Each Wednesday, we'll highlight a Browns player, coach, executive, personnel group or other area of the team that is most under scrutiny. This week, we take a closer look at Browns head coach Eric Mangini.
The Browns have nothing to lose on Sunday and a gap to narrow against division rival Baltimore. It's time for Cleveland to be aggressive.
Twice in the last two weeks, head coach Eric Mangini has passed on having his offense go for it on 4th-and-1 from inside the opponent's 10-yard line. On Sunday, Mangini elected to have Phil Dawson try a field goal instead of letting his offense try to get three feet from the Buffalo five-yard line. Dawson converted the field goal, leaving Cleveland down 16-10. The Browns would go on to lose, 19-17.
Would those extra points have made a difference? You never know, but we do know that the Bengals scored but one touchdown on Sunday, having to settle for field goals four times. The Browns' offense averaged more yards per play (6.5 to 5.8) and was more dynamic. It would have been hard to blame Mangini if he elected to go for it.
The previous week, with the Browns facing a 4th-and-1 from the Buffalo 1 on Cleveland's first drive, Mangini again went for the three points. Dawson hit the field goal, but Cleveland would score just three more points, and it missed a chance to go up early on a two-win Bills team that had struggled to stop the run all year and had a host of problems stopping Hillis on that first drive.
I hold that Mangini has coached well this season, but a dose of aggressiveness in either of those situations might have helped his team. We have seen flashes of that play-to-win flair this season, most memorably in the upset of New Orleans. And what creative schemes Cleveland can unveil at times! How about ORT John St. Clair and OLT Joe Thomas lined up wide on QB Colt McCoy's 20-yard TD pass to TE Robert Royal on Sunday? The unconventional alignment, Royal's deft route. McCoy's beautiful throw — brilliant.
You see things like that and you see light at the end of the tunnel for the Browns. You see them passing on trying to get one yard on fourth down with momentum, field position and an offense whose best asset is its power and you shake your head.
Oh, for the Browns to be bold, not by-the-book. That's the way they have a chance against the Ravens, who have already beaten them once this season, on Sunday. I'm not saying they need to completely throw caution to the wind, but some calculated risks are needed.
If the Browns are simply sound and practical ... well, the happiest people in Cleveland Sunday will be the Ravens' coaches, for we know Mangini has a bag of tricks, and when he empties it out, who knows what you'll see.
Perhaps there is a limit to such creativity. But if Mangini is going to wow us again, the time is now.