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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- It's the craziest thing. Nearly two years after applauding his removal, the New York Jets are talking about Eric Mangini as though he's a Man-genius. It's like 2006 all over again.
They're impressed with his clever game plans, his team's discipline and his ability to dissect opponents. Mangini has grown up to be the coach the Jets thought he could be, and they face him Sunday in Cleveland.
|Eric Mangini led the Jets to the playoffs in 2006 but lasted only two more seasons with Gang Green.|
That, quite frankly, could be a troublesome matchup for the Jets.
"We know how Mangini is," safety James Ihedigbo said. "He thinks he's got the world figured out."
Maybe not the world, but he finally has the type of team he always wanted -- a roster filled with smart, coachable players and no stars. It's a faceless team with a logo that matches its personality, one solid color, nothing fancy.
The Cleveland Browns are the anti-Jets, which is to say they don't commit a lot of penalties and they're not careless with the ball. And they're a lot quieter, too. More often than not, they have to play a near-perfect game to win because, let's be honest, their talent isn't anything special. Their roster includes only four former first-round picks; the Jets have three on their offensive line alone, and a total of 15.
From top to bottom, the Jets are the better team based on personnel, but this game will test them in ways they haven't been tested.
It will be a mental challenge because Mangini knows their offensive scheme (remember, he hired Brian Schottenheimer as his coordinator in '06), and it will be a physical challenge because the Browns can run and stop the run better than any of the Jets' past three opponents.
The Jets dread this matchup because of the potential embarrassment. Owner Woody Johnson would rather lose a club-suite sale than lose to the coach he fired after the 2008 season. This is personal.
It's personal for Mangini. It's personal for the Ryan brothers, Rex and Rob. It's personal for wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who returns to the city where he was Public Enemy No. 1. It's personal for the 10 former Jets now on the Browns.
Mostly, it's personal for the Jets, who don't want to let Mangini put a blemish on their season. The pressure is on Jets head coach Rex Ryan, because the last thing you want is to fall to your predecessor and your twin brother -- Rob is the Browns' defensive coordinator -- on the same day.
Rex, of course, won't admit as much.
"I don't worry about anything," he said. "I think we have more talent than anybody ... so we go into it expecting to win every game. As far as pressure, nah, we want to win and we expect to win."
No one in the league can boast a better record than the Jets (6-2), but they've been careless in recent weeks -- a minus-6 turnover margin over the past three games and 18 penalties over the past two. That's not championship-caliber football.
They've resorted to drastic measures to improve the penalty situation, including a push-up program. When a penalty is committed in practice, the entire team -- coaches, players, Johnson, et al -- does 10 push-ups. The office staff, in a show of solidarity, also joined.
If Ryan can clean up the mistakes and harness the talent, the Jets could be scary over the second half of the season.
"The Jets will get everyone's best now, everyone's fastball," said an opposing personnel executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "They're no longer sneaking up on teams. They're perceived to be a top-tier team, so they're going to get everyone's best. It's the price of success. You can't play a sub-standard game and expect to beat the Jets anymore."
Beware the Browns -- 3-5 against the toughest schedule in the league.
After an 0-3 start (by a combined total of 12 points), they're playing Mangini Ball. Peyton Hillis, a 250-pound battering ram, is controlling the ball on the ground. Rookie quarterback Colt McCoy, making his fourth start, is managing the game, avoiding big mistakes. The defense? All it has done the past two games is beat Drew Brees and Tom Brady.
"Whatever you don't do well, [Mangini] is going to expose -- or try to," said guard Brandon Moore, who played under Mangini for his three seasons as the Jets' coach. "They're disciplined. They play with fundamentals. They're not going to beat themselves. They're going to be where they're supposed to be. We'll need our A game."
The Browns' defense will try to play tricks with Mark Sanchez's mind, showing a multitude of pre-snap looks. They have one scheme that has no down linemen, with five linebackers and six defensive backs milling about. They call it the "Amoeba" defense because it constantly changes. It confused Brady, who completed only three of 13 against that particular look.
Ryan said his brother breaks down an opponent "better than any coach I've ever been around," studying tendencies from as far back as two years ago.
"They'll know a lot of what we do," Sanchez said.
It shouldn't matter -- unless the Jets let it.
Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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