Mike Pettine: Josh McCown is Browns QB1 for now

Dec 7, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh McCown (12) during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Detroit won 34-17. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine took to the airwaves on Monday to reveal what most fans have known for quite some time now.

As of today, Josh McCown is QB1 on the team’s depth chart.

Pettine told The Bull and the Fox show on 92.3 The Fan that it is “fair to say” that McCown is currently the team’s best option at quarterback, which is really not all that surprising, mainly because what else is he going to say? Just take a look at the current depth chart:

  • Johnny Manziel recently completed a 10-week stay at a rehabilitation center and was unprepared when called upon last season, a year that Manziel himself admitted he didn’t take seriously.
  • Connor Shaw looked serviceable in the season-ending loss to Pittsburgh, but he was an undrafted free agent in 2014 for a reason.
  • Thaddeus Lewis is on his second tour with the Browns and didn’t show anyone enough his first time in town to warrant an encore. Although, like Shaw, he looked serviceable against the Steelers in a season-ending loss in 2012.
  • Most importantly, the Browns were unable or unwilling to select a quarterback in last weekend’s NFL Draft.

Which brings us back to McCown.

It’s been clear ever since the Browns signed the 35-year-old McCown in February that unless they made a major move for a quarterback via a trade or in the draft, the likelihood that McCown would be at the top of the depth chart as the Browns prepare for the season opener was very high.

“Josh has proven in the right circumstances that he can be successful.” – Head coach Mike Pettine

Which is fine, if the Browns are getting the McCown that started five games for Chicago in 2013, throwing for 1,829 yards, 13 touchdowns and just one interception.

It is bad, though, if the Browns are getting the Tampa Bay-version of McCown, who went 1-10 for the Buccaneers last season, while completing just 56 percent of his passes, throwing 14 interceptions and taking 36 sacks.

Pettine and the Browns, obviously, are hoping for the Windy City McCown.

“Josh has proven in the right circumstances that he can be successful,’’ Pettine said on the radio show. “I think it was pretty clear to us when we looked into the results of what happened for him a year ago that a lot of those circumstances were outside of his control that made the year as difficult as it was.

“We just look back to when he was in Chicago, when he had a pretty good supporting cast around him, and he was able to be more than functional. He had a very successful year. When you build the team right, it minimizes the importance of the quarterback.”

While much of the attention was focused on Pettine’s comments about it being “fair to say” that McCown is at the top of the quarterback chart, the real takeaway was his comment about building a team that minimizes what the quarterback has to do.

The Browns clearly have a better offensive line than Tampa’s, and that was before adding Cameron Erving in the draft. Pro Football Focus ranked Tampa’s offensive line as the 25th-worst in the NFL last season, with a special nod to old friend Oniel Cousins, writing that “any time you’re forced to start Oniel Cousins it’s unlikely to go well,” meaning that McCown should see his sack numbers go down.

The Browns also have a better running game that the Buccaneers, who were led by Doug Martin (494 rushing yards) and Bobby Rainey (406 yards and a player who has seen his talent be grossly over-exaggerated by some fans since leaving Cleveland). So that should help take some additional pressure off of McCown.

On the other hand, Tampa had a better receiving group than the Browns, with Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans both going over 1,000 yards last season and combining for 14 touchdowns. Cleveland’s quartet of Andrew Hawkins, Miles Austin, Taylor Gabriel and Travis Benjamin combined barely exceeded the yardage total of Jackson and Evans (2,327 to 2,503) but fell short on touchdown receptions (eight to 14).

The fact that McCown struggled while throwing to better receivers in Tampa than he currently has in Cleveland seems like an important piece of the puzzle.

We understand, though, what Pettine is saying about the role the Browns will look for McCown, or whoever quarterbacks the team, to fill.

While the Browns may have not have any headline players on offense at the skill positions, adding running back Duke Johnson in the draft gives the team a weapon they didn’t have last year. In addition, Alex Mack’s return from injury should bring the running game back to the level we all saw in the early weeks of last season.

They may not be spectacular, but Dwayne Bowe, Brian Hartline and Hawkins bring a veteran presence to the wide receiver group, and Vince Mayle brings potential from the draft.

The Browns are also transforming themselves into a defense-first team that fans are going to embrace and, when they have things working, will definitely “minimize” the burden of the quarterback.

With a little more than four months until the Browns play a game that actually matters, it all looks good on paper.

Whether or not it still looks good come Sept. 13 remains to be seen.

What do you think of Josh McCown as the Browns’ starting quarterback?