Randy Lerner Loves Him Some Coach Hobo Disciples

manginiGenerally, when owners in the NFL decide to clean out the entire front office, it’s usually along the lines of a complete housecleaning, resisting anything that could reek of the prior regime. But that probably doesn’t apply to Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner, who apparently could not get enough of hiring Bill Belichick disciples — specifically, his defensive coordinators — and now he’s done it in sequence, replacing Romeo Crennel with recently canned Jets coach Eric Mangini.

It sounds like one hell of a mancrush, if the Cleveland Plain-Dealer is to be believed:

Lerner was informed of Mangini’s firing during a sit-down with Cleveland reporters. His eyes lit up at the news and he almost immediately made arrangements to meet with Mangini the next day. Lerner was so impressed that he never wavered from Mangini as his first choice.

In fact, Lerner effectively chose Mangini to head his football reorganization ahead of GM candidate Scott Pioli of the New England Patriots.

Once close friends and former roommates, Pioli and Mangini became estranged when Mangini left the Patriots as defensive coordinator to coach the Jets. When Lerner surmised that the relationship between Mangini and Pioli might be unworkable, Lerner proceeded with plans to make Mangini the coach.

I have no reason to doubt Mangini’s connection (likely emotional) to the franchise as a 14-year old ballboy.  I also will say that he got an extremely raw deal from the Jets; despite some bonehead coaching handles and obviously not handling the defense as well as needed (the Jets’ secondary was awful), that didn’t seem like a firing year to me. He should have been on the hot seat for next year, for sure. But anything coming out of the Meadowlands about the Jets’ coaching search informs you of how dysfunctional that organization is compared to the Giants (what other owner leaves the country on vacation while the coaching situation is in flux?)

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t think this might not blow up in someone’s face. Homecomings are always awkward, made all the more so by a need to guide a team crumbling on both sides of the ball.

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Epic Degrees of FAIL: The AFC

Chronicling just what killed each of the 10 AFC teams that didn’t make the playoffs, and how devastating that failure was in the end, from the least to the most.

The Break Heard ‘Round The World

New England Patriots — Now staying home despite an 11-5 record and recovering in a way no one expected after Tom Brady’s knee ligaments snapped in the opening game.  Done in due to losses acquired during adjustment period to Matt Cassel and an aging defense that gave in to division rivals, particularly Miami, once too often. Are low on the list because this was still Coach Hobo’s best work in the duress of losing his leader and star.

Bad Start Followed By Peaking Too Late

Houston Texans — Effectively destroyed thanks to Sage Rosenfels’ propensity to turn the ball over when it matters most.  Matt Schaub wasn’t doing great to start out, but Rosenfels handing a game to the Colts and having to rotate in and out while Schaub tried to find his groove ensured Houston would be a late bloomer.  Four game losing streak capped by that loss in Indy killed any hope in a division where the winner had a 10-game winning streak and the second place team enters the playoffs with a nine-game streak. At least you’re not finishing under .500 again, and you have a feature back in Steve Slaton.

Icarus Is Not A Model To Follow Here

Buffalo Bills – A 5-1 start against what turned out to be lamentably bad competition (of the teams they beat, only the Chargers made the playoffs), followed by a precipitous fall in which they lost 8 of their final 10, forgot Marshawn Lynch existed for the most part, and had to go to J.P. Losman in games that they stood a chance of winning thanks to Trent Edwards’ fragile constitution.

Cincinnati Bengals – No communication between Carson Palmer and his receivers when he was playing, he gets knocked out, team continues to suffer until its tie of the Eagles and belated discovery that Cedric Benson still has rushing skills. Oddly enough, defense not responsible for sucking more this year.  Continued fall back to reality from Wild Card finish two years ago complete.

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The Red Zone: Getting The Point Across

(Video tip to Black Sports Online.)

Seahawks 34, 49ers 13 – Normally I would not lead with this because there were a litany of better games on, and I was saved from having to watch this travesty by the grace of my local Fox affiliate who rationally decided that no one in our little part of California wanted to watch the Niners get beat. However, it produced the most coherent yet quotable of coach rants from Mike Singletary, who is visibly and understandably frustrated with a quarterback who is responsible for 11 fumbles and 17 interceptions, a tight end that dogged it a bit and cost them 15 yards on a dumb penalty, and a defense that allowed a fullback, a fullback, to gather up 116 yards and two TDs on only four receptions.

