
Side Note; “The Sanchize”:
Mark Sanchez would not have had near the same successes here as in New York. All things considered, he is a lot like Jason Campbell or a lot of strong arm quarterbacks, given a solid and consistent running game, good offensive line, and vertical receivers to stretch the field, any of them can be as successful. You do not necessarily want to make your living banking on them fitting the ball into tight windows.
“A center? There were needs all over the field and the line was not a big need.”:
Yeah, a center was a big need. There are a couple things that go into this. Linemen, in general, are a pretty safe pick. They are vital and do not bust often at all. More importantly, you take the center because of the division. Pittsburg and Baltimore have some of the best nose tackles in the business and part of that is their being huge. So while Hank Fraley performed admirably, he needed help from a guard too often.
Wasted pick on David Veikune in the 2nd Round:
You have a kid who did well, but in a weaker area of the college ranks who gets into the combine and puts up some impressive numbers at the combine, particularly the bench press reps. So you take him in the second round, because if those impressive numbers translate onto the field of play, and he just gets how to play the position, he is a top 5 overall value, if not he is a bust. Basically, it is a higher risk/reward scenario, as all the DE to OLB converts (also known as tweeners because they are big for LB and small for DE) are.
Receivers? Robiskie and Massaquoi busts?:
Really, it is a year from deciding that. They are in their second year and the benchmark is year three. Most of the impacts of receivers as rookies, and the reason many are drafted high, is in the kick return game, which no one is supplanting Cribbs, so that throws that part out. Then, the receivers generally do not do well as a number one or even two. They are typically situational receivers based off of individual attributes. Moreover, their success, often comes from have established fellow receivers along side of them, rolling coverage away and giving favorable match ups.
They have good hands, and run good routes if uncontested, you would really like to see them take advantage of press coverage or at least win off of the line. They are an interesting mix, and I would like to be in the official film room for tape on them, they seem willing, MoMass more so, to go over the middle, but not physical in fighting off coverage. In either case, they are both viable NFL possession receivers, they need polished. Further, in the right situation, say with an elite number one, they may prove great at taking advantage of sparser coverage on passing downs. It is also worth mentioning that they are great blockers, simply from the standpoint that receivers do not develop willingness to block. It is one of those innate qualities, and from that standpoint are a good quality for drafting and developing other skills.
2009 Draft Summary
In the end, the first round yielded a great pick up at a position of need. The second round was less productive, with one bust and 2 receivers that the jury is still out on. Each has flash great potential, but are currently limited by some of the nuances of the position. The late round picks, three 6ths which is kind of fitting to see the 6,6,6; were nothing to write home about, but they rarely are, and really they never are within 2 years. In fairness, you have to add Abe Elam and Kenyon Coleman to the mix, and they have produced like great values in the 3rd round. All that considered, the Browns were in the top half, if not top 10, in draft production from a rather weak 2009 class.
Nothing seemed to bunch up panties like the trades of several of the Browns players. People need to look at why things happen instead of saying “this is a bad move because this player had this many yards, and this many touchdowns,” it is really revealing on how little they understand of the game. Looking chronologically at each of the major trades a little further, and each should make perfect sense.
K2, basically has no business being in the AFC North at all. In order to win the division, you have beat the 3-4 defense, that means running 2 tight end sets, so that in the event of an overload blitz the tight end can block, and blocking is Winslow’s biggest liability. In passing situations a 3-4 will send two linebackers to one side of the line, therefore they are at a numerical advantage unless there is a tight end to block. If the tight end is, as Winslow, there exclusively for receiving ability, and is unable to block effectively, then he has no business in the game. At that point you win by getting rid of his salary, and anything else is a bonus.
Side Note; Disappearing Vickers:
For the same need that made Winslow expendable, Lawrence Vickers tends to disappear. The Browns outstanding fullback gets sidelined due to the prevalence of 3-4 defenses. Because the 3-4 allows the defense to have a more fluid approach, it is important to keep additional blockers near them, i.e. a second tight end on the weak side so he can pick up the outside backer allowing Thomas to take care of the big 5 technique defensive ends. He is one of the best lead blockers in the game, but that value is offset by the personnel match ups when facing the 3-4, causing liabilities of other blocking match ups and limiting the offenses options in general.
