Seven days ago I wrote that the Browns were scared to play Colt McCoy against the Falcons. I opined that the reason behind this was his horrific preseason play, Eric Mangini’s lack of faith in his third round pick, and Mangini’s affinity for Brett Ratliff, the man cut to keep McCoy. All week from ESPN down to The OBR and WFNY, everyone predicted the worst for the rookie QB. I mean, he was going to make his NFL debut against the #1 defense in the league, the Pittsburgh Steelers, on the road after all.
What a difference a week makes. I am here to eat some crow.
What we all saw yesterday nobody could have imagined. I’m not going to sit here and say McCoy is “the answer” after four quarters and 10 points, but watching the moxie, the poise, and the intangibles that the kid displayed was extremely encouraging.
Even more encouraging – listening to his teammates talk about his presence in the huddle and leadership in the locker room before the game. According to reports, during Saturday night’s team meeting, McCoy stood in front of his team and told them to get on his back, because he was ready and had faith in everyone in the room to help him get it done.
“Most guys sit down when they talk to the team. He stood up and looked everybody in the eyes,” said Evan Moore. Eric Steinbach, who has seen plenty of change at the QB position since he came to Cleveland, couldn’t help but gush over the rookie after the game.
“He was awesome. From Wednesday on, he took leadership and command. He carried that demeanor right into the game. He’s a natural-born leader. If he’s our guy from here on out, we can build off what he did.”
Stenbach said “if he’s our guy from here on out.” It shouldn’t be a matter of if. With the Browns now sitting at 1-5 and no hope of making the playoffs, isn’t it time to take the redshirt jersey off of McCoy for good and give him the job the rest of the way?
Just a week ago, I never would have thought I’d say that, especially not after one game. But he earned my respect yesterday. If ever there was an advertisement for being a four year starter at a top FBS program (I hate that FBS term the NCAA uses now), it was McCoy’s first career start. Not for one second did he seem shaken or overwhelmed, even in the face of the Blitzburgh defense of Dick Lebeau.You can tell the kid has played in a ton of big games in his day at Texas.
Our own Craig said to me in an email: My favorite two plays were McCoy directing (Lawrence) Vickers and (Peyton) Hillis into space on two separate plays. The rookie was telling his relief receivers that they hadn’t gotten into space and he needed them to move. That is far more field vision and awareness than I thought we would see all season from McCoy.
This is where McCoy’s hard work in the film room has paid off. While this was supposed to be his “redshirt” year, he said earlier in this week that he has prepared every week to be the starter.
I said last week that McCoy should have been given his shot over an injured Delhomme last Sunday in a very winnable game. After seeing Colt yesterday, does anyone think that he would have been any worse than Jake? At worst, McCoy could have escaped the pressure the Falcons brought, the way he did against the Steelers. And it wasn’t just him taking off when feeling the pressure, he moved out of the pocket when the time was right. Again, this speaks to his moxie.
Credit must also go to offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and Mangini for putting together a gameplan well suited for the rookie. They played to McCoy’s strengths – his accuracy and escapability. There would have been a heavy dose of Wildcat had Josh Cribbs not been knocked out by Pittsburgh’s James Harrison. Even after losing Cribbs and starting WR Mohammad Massaquoi, McCoy still managed to move the ball through the air.
He ended the day 23-33 for 281 yards, one TD and two interceptions, the first of which was a nicely thrown ball in a tight spot that deflected off of Benjamin Watson’s hands into the arms of Steelers DB Ryan Clark. The numbers, for anyone watching, didn’t tell the story of Colt McCoy’s first career start.
So where do the Browns go from here? Mangini is 1-5 and is going to try to do everything to keep his job. That usually doesn’t constitute going to a rookie QB for the last 10 games. But in reality, he isn’t the one making the call. If Mike Holmgren says to start McCoy, he’ll start McCoy. And he should.
This team is going nowhere. There is still little to no talent at WR (sorry Brian Robiske, you are at best a fourth WR in this league), the linebackers are slow and aging, there is very little pass rush, and the cornerbacks are still a work in progress. But you need to know if Colt McCoy can be the future at the QB position.
Jake Delhomme is not in the future plans for the Browns and is most likely several weeks away from trying to play again. Seneca Wallace is also out with a high ankle sprain and is still your backup QB regardless.
If McCoy was a miserable failure yesterday, an argument would be made for Delhomme’s or Wallace’s return to the starting lineup when healthy. But he wasn’t. He showed us a lot to be excited about. Hand him the reins the rest of the way, and let him go through his maturation process. Get him the reps and game experience under his belt so that at the end of the year, Holmgren and Heckert can decide if Colt is their guy or if they should draft a QB high in the 2011 draft.
What do they have to lose?
photo via John Kuntz / The Plain Dealer