The St Louis Rams and Cleveland Browns might only face each other once every three years, but these two teams are far from strangers. With former Ram nemesis Mike Holmgren in the executive office, former Ram offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur roaming the sidelines, and Sam Bradford's former foil in the Big 12 Colt McCoy under center, there is no shortage of storylines to choose from.
Add to that intrigue the real possibility that each team might actually get a win against the other, and you have some actual NFL drama. Mixed in with hapless comedy, of course, because these are not very good football teams, but drama nonetheless. In a season like this, we'll take it.
This week I'm joined by Dan Parker of Waiting For Next Year, a Cleveland Browns blog, and he answers some burning questions about his football team.
Many of us were surprised when Pat Shurmur was tapped to be the head coach, after so little time as an offensive coordinator. How has his transition from the booth to the sideline been for the Browns?
Dan: It's been bumpy, at best. It's clear that not hiring a full-time OC to support Shurmur was a mistake; this has been stated by team president Mike Holmgren. Shurmur's offense has been predictable, and yet at the same time hard to explain at times. Peyton Hillis is routinely under-used even when healthy. Colt McCoy's not a 40-throws-a-game guy, and yet that seems to be what Shurmur wants to do... either by design or by necessity because of the score. It's clear that Shurmur has too much on his plate right now.
Shurmur certainly hasn’t been shy about letting Colt McCoy drive the offense, as he is currently 5th in the NFL in passing attempts. Does he look like franchise material?
Dan: I would say no. Part of that is that his offensive line has been suspect-at-best (without Pro Bowl left guard Eric Steinbach, who has missed and will miss the entire season); the two guards are a rookie, and a second year guy. Right tackle Tony Pashos is literally stealing oxygen from the rest of the linemen, he's that bad. The running game is a shambles without Hillis, Montario Hardesty, and suspect blocking. There are no real WR threats.
In summary, McCoy certainly has visible weaknesses (arm strength, pocket presence, willingness to throw downfield), but he's not getting a lot of help and certainly isn't the only weakness on offense.
Like Bradford last year, McCoy’s high attempts are countered by an extremely low yards/attempt average (5.7). Does this reflect on the QB, the offensive design, or the talent at WR?
Dan: Yes. It's all of those. McCoy doesn't like to throw downfield much. He checks down almost every play. Part of that is also the design of the West Coast offense, if that's what you want to call it. Part of that is that there are no WRs who can routinely get open downfield. The Browns' strength is in tight ends, but they aren't going to be deep threats.
Who should we be looking out for on D? Has anyone benefited particularly from the switch to a 4-3 defense?
Dan: The D has been the one area where the Browns' high drafting of the past two years is at least showing some returns. There are two rookies on the D-line who have played well in DT Phil Taylor and DE Jabaal Sheard. DT Ahtyba Rubin is a beast. Second-year CB Joe Haden is a solid cover corner.
If you're looking for the guys who have benefited the most from the move back to the 4-3, those would be Rubin--who is more free to get into the backfield now--and MLB D'Qwell Jackson. DQ missed most of the previous two seasons with torn pectoral muscles, and given his size he's a guy who does much better in a 4-3 where he's not being blocked by OGs every play. Jackson has 59 solo tackles and 15 assists to go along with 2.5 sacks in eight games this year.
It’s been a tough year in Cleveland and St Louis both. Is there any one moment or decision from the season you’d like to have back?
Dan: Week 1, vs. Cincinnati. The Browns had a lead, and their defense was completely stalling the Bengals' offense. And then in the fourth quarter the Bengals quick-snapped a play before the Browns got set.
If we could re-do that moment and JUST CALL A TIMEOUT to keep that play (an uncontested TD pass to AJ Green that gave the Bengals the lead) from happening--it was 3rd down and 10+ yards--it might have completely changed the complexion of the early season. Not that it would have suddenly made the Browns' offense better, but in hindsight they'd have started 3-0. Sometimes that mental boost is enough to kick start further team development.
My thanks to Dan, and look for a post from the RamsHerd writers on their site later today, on our team's chances of stealing a win. (Edit: You can read it here: http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/2011/11/week-10-the-browns-will-win-if/)