In Braylon, you have a deep threat receiver. He is big and fast, but do not ask him to go over the middle. There are ways you go about winning this division, and vertical threats are good on occasion, but they are only good as dictated by the defenses. Meaning, that fast receivers are easily accounted for, give space on the corner, or have a safety over the top. Teams really do not beat the Steelers or Ravens by planning on throwing deep, they do it with passes over the middle. Braylon cannot help you there, and he is going to be lost to free agency anyhow, so take the 3rd and 5th rounders, and ship him to NY.
Digression, Braylon’s a Baby: I recall Edwards, an alumni from Michigan, doing the pantomime of the O-H-I-O during “hang on Sloopy.” Personally, I find that as a callow display of a fragile ego pining for the affection of fans. There are a ton of character issues with both Edwards and Winslow, and police reports to verify it, and those alone are enough to get rid of them.
Victim of circumstance. There was significant depth at all the LB positions, and several jack-backers (Benard, Roth, Trusnik) that can rush the passer. Moreover they are younger, and do it cheaper. He was simply made expendable by the play of the backups, and his lack of progression. I think that if he developed into being functional in pass coverage, they probably would have kept him, but being relatively one dimensional sealed his fate in Cleveland.
Jerome is a fast back who can get outside and break a big run for a touchdown at any time, but not really in Cleveland. We have a mammoth line, they incredibly strong, but are not going to pull and get out in front of Harrison outside of the tackles where he can be effective. No blockers, means that he cannot perform at the top of his game. So you trade for Mike Bell, who runs like Hillis. Bell is probably not as talented as a running back, but he fits what the line can do.
The evidence of the line is that there seems to be only one that can pull, Eric Steinbach. Moreover, if you look at the differences in Harrison versus Hillis and Bell, Harrison even outruns blockers between the tackles. Further, Harrison is subject to getting caught behind the line, and the way the Browns offense is, that is pretty much a drive killer.
Daboll’s Advocate (kind of)
Vanilla offense, what is wrong with vanilla. It is the best third of Neapolitan, it’s no butter pecan, but… it’s effective. If you are in a strange city, with strange manufacturers, vanilla is good. It may rarely be great, but it is never terrible. Most of all, vanilla always has options, from fruit to candy to baked goods. Enough with the ice cream analogies, but I think the object of this offense is to not make mistakes, and rely on the defense to hold them, and special teams to tip the advantage to your team.
Most importantly, football games are won by playing to the strengths of the team, the entire team. The Colts, the antithesis of the Browns, is team is built on Payton Manning and two pass rushing defensive ends, as the quintessential front running team. Manning is charged with the responsibility of attaining a lead. If he builds enough of a lead to make the other team throw the ball more in order to catch up, then he has successfully done his part to set up the other strength in pass rush on defense. Now, the defense is designed to rush the passer, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis can abandon their run responsibilities and key on the quarterback. However, and as evidenced by this year, if they cannot get out to an early lead and are unable to force the opponent to abandon their running offense, then they are in trouble.
As for the Browns, they are the exact opposite. Their weaknesses are the passing game, and defensively the weak point is the pass rush. As such, their strengths are a good run and coverage defense, and offensive running game, and phenomenal special teams play, particularly when Cribbs is healthy. The strengths of the team lend to field position, with special teams and overall defense, so the offense then plays to those strengths, buy limiting the total number of possessions and total plays run.
Synergy, the corporate buzzword, is the core of every good football game plan. The summation of Aristotle’s statement about a “whole being greater than the sum of all its parts.” In the case of the Colts, their defense against a great running game is a liability. However, in the fourth quarter, while Indy is up by 21, their run defense is the best in the league, because no one is going to consistently try to run, their liability is neutralized and the point is moot.
For the Browns, it gets a little more complicated because the order of importance versus the overall game plan. You can focus a game plan on QBs and pass rushers, because they are so crucial in being important positions, where the lack of them takes more parts to overcome. The Browns liability is trying to score quickly and pass rush. The running game chews up clock and limits the number of possessions for the other team; That is, chances for them to score. The defense remains at its best by the successes in the running game, limiting the time on the field and therefore fatigue. Great special teams play, gives the more anemic offense the better field possession.
One does have to except the fact that big plays are a rarity, and not to be planned on. They are the result of defensive failures, not offensive prowess, though there should be existence of built-in exploitations of common defensive failures.
