After countless years of defensive coordinators becoming the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, we were told that the new regime would help right the ship. No longer would we be forced to endure methodical plodding, the three-to-four-yard runs and occasional five-yard out; the halfback draw followed by a series of painful check-downs for six yards on a third-and-seven.
Mike Holmgren was the quarterback guru, Tom Heckert was able to provide Andy Reid a bevy of weapons and Pat Shurmur was the next great offensive mind.
Yet five weeks in, your Cleveland Football Browns are 26th in the NFL in offense, Holmgren is stone silent, and Shurmur has a recent approval rating of 18 percent.
Loading up the defensive side of the ball with play-makers named Haden and Ward and Taylor and Sheard; using free agency and trades to acquire Usama Young, team captain Scott Fujita and the recently-extended Chris Gocong; the Browns front office has decided that they will load the talent up on the defensive side of the ball while trusting their acumen and skill set on offense, aiming to help the young, inexperienced bodies alongside Joe Thomas outperform and overachieve all while developing. Hopes were that the pair of third-year receivers coupled with athletic tight ends and a high-upside rookie out of North Carolina would help buy time for McCoy to learn the ropes of a completely new offensive system. The team could grow together rather than adding aging veterans who would not be a part of the future.
Yes, McCoy is a third-round quarterback project with a mere 13 games under his belt who is admittedly trying his hardest to get this team on the winning track. But one can argue that, even with offensive minds behind him, he has regressed from last season in terms of reading blitz schemes, going through his progressions and maintaining composure when the pocket begins to collapse. He’s looking to roll more than he should, he’s making questionable decisions post-snap and – though he showed flashes of willingness to throw down field on Sunday – continues to be on the single-digit side of yards per attempt (4.8 yards per attempt this past Sunday, meaning it would take three completions just to get a first down).
Anyone wanting to bail on McCoy this early has downed a serious-sized bottle of pessimism. Sure, Seneca Wallace has more experience than McCoy, and he may actually give the team the best chance to win right now. But in a season that is supposed to be about McCoy’s progress and the future of the organization, pulling the plug on the twangy one now could be career-ruining; I’m talking Tim Couch-like proportions. A yo-yo act of quarterbacks is something that gets a coach run out of town. Give Shurmur credit for embracing a downtrodden 25-year-old on the sideline following an incomplete pass on fourth down, but the Browns’ new head coach will be judged principally on his ability to do what we were told he could do: make this team’s quarterback into a winner within the NFL. The system and scheme are allegedly in the favor of a not-so-strong-armed lad; the quick routes are supposed to help McCoy’s completion percentage and, in turn, his confidence.
Right now, McCoy looks anything but confident. He’s staring wide-eyed at a converging defensive line, not recognizing creeping safeties and is throwing off-balance ducks into traffic. Bailed out by defensive backs dropping potential interceptions just as often as Montario Hardesty’s hands have allowed drives to grind to a screeching hault, luck has played just as much of a role in relative success as pedigree.
In late July, I wrote that the quest for stability and progress would fall squarely at the feet of McCoy and Shurmur. Last season’s numbers looked encouraging – McCoy went from a kid who we all thought would be decapitated against the Steelers to having his jersey fly off of the shelves at the local Cardboard Heroes. He fights and he embodies a lot of what Clevelanders enjoy rooting for, but he’s still leaving a lot to be desired when it comes to each additional 60 minutes of football.
Presently, we have a pass-first offensive mind with a group of players better suited to run the football. Rather than transitioning to a North Coast version of the West Coast offense, Shurmur feels that he can merely flip a switch with a group largely comprised of the smash-mouth style which permeated Cleveland for the last two seasons. It will take a realization of balance – even if it’s a concession to the contrary – to take the pressure off of their second-year quarterback. To the public, it looks like a battle of egos attempting to fit square pegs in round holes. In Berea, it looks like things are starting to unravel at the seams and the walls are closing in around a rookie head coach who appears to be struggling with getting his players to buy in to his system. Shurmur is out of bye weeks to help regroup and tinker. Can he get these guys back on track while grooming and supporting his quarterback? It sure seems like he bit off a bit more than he can chew. Let’s just hope Holmgren is behind him to provide the Heimlich if any choking ensues.
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