The Browns and Rams were on parallel courses of suck last season, both teams afflicted with a crippling lack of talent and a carousel of ugly quarterback play. But the Browns somehow caught fire and won five games last year, including their last four in a row. (Granted, those four opponents were the death-spiraling Steelers, the eternally crappy Chiefs, the Raiders and top-ten-draft-pick-hopefuls in Jacksonville. But still. Wins are wins.)
This seemingly puts them in a slightly higher circle of football hell (-130 points on a season looks pretty good to a team that finished -261), but did their hot finish actually hold back their rebuild? Despite dumping every signal caller from last season, they still have a carousel of suck at QB, with Jake Delhomme, career backup Seneca Wallace, and the poor man of the Big 12, Colt McCoy, holding the clipboard. They got a hell of a player in CB Joe Haden with their first-round draft pick, but he seems like a luxury on a team that, like the Rams, was very unsettled on offense and struggled to get to the passer in '09.
So now the Rams have their QB of the future locked up and legitimate buzz, and Cleveland has... a suddenly skinny and very old-looking Drew Carey. And Jake Delhomme. And not much else, besides a smoldering mountain of impatience named Mike Holmgren at GM.
Am I wrong? I asked Fanball's newest Cleveland connection, Zach Mentz of Cavmen.com, to sit in and answer some quick questions on the Browns, which I can supplement with some choice tidbits from Fanball's OwnersEdge AFC North Camp Report.
Question 1: How long do the Browns roll with Jake Delhomme?
I think it's best to play Delhomme as long as he is keeping the Browns in games. He was a turnover machine last season in Carolina, but Holmgren likes him. Seneca Wallace is capable too if Delhomme doesn't get it done. Let Colt sit & learn.
David Grey, writing for OwnersEdge, agrees.
Jake Delhomme continues to lead in the battle for starting quarterback with a solid performance over the weekend, even though Seneca Wallace did not hurt himself by tossing two touchdown passes. But this battle is Delhomme's to lose, so barring injury or some major struggles, he will likely be lining up behind center come Week 1.
And will "old friends" Bradford and McCoy make nice?
"The last time I saw him was probably at the rookie symposium, and I really doubt we'll have a lot of time to talk each other, but I'll just say 'What's up?' "-- Sam Bradford, on his friendship with Colt McCoy
Rookie QB ready to start Game 1, versus rookie QB buried behind two terrible veteran options? Advantage: RAMS
Question 2: At the top of the Browns' WR Depth Chart is "Mohamed Massaquoi" -- who is this guy?
Massaquoi is one of the most underrated receivers in the NFL. With a veteran like Delhomme at QB, Massaquoi could really have a solid year.
Looking at the new Premium Stats page at ProFootballFocus, Massaquoi was on the field twice as often as any other Browns receiver, which is pretty impressive for a rookie. His 34 catches in 87 targets? Not so impressive, though presumably he shouldn't be penalized too harshly for the complete vacuum of accuracy under center in Cleveland. I guess the next question is, though, will we see him this weekend? Says Grey:
On the injury front, Mohamed Massaquoi injured his hamstring during last week's preseason game and is expected to miss some practice time, though does hope to return to the field later in the week.
Massaquoi has since returned to practice, but we will see how much playing time he gets. I'd like to get a look at him myself, since I just put him on the bench of one of my fantasy teams. Young, potential impact WR: Massaquoi vs Amendola, Avery, Robinson, Burton, Gilyard? Advantage: RAMS
Question 3: Has the Browns' defense improved at all?
The Browns gave up 375 points last season, a mite bit fewer than the Rams, but nothing to be proud of. Grading on yardage, their run defense and pass defense both fared worse than ours. And their big hopes for improvement come from a pair of rookies in the secondary.
Please, Zach, give the folks in Cleveland some hope:
The defense is improved, but still not great. Haden & Wright as CBs will help the passing D. I'm a big believer in Haden to have success in the NFL. The pass rush, as usual, is very key for the Browns defense this year. Rogers is a crucial player.
Unfortunately, though, David tells us that the injury big has bitten hard on three key defensive contributors:
Shaun Rogers is still not fully over his injured leg, but is hoping to be ready in the near future. There is still no word on whether he will face a suspension for his arrest on gun charges. Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson injured his chest, but will not need to undergo surgery, though he is expected to miss a few weeks, so he may not be ready for the start of the regular season. Cornerback Eric Wright is struggling with a leg injury but is doing some light work and hopes to be ready for a full plate in the near future.
The news on D'Qwell Jackson (Coolest name in sports? Yes.) is a relief, as reports of a torn pectoral muscle were floated that would put him out of action for at least a month. Rogers, Jackson, Haden vs Chris Long, James Laurinaitis, Jerome Murphy? Advantage: RAMS
Bonus Question: Is Eric Mangini the guy you want to lead this team's rebuild? Or is the seat under him already warm?
@RamsHerd @zachmentz Not to butt in... sincerely doubt Holmgrem has given Mangini a seat at all. #Cleveland #Browns #CouldntResist
Ah, cheap laffs, Stable style!
Mangini would not have been my first choice as a hire, but he is a Belichick product. Head coaching didn't work out great for Weis or Crennel (other NE products) but I do think Mangini can return the #Browns to respectability. His seat is definitely warm. If the #Browns go 3-13 or in that area, I think Holmgren may pull the plug. @bpdouglass was right, I don't think Holmgren is high on Mangini.
Holmgren and Mangini vs Devaney and Spagnuolo? Time will tell... All things considered, I think I'm much happier being a Rams fan heading into not only this matchup, but into the 2010 season and beyond.