When a team is as devoid of playmakers as the Cleveland Browns, it’s no wonder that attention tends to tilt toward the few that fit that description. Browns’ wide receiver Braylon Edwards, arguably one of the team’s few playmakers, has been an interesting study in the last several days and it’s only going to get more interesting as time marches on.
Edwards, you see, is in a contract year. Fans in Cleveland have experienced the full range of Edwards since his arrival. He’s mercurial, to an extreme. Thoughtful sometimes, complicated always, Edwards almost goes out of his way to be a lightning rod, particularly now, a year in which he should want nothing more than to just have tons of passes thrown his way in order to increase his chances of an exit from the purgatory that this franchise has become.
To that I say, here’s hoping he achieves that goal. But for Edwards, nothing ever comes easy. He so wants to be seen as the complete package—good teammate, good professional, good receiver. In almost everything he says these days you can nearly read the thought balloons above his head. “Must show composure.” “Embrace the media. Be a ‘good’ interview.” “Show future teams you’re not a distraction.” “Act like a ‘team’ player.” “Look good to potential sponsors.”
In truth, there’s nothing wrong with any of that. The NFL and every professional league for that matter is full of its self-promoters, guys who are looking to leverage their athletic prowess into additional income off-the-field and set up their non-playing futures now. Think Corbin Bernsen in “Major League.”
The first Edwards clip-and-save comments came shortly after Sunday’s game. Edwards not only took the blame for Brady Quinn’s interception, but he expanded on what it will take for him and Quinn to get on the same page, saying “we’re professionals. This isn’t college; this isn’t high school. We don’t make excuses as it relates to a quarterback controversy or a competition.” Maybe not, but something, ok Edwards’ history, suggests that if a few more balls don’t start coming his way and soon, excuses will start to get made and fingers will start to point, just not inward.
Actually, it didn’t even take another game. In just that subtle way Edwards has of deflecting responsibility, he let it be known to reporters on Wednesday, as reported by The Plain Dealer, that perhaps offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s offense isn’t really designed to make the best use of his pass-dropping skills by suggesting that it’s more methodical approach to scoring will only serve to limit his own usefulness to the team.
Meanwhile Edwards also grew testy when asked repeatedly about his lack of chemistry with Quinn, snapping at reporters trying to cover every angle of a question that’s been asked and answer, as they say in the legal business.
It’s understandable that Edwards would get irritated with the media, especially those that cover the Browns on a regular basis. As a group they aren’t exactly the hardest working people in the newspaper business. If it occurs to one reporter to ask a question, the others will eventually ask it again in order to try and elicit the same quote.
But that isn’t going to win him the kind of friends in the media he’ll need if he ever has any great hope of burnishing a reputation as a prima donna. Everyone has a job to do and if Edwards is in the reputation-leveraging business, then he’s going to have to get better at it. Right now, he’s a mess. Ask yourself this: would you buy a used car from the guy?
Edwards biggest problem from a reputation and perception standpoint stems from a faulty filter between his brain and his mouth. He can tell himself, as he essentially did Wednesday in talking to reporters, according to the Beacon Journal, that “the biggest thing for me is the mental mindset…being selfless. The thing for me is to be calm, let the game come to me and have the mental capacity to be in control at all times.”
Edwards’ goals are too outsized. For now, he should settle for being in control half the time and progress to most. At all times is years off, if ever.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that what Edwards says is always wrong. He may be absolutely correct in his assessment of Daboll’s offense. At this point, it’s hard to tell. Daboll is a first-time offensive coordinator and that is something that shouldn’t be discounted in trying to ascertain the near-term future of this team. Teams don’t usually fare to well out of the gate with new systems to begin with Throw in the fact that some of these systems are being run by coaches in over their heads and you have a mini-disaster in the making. The Browns are serving as Daboll’s on-the-job training.
When former head coach Romeo Crennel tried to pound one of the game’s biggest square pegs, Maurice Carthon, into the round hole of offensive coordinator, it turned into a disaster. Carthon, a former fullback, figured that a fullback should be the focus of the offense and went about actually demonstrating exactly why that was a bad idea.