Back to the Browns:
Given the option, any real Browns fan would love to see every game that had no drive last more than 4 downs, with no offensive touchdowns. Unless you do not have any understanding of the game, you would like the games to be decided by special teams, field position, as much as possible. Moreover, you would generally take, of course this is subject to situation, every drive lasting over 6 minutes without a touchdown, than 2 or 3 quick TDs with the rest three and outs.
The Browns need to shorten games; the less plays total, the better. Common sense, if a team scores at a higher probability, say 1:4 times, they want more possessions than the team that say scores 1 out of 6. The odds increasingly favor the higher scoring team with each additional possession.
Jake by the Lake:
Mangini was just stubborn and that is why he stuck with Delhomme. Really? The guy with half the city crying for him to get canned, is going to let pride get in the way, really? “Jake Delhomme gives us the best chance to win,” and while it is a moot point now with McCoy starting, it was true.
Seneca Wallace, for all the things he does well, was not fast enough in reading defenses. This was fairly obvious to anyone who utilized the rewind feature on their DVR service. Now to shift gears, and describe this as the positives for Delhomme, as opposed to the negatives for his teammate.
If you were to go back and look, you will see that Jake Delhomme is ready to throw the ball by the time he finishes his drop back. On the 3rd or 5th step, his back foot plants, he knows the defensive scheme, and he starts going through his progression of receiver reads. Wallace is a beat or 2 slower in this, appearing to still be in the process of deciphering defensive schemes after completing the drop back.
While that does not seem that instrumental, it really is. The play designs have a large part due to the limitations on behalf of the receivers. Passes are designed to be quick possession type passes. For all intents and purposes, the wide outs are not going to blow by defenders and get down the field for long gains, therefore their routes are designed to make the most of what they can do. The Browns passing game is thusly centered around, hitches and short and intermediate crossing routes. This requires the QB to throw the ball as soon as the receivers break, as these routes have a very small window before defenders can close on the WR.
Wallace’s skill set does not fit well with the receivers abilities, as stated above, or even the line. He would best fit behind a more mobile line, so as to move the pocket and buy time. Ultimately, fans like the mobility more than any coach. A QB that can tuck the ball and run is only beneficial on plays where the offense fails as a unit. Moreover, the exciting big plays that can come off of a quarterback buying time with his feet, is again only beneficial when failure occurs. The receivers do not get open, pass protection begins to break down, and defensive coverage breaks down over the course of an elongated play. No coach ever wants to game plan for failure.
Side Note on Arrogance; an Opinion:
The persona of an Mangini as arrogant guy seems really unfounded. He seemed to be dubbed arrogant almost upon arrival, but why? The only logical explanation is his handling of the media, perhaps more accurately his dismissing of their trade. Those in the media prefer a guy that is going to open things up to them, and that is not Eric Mangini. He handles his job as head coach, with no attempt at any role as PR man. The irony is that he is dubbed as egotistical for this. One would think that the head coach that mugs for cameras and craves public approval would be deemed arrogant.
In the same arrogance vein, you have his dealing with personnel. From his trades that were made to the decisions of who to start, it can all be taken as a sort of totalitarian regime, but only in as a matter of spin. Everyone knows, and has witnessed his systematic overhaul of the team, and value he places on “high character players” to establish a great locker room. As such it would be extremely counterproductive of him to treat any of the personnel decisions in any regard other than business, and worse still if he were to go into the details of the thought processes.
This is common sense. When you are dealing with any player, you do not call them out. Not for their sake, but for the sake of the rest of the locker room. He would never come out and explain every reason why Delhomme continued to start, or why the players traded away were traded, and he should not do that. All the rest of the guys in the locker room, the friends and teammates of the guy their “leader” is going to bash, that would be stupid. Perhaps more importantly, when discussing arrogance, it is the ultimate case of arrogance that any news paper, broadcasting outlet, or fan would think that they are owed that explanation.
Mangini’s Cleveland Summary
What he inherited:
A mess. The Romeo Crennel team was terrible in design. It could not win the AFC North division. The team philosophy centered around a similar type of game as the Air Coryell type. It was to feature power running, with deep passing, and a defense that was focused on pass rush to compliment the high scoring offense. One problem was that the team design is not the best way to go about winning the division. When the Steelers and Ravens could thwart it with their natural strengths.
