There are many in this town that aren’t, but I am. I am an Eric Mangini guy. He is a tireless worker who has looked in the mirror and made positive changes after earning a stay of execution last offseason from new Browns czar Mike Holmgren. He is a young quality NFL Head Coach who now understands that being just the Head Coach is best for him, not having his hands in roster maneuvering.
This years’ slimmer and more congenial Mangini entered the season on shaky ground. His new boss, a former Super Bowl champion, hovered over his shoulder riding around in a cart all summer with a nameplate that said “COACH HOLMGREN.”
He was handed the 35-year old turnover machine named Jake Delhomme and told “this is your quarterback.” The guy who was supposed to the centerpiece of the running game, rookie Montario Hardesty, was lost in the preseason with a torn ACL. The Wide Receivers read like a list of third and fourth options at best with no clear number one guy. On defense, Rob Ryan’s schemes were lauded, but the talent was still a question mark, especially with little pass rushing threat on the outside.
After yesterday’s pathetic 13-6 loss in Buffalo to the 2-10 Bills, Mangini’s future in Cleveland took a major hit. But really, is any of this his fault?
Sure, you can say he should have gone for it on fourth and goal at the Bills one on that first drive, but that is really nitpicking. The bottom line is I truly believe he has been set up to fail, though it would never be admitted Holmgren.
Not that there were that many other options on the open market, but Mangini being forced to go with Delhomme was a losing proposition from the get-go. In the opener, Jake’s brutal interception in the final two minutes of the first half completely changed the complexion of the game in the 17-14 loss in Tampa. Not coincidentally, the best stretch of Browns football came with Delhomme on the shelf with a high ankle sprain.
Backup QB Seneca Wallace played well in Baltimore in defeat (24-17), and beat Cincinnati at home. He was hurt in the first half in Atlanta, and instead of going to the rookie Colt McCoy, a gimpy Delhomme tried to pull a rabbit out of a hat. It was a three point game in the fourth quarter before back to back Delhomme picks killed any chance at a rally.
Only then was Mangini forced to go with McCoy. You know that story now – the rookie from Texas revitalized the Browns offense and led them to wins over New England and New Orleans and a near misses in OT against the Jets and in Jacksonville. All four teams would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. Unfortunately for the Browns and for Mangini, McCoy’s high ankle sprain forced Delhomme back into the picture and moved the Browns offense back into the stone ages.
After a narrow escape against the Panthers where Delhomme’s interception problems nearly derailed the team, the offense was exceptionally brutal and conservative in the 13-10 win in Miami. Only Chad Henne being Jake Delhomme Jr helped hand the Browns that W. Then we came to yesterday, a new offensive low for Mangini and Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll, in a two year stretch of poor performances. And that was against a team that was ranked 29th in points allowed and 32nd (last) against the run.
The Browns have three games left: at Cincinnati, and home games with Baltimore and Pittsburgh. While the Bengals are sitting in the basement of the AFC North at 2-11, they still have a bevy of offensive weapons the Browns could only dream of. If this game becomes a shoot out, who are you going to take? The final two games are against two teams that are battling for the division crown and playoff seeding.
If the Browns do not win at least one of these last two games, Mangini stands no chance of keeping his job. They would finish the season 5-11, with four losses in a row, and an offense that cannot seem to score.
Other reasons to doubt Mangini’s future can be seen underlying messages from The Big Show himself.
Earlier this season during a press conference, Holmgren brought him a future of coaching completely on his own and refuses to deny the rumors that he would welcome a return to the sidelines. When his name was recently mentioned as a possible candidate in Dallas, no word of disinterest or interest came from the Holmgren camp.
Then there is Jon Gruden situation.
Its no secret the affinity Holmgren has for his former assistant and West Coast offensive guru. Heck, The Show has publicly acknowledged that it was Gruden was who constantly in his ear talking about how much he thought of McCoy before the draft. The Monday Night Football analyst will be a Head Coach again in the next couple of years, its just a matter of where. The Sandusky native would love the chance to come back to his roots and work under his mentor with the QB of the future he is so high on, wouldn’t he?
Finally, being stuck with Delhomme is killing Mangini. Had McCoy not gotten hurt, I think this would be a non-issue because the offense could not have possibly looked as bad as it did the last two weeks. If Colt is ready, Mangini has to play him the rest of the way. Its his best chance to win and save his job. But the thing that sticks with me is that I don’t believe he is making the call. If he was, then how could have have stayed with Delhomme yesterday in the second half with the Browns offense locked into a three-and-out funk that they couldn’t break? He had to know Jake didn’t have it and trying Wallace couldn’t have hurt. We’ve seen Wallace when healthy earlier in the year move the team. His ability to escape pressure (as with McCoy) gave the Browns offense an added dimension it needs with the talent pool of skill position players so shallow.
I just don’t know. I think Mangini has been placed in a tenuous position when just a month ago he looked safe. McCoy got hurt, Delhomme got healthy, and the train went off the tracks.
Its going to come down to these last three games for Mangini. Or maybe Holmgren’s mind is already made up. Who knows.
photo via Joshua Gunter/Plain Dealer