BEREA — As Eric Mangini chases his first win as Browns coach, he’s got more problems than players. Well, certainly more problems than playmakers.
The margin of defeat has gone from 14 to 21 to 31 in three weeks, while the level of competitiveness has fallen at the reverse rate. The offense ranks last in yardage and second-last in scoring. The defense has given up an NFL-worst 95 points.
Before Mangini can dive into fixing the rest of the mess, he must make a decision that will define the first phase of his tenure. It’s the same decision he faced three weeks ago: Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson?
This time, Mangini won’t try to keep his choice a secret until gameday. He said he’ll analyze the quarterbacks and announce his decision Wednesday.
“What I’m looking at is who I think gives us the best chance to win the next game,” Mangini said Monday, a day after a 34-3 loss in Baltimore in which he pulled Quinn at halftime. “We’ll go back and look at the game. Look at the operation when both guys are in, and I’m going to look at who gives us the best chance to move the ball.”
Mangini is a proponent of ball control and doesn’t go two news conferences without stressing the importance of eliminating turnovers. That would seem to doom Anderson, who has 38 interceptions in 32 games after throwing three picks in the second half Sunday as he tried to rally from a 20-0 halftime deficit.
“He made some really nice plays to move the ball,” Mangini said. “But that being said, there’s some other plays where you’ve just got to throw it away and either give us a chance to play the next play or punt the ball away and not give the opponent field position that’s usually going to result in points.”
Quinn hasn’t been much better protecting the ball. He’s thrown five interceptions in seven career games, including three in 2½ games this year. He also has a fumble this year.
Even if Mangini decides Quinn’s a better caretaker of the ball and manager of the huddle, he might not be able to overlook the fact that Quinn hasn’t been able to move the offense. His lone touchdown drive came in the final minutes of the opening blowout loss to Minnesota, he’s 6-for-30 in third-down conversions, has a 62.9 rating and threw an opening-possession interception versus Baltimore that deflated the team.
Anderson provided a tiny spark Sunday — when he wasn’t throwing interceptions — converting a third-and-16 with a nice throw to Mike Furrey on the sidelines and energizing his teammates. But he was 3-5 before being benched for Quinn last year by Romeo Crennel.
“You’ve got to be able to move the ball consistently, you’ve got to be able to take advantage of opportunities that are there,” Mangini said. “And it’s something we have to improve on offensively.”
The Browns have a plethora of places where they need to improve. They’ve been outgained 1,238-654 yards, allowed a 45 percent conversion rate defensively and 6.1 yards a play. They’ve been outscored 24-0 in the third quarter.
With a nine-game losing streak stretching to November, Mangini must find a way to stop the runaway train that’s starting to pick up steam.
“It’s going to be a function of fixing the things we haven’t done well,” he said. “That takes a lot of work, it takes consistent effort and that’s something we’re committed to.
“We’re committed to winning in the short term and we’re committed to winning in the long term and creating an organization that can win year in and year out. That’s what we’re going to work at and that’s what we’re going to do.”
The losing, and the ugly, boring way they’re doing it, has raised the frustration level of fans to a scream-in-a-pillow, throw-something-at-the-TV level.
“I can understand,” running back Jerome Harrison said. “America is built on winning. People want to be around winners. We haven’t won enough games yet.”
“We’re frustrated, too, but we have 53 men on this roster that are men, are willing to stand up and be accountable and correct things,” linebacker David Bowens said. “It’s three games. People can say it’s the end of the world, but to us it’s not. We have a game on Sunday we’re preparing for.”
Bowens and Mangini are new to the losing here. They haven’t lived through a decade without a playoff win. They haven’t watched six different opening-day quarterbacks in the last seven years.
Does the coach feel the fans’ pain?
“There’s nobody happy with where we are right now. That’s across the board,” he said. “That being said, now it’s doing something about it and doing something to change the outcome. That’s got to be deliberate, that’s got to be collective. It’s going to be worked on day in and day out, night in and night out until it’s right.”
Mangini said he’d devote more of practice to working on fundamentals, while still trying to master the specifics of the weekly game plan, which is one of his core beliefs. He’ll re-evaluate schemes, personnel and lineups.
He’s got a lot of work ahead of him.
“Anytime you come into a situation and you’re putting together a program, it’s going to take time, it’s going to take effort, it’s going to take a lot of hard work,” Mangini said. “That’s not unique to this situation.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.