The Browns finished 4-12 in 2008, closing the year on a six-game losing streak. During that stretch they managed to score in double digits only once.
That “outburst” came in a 30-10 loss to the Eagles.
The finish cost coach Romeo Crennel his job. And the Browns replaced the former Patriots defensive coordinator with . . . another former Patriots defensive coordinator. Eric Mangini, kicked to the curb by the Jets after a Favre-led implosion in New York, landed on his feet with the Browns.
Now it’s up to Mangini to reinvigorate a franchise that has made the playoffs a grand total of two times since 1990. Into his lap falls the quarterbacking duel between Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn.
Through two preseason games, the battle remains too close to call because neither man has been able to seize the job by the throat. Part of the problem? Cleveland still doesn’t have the horses offensively. They traded out of the fifth spot in the draft to allow the Jets to take Mark Sanchez, and they dealt Kellen Winslow to the Bucs.
So now the offense will be in the hands of either the inconsistent Anderson or the still-unproven-at-this-level Quinn. They’re throwing to an inconsistent No. 1 receiver, Braylon Edwards, and handing off to an aging lead back, Jamal Lewis.
Even though the Browns’ offensive line, anchored by left tackle Joe Thomas, is a strong point, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is going to have to be creative to get points consistently.
On the other side of the ball, the Browns would have been pretty good last year if they weren’t so bad at stopping the run (4.7 yards per carry), stopping the pass (26th in yards allowed) and generating pressure (17 sacks). The only real “standout” they have is nose tackle Shaun Rogers, who made it to the Pro Bowl last year.
Cleveland took baby steps in trying to tune up its defense, adding aging linebackers Eric Barton and David Bowens along with defensive lineman Kenyon Coleman and safety Abram Elam.
None are game-changers.
The Browns’ lone strength is the special teams, with kicker Phil Dawson and return man Josh Cribbs.
Still, it’s likely to be another bleak season by the lake and Mangini, who’s seemingly mastered the art of agitating players over minor things, isn’t the kind of guy to make sure the Browns’ build-out goes smoothly.
Key Player: Quinn. Presuming that he wins the starting job, how well he deals with the almost inevitable ineptitude of the Browns offense in 2009 will determine the tenor of his tenure in Cleveland.
Rookie to Watch: Mohamed Massaquoi. The wideout from Georgia has been impressive both blocking and catching in preseason. The Browns are going to need that kind of bump from both Massaquoi (50th overall) and fellow second-round pick Brian Robiskie (36th).
Best Veteran Acquisition: Kenyon Coleman. The 30-year-old defensive end is a good player and solid locker room presence. He came over in the Browns’ draft-day trade with the Jets and should be a good addition up front next to the talented nose tackle Shaun Rogers.
Key Game: Week 4, vs. Bengals. Cleveland has nasty, nasty schedule early. They host the Vikings to open then travel to Denver and Baltimore before this game with the Bengals. If they don’t take this one the next projected winnable game will be Week 10 against Detroit.