Colt McCoy and the “F” Word: Do the Browns Finally Have their Franchise QB?

 Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy throws a pass in a game against the New England Patriots on November 07, 2010 in Cleveland. UPI / David Richard Photo via Newscom

It’s perfectly understandable if you’re not ready to annoint rookie Colt McCoy as ”the one” after just three games. After all, three games is still part of the getting to know you process, anyways, and after 11 years of failures at quarterback, it’s only natural to be a bit hesitant with such a small sample size.

That said, it’s alright to be more than a little excited from what we’ve seen out of the rookie from Texas, a third round “project” who wasn’t supposed to see the field at all this season. In three starts againt three difficult opponents, McCoy’s more than exceeded expectations as he’s completed nearly 68% of his passes and quaterbacked the Browns to victories on the road in New Orleans and at home against the New England Patriots.

You gotta admit, no matter how pessimistic a Cleveland sports’ fan you may be, the kid’s been impressive.

Personally, I can’t help but already toss out the “f” word when talking about McCoy’s future, and by that I mean “franchise quarterback.” Now maybe I’m just a sucker for disappointment, but based on what I’ve seen so far, I’m thinking this guy has long term potential. He’s just different – and better - than what what we’re used to seeing under center.

Now obviously, there is no scientific formula for drafting a franchise quarterback or determining if the Browns do indeed have one in McCoy after only three games. Drafting the right guy to lead your team for the next 10 or so years is one of the hardest things to do in the NFL given the importance of the quarterback position. For every Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, or Peyton Manning, there’s a dozen Brady Quinn’s or Tim Couch’s. Some quarterbacks are able to come into the league with big pedigrees and live up to expectations, while others come out of nowhere and become the guy.

It’s just an inexact, tricky process that’s played out over the course of seasons, not three games, but there are hints and signs along the way that indicate whether a quarterback has the potential to ever develop into a franchise quarterback.

In particular, I think there’s three big questions that can help gauge the development of a young quarterback like McCoy and give you an idea if he has the talent and intangibles to succeed as a NFL quarterback.

Question #1: Is he getting better?

The most important question I ask myself after watching a young quarterback like McCoy after just a couple of games is kind of vague but relatively easy to answer: Is he getting better?

This question entails a few other questions, like:  Does he look more comfortable out there? Is he becoming more in command of the offense? Is he correcting his mistakes?

To all of these questions, I would answer yes. McCoy has made significant progress from his first start on the road in Pittsburgh to last week’s game at home against New England.

Against the Steelers alone, he improved noticeabley from half to half. After being a bit antsy and uncomfortable in the pocket during the first half, McCoy appeared to settle down as the game progressed and finished with a very respectable debut against a scary Steelers’ defense: 22-33, 281 yards, 1 TD and 2 interceptions.

The next week, in a noisy Superdome, McCoy only completed 9-14 passes for 74 yards, but he did just enough game managing to knock off the defending Super Bowl champs. McCoy didn’t commit any costly turnovers or screw up in the red zone and allowed the Browns to ride a solid running game and a strong defensive effort to a road victory. Not much was asked of McCoy, but a victory is a victory and I’m pretty sure Derek Anderson would’ve found a way to lose that game for the Browns.

And then last week against the Patriots, McCoy looked about as comfortable as a rookie quarterback could look in just his third start against Bill Belichick and co. But more on that game in Question #2.

Question #2: Can he make plays?

Look, I don’t care how good a team’s defense may be, you need a quarterback that can make plays if you hope to have any shot at consistently winning football games in the NFL. Game managers are nice for a year or two given the perfect situation (Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson, anyone?), but franchise quarterbacks are the ones that can make plays for your offense.

And by making plays, I don’t just mean the ability to convert thirds down or extend a play with their legs, I also mean the ability to throw the football away and put the offense in the right play.

So far, McCoy’s done all that, and then some.

Against the Steelers, he converted at least five third down conversions through the air and demonstrated his athleticism and ability to make plays with his legs. In the Browns’ fourth possession of the second half, McCoy led the offense down the field with two big completions – a 23 yard completion to Ben Watson in which McCoy stepped up in the pocket and delivered a strike + a 27 yard completion to Evan Moore on a go route - that set up his impressive first touchdown pass, a play which perfectly illustrated just what McCoy brings to the Browns’ offense. Facing a 2nd and 10 on the Steelers’ 12-yard line, McCoy eluded pressure and escaped out of the pocket to his right before delivering an accurately thrown touchdown pass on the move. McCoy has the ability to evade pressure when the pocket breaks down and keep plays alive with his legs.

Then, against the Saints, it really wasn’t so much the good plays he made, but rather the bad ones he avoided. McCoy did a good job of taking care of the football in a tough environment and enabled the Browns’ offense to capitalize on good field position with points. One thing that stood out from this game was his willingness to throw the ball  away,which he did in the red zone on the very first possession of the game. This is always great to see from a young quarterback.

Last week against the Pats, it was more of the same as McCoy again did a good job of taking care of the football with 0 turnovers, only this time McCoy made several impressive plays that contributed largely to the Browns’ 34-14 beatdown. McCoy started making plays from the beginning and did an impressive job of moving the chains and converting third downs, picking up 4 first downs in 7 attempts through the air.

