Monday, October 31, 2011

Monday leftovers

Colt McCoy couldn’t have summed it up any better after the Browns lost in San Francisco Sunday.

“It’s about winning,” the Cleveland quarterback said. “We can talk all day about how we fight, fight, fight. That’s the character of this team. But we’ve got to start winning.”

What he neglected to mention, perhaps purposely, is how carelessly the Browns play the game of football on offense. There is no reason for McCoy to fumble snaps, miss handoffs and look like a lost little boy just about every time he drops back to pass.

And it’s not just him. He has plenty of company on offense.

Like Turnstile Tony Pashos, whose whiff of 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks on the second play of Sunday’s game resulted in a strip sack, which led to the first San Francisco touchdown.

Like the rest of Pashos’ buddies on the offensive line, who block so weakly in pass protection, McCoy might as well accept the reality that he’s going to wind up week after week as human piñata.

And like the wide receiving corps, which continues to prove it is one of the worst in the National Football League. Rookie Greg Little was targeted for passes 11 times against the 49ers and racked up just four catches. Evan Moore was targeted twice and wound up with, surprise, two catches.

Whatever the problem is on pass protection, Pat Shurmur and his offensive coaching staff (no pun intended) have drawn blanks on how to solve it. It seems as though every time McCoy drops to throw, he has people in his face within four seconds.

Surely, Shurmur and friends can come up with a plan to combat that. Like screen passes to slow the pass rush. Or quick slants where the receiver is actually moving as he catches the ball. Or seam routes by the tight ends. Maybe a misdirection play or three.

We don’t see any of that from the Cleveland offense. What we get instead is almost predictable. And if we see it coming, imagine what the more sophisticated defensive coordinators see.

Time to begin installing some sexy schemes in order to pick up this moribund offense. It’s making Brian Daboll and his dysfunctional offense the last two seasons look good.

* * *

At least Shurmur has put his finger on the offensive problem. “Our margin for error on offense is small,” the Cleveland coach said. “That’s not an excuse. That’s the reality.” Well, at least we know his eyes are completely open.

“We have to hit on everything,” he said. ”We just do. We have to fight for every yard. We can’t make mistakes. If we do, we have to overcome them.”

Now he has to figure out just how he’s going to overcome them. And with running backs dropping with alarming consistency, that won’t be easy.

* * *

Now that Montario Hardesty has gone down with a torn calf muscle, can we now make it official that the Browns’ second-round draft choice last year is injury prone? If not, what in the world would it take?

He was drafted despite a red flag that warned he was an injury risk. He missed all last season with a knee injury, was babied throughout training camp this season to avoid a recurrence and played very little in the exhibition season.

Then Peyton Hillis went down with strep throat, followed by an ouchy hamstring, and Hardesty all of a sudden was the main man. He carried the ball 33 times in the Seattle victory eight days ago and emerged with no problem. Two series and two carries against the 49ers later, he pops a calf muscle.

The young man was – and still is – an injury risk and General Manager Tom Heckert Jr. wasted a second-round pick on him.

* * *

Player of the game on defense against the 49ers was middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson in a runaway, In arguably his best game as a Cleveland Brown, Jackson had 10 solo tackles, which is normal for him. However, half of those stops came behind the line of scrimmage. And that is far from normal for him.

He usually has a problem getting into the opposing team’s backfield, but had little trouble Sunday. Three of the five stops came on the Browns’ strong goal-line stand in the second quarter when he stuffed 49ers running back Frank Gore on three straight carries from the 1. It’ll be interesting to see if defensive coordinator Dick Jauron schemes Jackson the same way this Sunday in Houston.

Jackson’s lone mistake was being too aggressive on Gore on a third-and-3 at the San Francisco 32 with about five minutes left in the game and the Browns trailing by only a touchdown. He inadvertently grabbed Gore’s facemask. The penalty took valuable time off the clock and sustained a drive that led to a field goal.

* * *

Joshua Cribbs, who scored Cleveland’s only touchdown in the fourth quarter after practically begging McCoy to throw to him on a sideline route, bemoans the club’s first-quarter blues – only three opening-quarter points all season. “The beginning (of the game) haunts us, coming out awful,” he said. “We finish like a Super Bowl team. We just start like the worst football team.”

A slight exaggeration on the Super Bowl reference. Otherwise, right on.

* * *

More Cribbs: “I know Browns Town is really upset, but one thing they can be excited about is our effort. I hope back home they won’t get into a frenzy like the world is going to end for us."

No, it won’t end, but your season is all but gone. And one more thing: Effort doesn’t win games, although it is a contributing factor. Talent and playing the game smartly are more vital factors.

* * *

Stream of thought: Still can’t figure out why Shurmur decided to punt the ball from San Francisco’s 39-yard line on a fourth-and-2 with a minute left in the third quarter and the Browns trailing, 17-3. Better field position? Or was it his way of waving the white flag of surrender? What’s the worst that could have happened if he had gone for it? Not making it? Yeah, that’s really thinking positively. . . . At the risk of sounding repetitious, why is Brian Robiskie still on the roster? He was nailed to the bench again against the 49ers. Jordan Norwood appears to have leaped over him on the depth chart. . . . Jackson, on the 49ers’ use of linemen in their passing game: "It’s tough. Everybody’s geared up for the run and they hit you with that.” “That” was a pair of passes to offensive tackle Joe Staley and defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga on tackle-eligible plays that gained 17 and 18 yards, respectively, each resulting in a first down. "That" is also called creative football.

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