The Cleveland Browns play the Detroit Lions in the second game of the 2011 preseason––the Great Lakes Classic. As usual, all eyes are on Colt McCoy.
Last week, he had the entire league buzzing after his performance against the Green Bay Packers. McCoy completed 9 of 10 passes for 135 yards, 1 TD, and no INT. Everyone loved what they saw, even his skeptics, myself included.
But now he needs to keep it going…The Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, and Brady Quinn era (approx. 2005-2009) had to be the most frustrating and awful displays of quarterbacking in the history of football. Compared to that nonsense, Colt is indubitably fantastic, and that’s part of the reason there is so much optimism suddenly surrounding the Browns.
Here are some positive takeaways from Colt’s performance last week set against that backdrop of Frye, Anderson, and Quinn. Let’s hope these trends continue tonight against the Lions:
Converting 3rd down
Third-and-seven was the kiss of death for Frye and Quinn. It used to be an automatic checkdown, or a short out pass that always wound up a yard short.
Raise your hand if you’ve yelled this at your television before: “If you need 7 yards why are you throwing a five yard pass!?!?”
Right away, after Owen Marecic dropped McCoy’s first pass of the game, the Browns found themselves in third-and-long situation. Going three-and-out on your first possession, when the entire series is supposedly scripted, is a bad sign. But Colt got the job done by hitting Josh Cribbs for a ten-yard gain on that third-and-seven.
That alone puts the Browns’ prospects of having an effective offense in a good light. You have to be able get first downs, extend drives, and keep the opposing team’s defense on the field.
The Browns and Colt are going to see third down this year, that’s a safe bet, especially against the Steelers and the Ravens. I like seeing Colt throw the ball past the stick to pick those up (as opposed to having a receiver make it up after the catch which is what Frye and Quinn always prayed for). He converted another good third down later, which is mentioned below.
On the sixth play of the opening drive, TE Benjamin Watson was whistled for a false start, giving the Browns a first-and-15 situation. With Frye and Quinn, that would be the automatic end to any drive: “Holding?! Might as well punt the ball right now.”
But Pat Shurmur dialed up a screen pass at just the right time, and Colt executed it for an eight-yard gain on the next play. They conquered the penalty with a first down a play later.
Eric Mangini teams, by admission, had to play perfect to win, except they were never perfect and they hardly won.The Shurmur-McCoy version of the NFL offense is a more realistic approach.
Like with third-and-long, you’re going to commit penalties, nobody is perfect. Doesn’t it seem like a better idea to be using training camp to build a modern offense that can overcome penalties, as opposed to making players run laps in the hopes of pounding them out of their system?
Last week, McCoy’s play gave the Browns a margin for error, and he needs to keep that going for them. It’s nice feeling like the Browns are never out of a series, no matter what the down and distance is.
Rhythm & attack mode
Here’s where we are hoping Colt will be an upgrade over Derek Anderson. DA could convert a third-and-long, or dig you out of a penalty…sometimes. He had a great arm, but what he lacked was accuracy, and more importantly, consistency.
He was fragile. You could see it in Rob Chudzinski’s play calling. DA’s first few throws had to be easy completions to put his brain at ease and get him in rhythm. It worked occasionally, but when DA was off you could see it immediately, and you knew the Browns had no chance.
Against the Packers, Shurmur-McCoy got the offense into a great rhythm. You could see evidence of this when every big play was followed by an even bigger play. They didn’t set themselves up for easy third-down plays, they stayed out of third down altogether by moving down the field in hunks, keeping the defense on their heels. Yes, Eric Mangini and Brian Daboll are finally gone.
After the Hillis screen pass mentioned above, the Browns had the ball on second down with seven yards to go. Instead of a Mangini-style safe play to get them to a high percentage third-down play, they get greedy with a 15-yard pass to Brian Robiskie for the first down, Colt’s best throw of the night. On the very next play, immediately after that big 15-yard pass, Colt throws the 27-yard touchdown pass to Josh Cribbs.
In Colt’s final series in the second quarter, the Browns found themselves in a third-and-three situation around midfield.
Again, instead of getting just enough yardage for the first down, they get way more––Colt finds Benjamin Watson on a 19-yard pass. Then, on the very next play, they hit the gas and throw to Watson again, this time for 37 yards down to the Green Bay three-yard line. Peyton Hillis scored on the very next play.
That is the definition of rhythm. Keep the peddle to the metal – after Colt makes one great throw, give him another one and keep him hot.
This is the number-one thing I would like to see them duplicate against the Detroit Lions: a surging, aggressive attack where Colt is given license to succeed and score points quickly.