Saints 37, Chargers 32 – Essentially, the Chargers stalled themselves early in London, which allowed Drew Brees and whatever mishmash of talent he has catching footballs to get up early and get a lead. 14 penalties for more than 100 penalty yards don’t help, especially when the defense has completely quit or doesn’t have enough to stop any sort of potent offense. The AFC West is slowly morphing into the NFC West, if you can believe it.

Panthers 27, Cardinals 23 – Kurt Warner got the Cards out to a 17-3 lead, but then Jake Delhomme and Steve Smith powered a Carolina comeback in Charlotte, prodded on by an amazing play where Smith looked like he had gone out of bounds on his way to the end zone, but his heel had not touched the sideline while his foot came down near it.

Cowboys 13, Buccaneers 9 – An ugly game in which Tampa Bay essentially got stopped in the red zone when they were able to mount drives, including the last failed drive with less than a minute to go. Brad Johnson threw one TD pass to Roy L. Williams, and if you have any Dallas players on your fantasy teams, I’d advise benching them until Tony Romo comes back.

Jets 28, Chiefs 24 – New York won in spite of Brett Favre as much as they did because of him. The Gunslinger threw three picks, making Tyler Thigpen look like a competent quarterback until Herm Edwards’ late conservative playcalling got int the way. Thigpen finished with two TD passes.

Giants 21, Steelers 14 – Something I’ll never understand about defensive coordinators: you go to all this trouble, if you’re Dick LeBeau, to develop good coverage and blitz schemes to use on Sunday, yet, after your team’s offense gives up and awful safety on a botched punt snap, you play prevent. Of course, when you play prevent, you give up a score, and Eli Manning hitting Kevin Boss to go ahead for good seemed utterly predictable. It would help if Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t spending half the game on his back.

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The Red Zone: He’s Having So Much Fun Out There

Jets 56, Cardinals 35 – Loath to imagine the superlatives that sportswriters will ladel on Brett Favre following a 24-34 day passing with six TD passes (three to Laveranues Coles). Most of this was enabled by five turnovers by Kurt Warner, resulting in 34 2nd quarter points for the faux-NY Titans, one fewer than Arizona was able to scrape up in the 2nd half.

Chiefs 33, Broncos 19 – Larry Johnson runs all over the weak Denver D for 198 yards on the day, but this is the day where living dangerously via the play action pass can bite you in the butt: thrwoing picks, losing fumbles to a clearly talent-inferior team, yet one that gets revved up every time you come to town.  Mike Shanahan is now 3-14 when playing in Arrowhead Stadium; it is never a place where Denver can go an win easily, ever. (And if Kansas City were actually coordinated as a team, the score would have been that much more lopsided. There were three drives that KC should have scored touchdowns on; the first quasrter could and should have ended 21-0 or 24-0.)

Saints 31, 49ers 17 – The return of Deuce McAllister only makes Drew Brees more dangerous: Brees threw for 363 yards and three more touchdowns, torching the San Francisco secondary.

Panthers 24, Falcons 9 – Um, yeah. Like I said, Matt Ryan, meet a real defense, again.  Jake Delhomme hit Steve Smith for two TD passes and Muhsin Muhammad for one in the 4th to really ice it.

Jaguars 30, Texans 27 – Jacknsoville digs in when down 24-20, getting a score to go ahead and then kicker Josh Scobee pulls it out again after Houston forces overtime.

Browns 20, Bengals 12 – The less said about this game, the better, probably. It looked like a Cleveland win as soon as everyone shockingly discovered that Carson Palmer wasn’t playing in this cripple fight.

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The Red Zone: Week 1 Highlights

Patriots 17, Chiefs 10 – It’s all about Tom Brady probably being out for the season, and the Patriots’ chances riding on that — so much so that it overrode the game itself, where the Chiefs failed at a last second comeback. Now, it’s a question of whether Bill Belichick will stick with Matt Cassel or who he will bring in to take Brady’s place.

Eagles 38, Rams 3 – More notable for Donovan McNabb being good as we’re used to from him, with three TD passes. Here’s how lousy St. Louis is: Philly had three — count ’em — three receivers reach the 100-yard mark for the game.

Cowboys 28, Browns 10 – The Cleveland hangover from the pre-season is still there, and Tony Romo and Marion Barber basically tore it up, so much so that Felix Jones could get into the act late too.

Jets 20, Dolphins 14 – Brett Favre throws two classic Gunslinger TDs (one on fourth down when kicker Mike Nugent twinged his leg) and the New York secondary picks Chad Pennington in the end zone to seal the win.

