No passing the buck for Browns offense
“There are things that only come with repetition, in games as well as practice. You’re not sure who you’re throwing to, how they run routes, how they come in and out of cuts. Everybody is different. You’re trying to get some continuity with it, and it’s hard.
“I knew what I could or couldn’t do with each of (my receivers). That takes months and years to develop. Am I suggesting they can’t go out and have a fluid day? No. But at the same time you could also have three or four situations in a game where, Geez, what happened there? There’s confusion, and it only takes a couple of those in a game to ruin your day.”
Those comments came from former NFL quarterback and MVP Rich Gannon. He was talking to Sports Illustrated about Carson Palmer’s adjustment to Oakland, but he just as easily could have been talking about Browns quarterback Colt McCoy and the team’s receivers.
It’s no secret the Browns have struggled on offense this year, especially in the red zone, as they’ve worked to install the West Coast offense. But trying to pin the blame on any one player is overly simplistic and doesn’t do anything to try and address what is a team-wide problem.
If repetition and continuity are the way to build an offense – and why would anyone think it is not – when have McCoy and the receivers been able to build any continuity this year?
Greg Little didn’t become a starter until midway through the season, Mohamed Massaquoi and Ben Watson have missed games with head injuries, and since Evan Moore can’t block he wasn’t able to get on the field early in the season because the team was playing Artis Hicks and Oniel Cousins at right tackle.
When you mix a quarterback with only a little more than one year of experience who is struggling with his accuracy with a group of receivers who are inexperienced or can’t stay healthy you end up with an offense that struggles to score points.
It’s also very possible that this group of players is just OK and will never hit the next level. Just look around the division: Baltimore’s Joe Flacco and Pittsburgh’s Ben Rothlisberger were first-round picks, while Cincinnati took Andy Dalton at the top of the second round.
And the top two wide receivers on each team are Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith in Baltimore, Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown in Pittsburgh, and A.J. Green and Jerome Simpson in Cincinnati.
The common denominator among them? They all played wide receiver in college.
The Browns top two wide receivers are a converted running back who only played one year in college (Little) and a converted quarterback (Cribbs) who is probably better suited to be a running back.
We hope Little will develop into a solid receiver, but consider what Pro Football Focus had to say about him after the Bengals game:
Greg Little (-3.1) may have picked up the first touchdown grab of his career, but he did little else right in a textbook example of how not to catch footballs. The rookie receiver dropped an incredible four passes as he was guilty of constantly taking his eyes off the ball as he prepared what to do next. To his credit, he doesn’t shy away from bouncing back, and his quarterback kept going after him (12 times in all), but you won’t find many performances this year from a WR where they drop such easy-to-catch balls. His drop with 27 seconds left in the game summed up his day and it’s a growing problem given that he’s now dropped 12 on the year – an astonishing 20.3% of all catchable balls throw his way.
We also love how Cribbs plays hard every game and went to The Kent State University, but none of these guys – McCoy included – are starting for anyone else in the division.
Coach Pat Shurmur was on Sirius NFL radio this afternoon and he did have some good news. He said the Browns didn’t necessarily target Little on Sunday, but rather he was the second or third option on many of the passes. That meant that McCoy was working through his progressions rather than forcing the ball or just “dumping it off,” which is not always apparent to people sitting at home on the couch.
The fact that McCoy had time to go to his third option on some plays means the offensive line is doing its job. McCoy and the receivers now need to step up and do their jobs better.
The good news is that if everyone can stay healthy, each practice and each game brings them one step closer to building the kind of continuity that a successful passing attack needs.
The bad news is, even with practice and game experience, it might not be enough.
In other news, the Browns released long snapper Ryan Pontbriand – the lone remaining player from the Butch Davis era – and placed starting linebacker Scott Fujita and starting defensive end Emmanuel Stephens on injured reserve on Wednesday.
Just in time for a five-game stretch to close the season that features two games with the Ravens and two games with the Steelers.
Finally, courtesy of Cold Hard Football Facts comes this fun little factoid:
Since the AFC North was created during realignment in 2002, the Browns own a 14-42 record against the division. Worse yet, the Browns started off with a 7-11 record from 2002-2004. Therefore, the Browns are 7-31 since 2005 against the AFC North, with three wins of those wins coming in 2007. If the Browns get swept by the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, as they already were by the Bengals, the Browns will average one win per season against the division since 2005.
So, to recap, that’s 1-5 in Romeo Crennel’s last season, 2-10 under Eric Mangini and 0-2 so far under Shurmur.
That’s one coaching trend we definitely would like Shurmur to break.
(Photo by The Plain Dealer)