Rob Chudzinski, on the other hand, brought a more vertical approach to offense that ended up fitting quarterback Derek Anderson well, at least for a season. The problems with his system were exposed when the personnel being utilized to execute it couldn’t in fact execute it. When Joe Jurevicius went down before last season the Browns lost the sure-handed receiver needed to move the sticks when the running game isn’t working and teams have taken away the deep route. It was highly dependent on personnel and brutal to watch when the personnel wasn’t there to support it.
Chudzinski never did adjust his offense to account for the change in personnel last season and as a result the team suffered greatly. He also lost his job, setting himself back in the process.
From what we’ve seen thus far from Daboll, his system may be less personnel dependent than Chudzinski’s. It seems far more plodding in its approach, reliant more on smaller gains and longer drives than it does on big plays. In some sense it was successful last Sunday. The Browns had only two three-and-outs, not counting either the series where the Browns took over just before the end of the first half or the one where Quinn through the interception. They held on to the ball for 26:38, which isn’t dramatically different than the Viking’s 33:22 time of possession.
The major difference between the two teams boiled down with what they were able to do with the time they had. The Vikings have a punishing running game with Adrian Peterson and enough weapons on the edges to keep it at a healthy mix. The Browns, on the other hand, lacked the talent to sustain a drive. Sustaining long drives in the NFL is difficult for any team and will be particularly difficult for a team like the Browns which features both a suspect running game and suspect receivers. Given their approach, it’s going to be a long year.
About the only thing left is for the Browns to occasionally mix in a no-huddle offense and not just confine it to the few minutes before each half. It’s a high risk strategy because it tends to get your defense back on the field more quickly and if there is something the Browns don’t need at the moment it’s their defense spending too much time on the field. Still, as a way of keeping the opposing team off balance, it’s something they’ll have to try or else they’ll continue to struggle putting points on the board, particularly in chunks of 7.
The news that Mangini was fined by the NFL for not properly reporting Brett Favre’s injury last season is hardly a surprise. Mangini kept Shaun Rogers and Jerome Harrison out of the entire preseason and never bothered to tell anyone why. But the fine also contains a number of subplots.
First, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if Favre deliberately threw Mangini under the bus, even as he was doing so with that “aw shucks” country boy persona he’s perfected over the years. As coach of the N.Y. Jets last season Mangini was hardly pushing for the Favre acquisition. Given Mangini’s offensive tendencies (see previous paragraphs) it’s not hard to see why he wouldn’t have wanted a reckless gunslinger like Favre.
Favre probably felt a little betrayed by the Jets organization not only because of the way he was utilized but also because he was, you know, injured and shouldn’t have been playing and/or putting himself further in harm’s way. A little payback is right in the Favre wheelhouse.
Second, the fine, although not particularly large, should be enough to at least wake Mangini up about how he goes about communicating injuries in the future. Indeed, the way he filled out this week’s injury report, adding virtually anyone with a hangnail, is evidence of that. The last thing Mangini believes in is transparency in his operations.
If you think that Mangini is just acting like every other coach, he’s not. Consider, for example, how quickly Andy Reid of the Philadelphia Eagles communicated about Donovan McNabb’s cracked rib. Had it been Mangini, the first notification of any problem would have come on Wednesday via the injury report and all it would have said was “upper body soreness.” Mangini operates on a level of paranoia befitting of Belichick.
Third, and this is all related, it is somewhat ironic to see Mangini caught up in a rules violation given how he ratted out Belichick a few seasons ago for supposedly taping opposing team’s defensive signals. Mangini allowed himself to be portrayed as some sort of angel-on-high exposing the evil anti-Christ Belichick as a cheat. Like so many others who are so quick to call out violations of principles they themselves don’t uphold, Mangini is now exposed as a hypocrite most already knew he was.
Argue all you want about the difference in the violations between Belichick and Mangini, but the core issue is the same. Mangini was skirting a well-established rule for a competitive advantage, just like Belichick. Mangini knew he was violating the rule, just like Belichick. He didn’t care, just like Belichick. Mangini now has his little comeuppance and somewhere Belichick is probably having a good laugh.
Given the rather tepid reaction to the Browns’ loss last week, due mostly to extremely low expectations for the locals, this week’s question to ponder: When is the next time the Browns will be favored to win?