Bills 34, Seahawks 10 – Two massive special teams plays, a punt return by Roscoe Parrish and a fake punt to a TD pass, help bolster a rout of the NFC West favorite.

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Ill-Advised NFL Previews: AFC North

1) Pittsburgh Steelers – It’s Big Ben’s team and the offensive line is a bit thin right now, although getting ridd of the supposedly malcontent Alan Faneca may be addition by subtraction. Concerns have to do with the secondary outside of Troy Polamalu, but in a hard-fought division, the Steelers should still be the class of it. Adding Limas Sweed and Rashard Mendenhall in the draft to contribute to the offense are solid moves and I need a reason not to say they’ll win this division. Last year’s loss to Jacksonville in the playoffs is concerning, but that’s a first season under Mike Tomlin. They’ll learn from this.

2) Cleveland Browns* – There’s a major gamble here: trading for defensive line help for run stuffing by giving away a pretty good corner in Leigh Bodden to the Lions. Plus, they didn’t look all that impressive in the last pre-season game, and return stud Joshua Cribbs is hurt. However, that is pre-season, and I’m thinking getting Donte’ Stallworth for the receiving corps was a good move to go with Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards.  Like them as a Wild Card pick if Derek Anderson’s concussion doesn’t lead to a prolonged QB controversy with Brady Quinn.

3) Cincinnati Bengals – Too many cooks in the kitchen in the front office that all have or have had the last name Brown (or are married into the family) on personnel matters; Marvin Lewis is in a no-win situation. The team drafted a great college linebacker in Keith Rivers from USC, but one player can’t fix what has been lousy defense — plus, they’ve had to dig into the depths and re-sign Chris Henry because of the nicks given to both Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmanzadeh.  In fantasy purposes, Carson Palmer is still probably a good pick, but this team’s defense will kep it at .500 again unless Lewis has found the old motivational magic that he had as Baltimore’s D-coordinator.

4) Baltimore Ravens – I really want Troy Smith to succeed and be a starting quarterback, but I don’t see the team having a very long leash for him because they’re paying Joe Flacco first-rounder money and will probably tolerate going through growing pains by inserting him into the line-up as soon as possible. (A rant about how I-AA players are getting more love and run than guys who win games and come one short of a national chip is probably later.)  Rookie head coach, probably a rookie QB midway through, and an aging defense that is a far cry from the franchise’s Super Bowl winning season. Ray Rice will be worth looking at if Willis McGahee keeps having injury issues, but this is going to get worse before it gets better.

Fun With NFL Free Agency!

I’m not really as bullish on the whole Michael Turner deal as a lot of other people. There’s a lot to be said for the guy’s running style, but he spent a lot of his time running against beaten down defenses that had been facing LaDainian Tomlinson during his days in San Diego, and also running behind Lorenzo Neal at fullback and a very good offensive line (the Chargers released Neal, and I don’t think they’ve tried to sign him for less yet, which is a mistake.) That said, the Falcons had a need for Turner, trying to get the whole power and speed dichotomy with two backs. Of course, Warrick Dunn was the odd man out here — and has been cut this morning. Dunn’s best days are gone — but he is one of the more remarkable men in the NFL with his charity initiatives. If he still wants to play, here’s hoping he can.  Secondary thought: the Falcons obviously want no part of Darren McFadden for character reasons (although baby mama drama is low on the list of character issues to be concerned about) and they don’t have enough confidence in Norwood despite a nice yards-per-carry average. That #3 pick is going for either Matt Ryan or Jake Long now. [Atlanta Journal-Constitution]

The Falcons are clearly OK with the concept of clearing out most of the players associated with Michael Vick — not necessarily because of the Vick association, but because they probably view that team’s window as closed and time to start over. It will be to the Titans’ benefit now, to create a team around another superstar QB in waiting — Vince Young — by adding one of the more solid names at receiving in the TE category in Alge Crumpler. The Titans will still need to address the WR issue, but to have Crumpler there will give VY another target in crucial spots over the middle. [Nashville Tennessean]

Ben Roethlisberger’s $102 million contract extension is kind of a no-brainer — and really, it’s about the guaranteed money right now. With about half of that appearing to be guarantees or bonuses, that $50-something million is what he’ll get, and the rest will be renegotiated several years down the line. But that’s the move you have to make to solidify in the starting quarterback game — and in terms of scale, he’s got a contract reflecting a Super Bowl winner. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]

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