The personnel that Crennel brought in was awful. The general team building strategy looked more like Daffy Duck shtick involving a leaky dam, than a cohesive plan. Most of the key positions were overpaid free agents, and most did not produce near their salary, and quite a few were talented, but on the downturn from age. Running backs Reuben Droughns and Jamal Lewis were both free agents and, while each had a good year there was nothing lasting. Nose Tackles, the most important 3-4 position, were the unknown Jason Fisk for ‘05 then Ted Washington ‘06 and ‘07, those were Washington’s 16th and 17th seasons in the league. All that considered, he would not bring in an aged vet for QB outside of Dilfer for ‘05, preferring Frye, Anderson, and Quinn…awesome.
Mangini’s Uphill Battle:
In the inheriting of a team that was not all that good from a talent aspect, but he also had inherited the bright spots of that talent that fit in a failing system. Therefore, he had to wipe the slate clean. He absolutely could have had more success at this point, with a better record, if he would have stuck to the team design of Crennel. The problem is not being able to ever be the team to beat in the division if one goes for the quick strike, higher scoring offense.
In football, you do not make a turn around by doing what other teams, established and successful teams, do. If you copy their game plan, and try to use their strategy, you will not catch up, and play according to their strengths. You do not make a turnaround by trying for a quick strike offense against teams that have an advantage in a shootout, you run the ball, keep the score low, and play to eke it out. That is the only way lesser talented teams can ever win consistently. That is what Mangini has tried for while continuing to build up talent, and has done an admirable job at.
History Repeating Itself:
If Mangini were to get fired at the end of the season, he should quickly develop the slogan “best setup man in the biz.” Looking at the Jets, that team is has his marks all over it. The only real difference since he left were several marquis free agent acquisitions, but the core of the team is still mainly an Eric Mangini product. Similarly, here in Cleveland, he has this team a few positional upgrades, either new players or developmental ones, away from being a legitimate threat.
The biggest problem with another coaching change is the proverbial “blow up” of the entire team. What the Cleveland Browns organization has lacked since their return, is stability. While it is easy for some to claim that the stability will be from Mike Holmgren, Tom Heckert, and the rest, it is not really the case. The stability comes from the philosophical standpoint in the way teams go about their game plan.
When Eric Mangini took over, he put the team through one of the most extensive overhauls ever. While it is not foreseeable that any new head coach would have any reason to do it to the same extent, there will be shifts in what is looked for in players. In that regard, it is a lot more difficult to hire a new coach, while there has been noticeable improvement, and clearly not enough of a timeframe for any reasonable expectations.
The issue is that a new coach that could prefer a 4-3 defense, or a more mobile line, or prefer cover 2 or 2 man as the base, has to significantly change the personnel to pull that off. It is either that or run a different scheme than what he is used to, and with such an emphasis on reputations of coaches, it is unlikely that any notable candidate would do that. So then the decision to switch is always one of accepting that you take one step backwards before you can attempt to go forward.
Exception to the Rule Needs Free Agency:
It is a pretty substantial gamble, but some like to take it. The problem is that paying through the nose for guys that are at best band-aids. The Jets have had success, but we should judge that in a few years. If they go the way of the over-the-hill-gang of the old Redskins, that is Superbowl-less, it will be a waste. Certainly, Rex Ryan has fared better than Crennel’s attempt thus far.
Basically, one has to ask the question of whether or not this team has improved since Mangini has taken over. That is a definitive yes. Then there needs to be a reasonable expectation for the Browns, in that the two years is not enough time for a contender to be built. Finally, with marked improvement in the team as a whole, knowing that there is not any reasonable timeframe for any coach, and that any head coaching change will necessarily set the team back by default, the answer is Mangini year 3.
Opinion or Prophecy, it’s a Fine Line:
What’s more, I will venture to state the opinion that if Eric Mangini is not retained, it is for the sole reason that Holmgren, either for himself or a man of his choosing, has deliberately postured to capitalize upon what Eric Mangini has done. That is to say, the decision to keep Mangini for this second season was one of subterfuge. If Holmgren does in fact fire Mangini, it will be the result of a plan in which he has estimated the improvement overall, but will utilize the dissent to get rid of him. From that point, the next head coach begins tenure with a better team, closer to winning, and will be able to pull that off faster, by taking over a team poised for success. Further, the PR implications for one of the broadest fan bases, with arguably the richest football history, and the since repeated disappointments, are pretty staggering.….. Well, it is either that, or Holmgren will just have caved to public pressure.