Some of McCoy’s more impressive highlights from the Patriots’ game include:

  • A 21-yard completion to wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi off of play-action on the very first play of the game, which ultimately set up a 38-yard field goal from Phil Dawson.
  • Following a Patriots fumble, McCoy took advantage of good field position and completed a 17-yard pass to tight end Evan Moore, who was split out wide right and covered by Patriots cornerback, Devin McCourtey. McCoy knew he had a mismatch on the outside, and took advantage of it by lobbing a jumpball to the 6-5 Moore. The very next play, running back Peyton Hillis punched it in from 2 yards out to put the Browns up 10-0. 
  • On 1st and 10 from the Browns 36 during the fourth offensive drive of the game, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll called a play-action slant to Massaquoi. McCoy saw that the first window wasn’t open, kept his weight back, and then hit Massaquoi when he became open in the second window. The completion went for 22 yards.
  • McCoy converted two third downs on the Browns’ sixth offensive series, which of course culminated with Chansi Stuckey’s memorable 11 yard touchdown run. The first, on 3rd and 5, McCoy hit Massaquoi on a quick outside hitch that went for 7 yards. Most impressive about this completion was the fact that McCoy let go of the ball before Massaquoi even got out of his break and put the ball only where he could catch it: low and outside. The second third down conversion of this drive came on 3rd and 4. McCoy was pressured and forced to escape the pocket to his right. While off balanced and on the move, McCoy put the ball on the money to Josh Cribbs for an 11 yard first down.
  • On the Browns’ first series of the second half, McCoy made two spectacular plays with his legs. The first came on a broken play in which McCoy rolled right and found wide receiver Brian Robiskie dragging across the field for a 20 yard gain. Even more impressive was the play that followed. After a delay of game penalty moved the Browns back to the Patriots’ 16- yard line, McCoy dropped back to pass, faced pressure, and subsequently tucked the ball and took off for an exciting 16 yard touchdown scramble. Both plays were just awesome.
  • On the Browns very next possession, McCoy completed two third down passes to Hillis that went for first downs on a 13 play, 61-yard drive that lasted 7:48 and and concluded with a 37-yard field goal by Dawson.

In short, McCoy isn’t just handing off the ball and getting the hell out of Hillis’ way. He’s making plays with his arm and his legs, which makes me very excited about his future with the Browns.

3. Is he accurate?

 The final question I ask myself when evaluating whether a young QB can ever be a franchise quarterback  is real obvious and important: Can he throw the football? And, more specifically, can he throw the ball with accuracy?

Based on some of the throws I’ve seen McCoy make the past three weeks and the fact that he’s completed almost 68% of his passes, my answer is, yes, Colt McCoy can fire that f’n pigskin. OK, so maybe he doesn’t exactly have a Matthew Stafford-like cannon, and maybe I just wanted to incorporate a Varsity Blues reference because Colt reminds me of Johnny Moxin, but McCoy definitely can throw the football. At the least, I certainly think he has the requisite arm strength to stretch NFL defenses, and I definitely think that his ability to throw the ball with accuracy in the pocket or on the move is one of his biggest assets.

So far, 11 of McCoy’s 46 completions have went for 15+ yards, and his 7.8 yards per pass attempt would rank him above the likes of Eli Manning (7.66), Aaron Rodgers (7.50), Brett Favre (7.35), Peyton Manning (7.08), and Tom Brady (7.00) if he had enough attempts to qualify. Now I realize that a lot of his completions haven’t exactly been 50 yard bombs, but his completion percentage coupled with his 7.8 YPA. tells me that McCoy’s putting the ball on the money and letting his receivers run after the catch. That, to me, is a huge deal because an accurate throw, no matter how short it may travel in the air, can be the difference between a first down and coming up short. If you don’t believe me, go back and look at some of the third down conversions McCoy’s completed through the air.

So is Colt McCoy “the one”?

I’m not exactly sure if Colt McCoy is the Browns’ long awaited franchise quarterback, but I think he does have the potential to develop into that guy. As of right now, I’m absolutely thrilled with what I’ve seen out of him so far. The past three weeks, McCoy’s done an excellent job of executing the Browns’ game plan and demonstrated his ability to make plays with both his arm and his legs. Most importantly, he seems to be getting better on a weekly basis, which is all you can really hope to see from a young quarterback.

Just remember, three good games doesn’t make a career, just like one bad game doesn’t break a career. Hopefully, Colt is able to keep it going against a very tough New York Jets defense this Sunday, but even if he struggles, this is the guy I want to see play quarterback for the Browns the rest of the season.

Go Browns, go Colt, and for the love of God, please someone knock Braylon Edwards the f*** out!

Topics: Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Brady Quinn, Brett Favre, Cleveland Browns, Colt McCoy, Devin McCourty, Eli Manning, Evan Moore, Johnny Moxin, Matt Stafford, Mohamed Massaquoi, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, Peyton Hillis, Peyton Manning, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tim Couch, Tom Brady, Varsity Blues

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  • http://www.clevelandbrownsweblog.com Clayton

    Bernie – ONLY if we are patient enough to let it happen. Make no mistake – this honeymoon will NOT continue forever. Colt will have a bad game, or two, or three. He has the stuff to be the best we have seen since Bernie, but we have to be reasonable in our expectations. He is better than Brady in terms of talent, hands-down. He has more respect from his teammates than Derek ever had. Time will tell.

  • Bernie Dawkins

    I agree, Clayton. I’m willing to look past the inevitable bad games Colt is bound to have at some point this season based on his impressive start. The important thing is he doesn’t regress significantly from here on out.

    I love what I’ve seen so far, though. Colt looks like a real gamer.

    The Jets D is going to be a good challenge for Colt and the offense. It will be interesting to see how this one plays out.