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At the press conference introducing him as the Browns’ new head coach, Eric Mangini noted the similarities between his former team (the Jets) and his new one. “We played the Browns in the preseason, and preparing for them was like playing ourselves because we had the same defensive scheme and really the same offensive philosophy,” Mangini stated. “There are obviously nuances and differences and things like that, but there’s a lot of carry over between those two areas.”
In other words, if you liked Mangini’s Jets you’ll love his Browns.
And while last year’s numbers were a bit skewed by Brett Favre, that means an offense predicated on ball control via running the football and the short passing game. In Mangini’s first two years with the Jets, his club ranked seventh and 13th in the league in rushing attempts per game and 21st and 23rd in passing attempts; last year, despite ranking 19th in runs and 13th in passes, the Jets actually averaged just one pass more and 1.5 rushing attempts fewer than the previous season. And many of those passes were of the short variety; according to Football Outsiders, the Jets ranked second in the league in passes completed behind the line of scrimmage.
Though Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson head into training camp in a dead heat for the starting quarterback job, Quinn projects to be a better fit for the type of offense Mangini and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll want to run. Quinn completed better than 63% of his passes his final two seasons at Notre Dame and flashed that ability completing 23 of 35 passes in his start against the Broncos last year. His 6.8 yards per attempt also falls in line with what Jets’ quarterbacks produced during Mangini’s tenure.
The Browns’ draft and free-agency signings also tip their hand with regards to the controlled nature of their passing game. Second-round pick Brian Robiskie projects as a solid possession target, while David Patten and Mike Furrey are known more for their work underneath than their presence as a deep threat. The loss of Kellen Winslow is less impactful than you think, as Favre’s penchant for the tight end (and the arrival of Dustin Keller) dramatically inflated the position’s role in the offense. In the two seasons prior to Favre and Keller, Jets tight ends accounted for 87 catches, 826 yards, and eight touchdowns, ranking in the bottom half of the league in each category and 26th in fantasy points from the TE in each season.
Expect Patten and/or Furrey to work out of the slot in a Wes Welker fashion in lieu of a true pass-catching tight end; Mangini and Daboll do, after all, descend from the Patriots’ coaching tree. And assuming there’s some resolution to his contract situation, look for Josh Cribbs to see duty in the slot as well; as suggested by the behind-the-line completions stat noted above, Mangini’s offense loves to get the ball into the hands of its playmakers in space.
Another of those playmakers may be Jerome Harrison, whose work as Cleveland’s third-down back has been limited to just 77 carries and 23 receptions in his three NFL seasons—but he’s averaged 6.3 yards on those 100 touches. Much as Leon Washington saw increased touches last year, Mangini’s arrival and the advancing age of Jamal Lewis should combine to give Harrison his biggest workload to date.
But don’t write off Jamal just yet; after all, this offense is still about ball control and Lewis can still bring it between the tackles. Thomas Jones, who’s actually a year older than Lewis, racked up 600 carries for Mangini over the past two seasons. The biggest change from 2007 to 2008 was a one-yard-per-carry increase for Jones that could be attributed to several different factors: the addition of Alan Faneca to the offensive line, defenses backing off in deference to Favre’s arm, or maybe even the oppositions’ struggle to handle the differing styles of Washington and Jones.
The Browns won’t have Faneca or Favre, but with Joe Thomas, Eric Steinback, and top draft pick Alex Mack the line shouldn’t be a problem. Healthy after offseason ankle surgery, Lewis is still capable of 15 carries a game—especially if an increased dose of Harrison keeps him fresh. After all, as Mangini has said, “This system fits Jamal.”
The final component of the offensive scheme is Daboll, who was the Jets’ quarterbacks coach under Mangini and prior to that served as New England’s wide receivers coach. Daboll was lauded for his work in acclimating Favre to the Jets’ offense last year, and that he’s followed a career path similar to that of Mangini (Patriots, Jets, Browns) suggests they share a similar philosophy. Daboll has never called plays for an NFL offense, and it remains to be seen how he handles those duties. But aside from finding creative ways to get Cribbs the ball, this should be a pretty straightforward scheme—though how close the Browns’ talent level is to that of last year’s Jets will have as much to say about their productivity as the game plan.