Sunday, October 30, 2011

Woe is them: Browns' offense continues to founder

Is the Frye-era offense back? Please, no.
The futility of the Browns' offense has driven fans to the point where even long touchdown throws with the game still in balance are frowningly scrutinized. Colt McCoy tosses a 45-yard touchdown pass and the Twitterverse grumbles that he didn't lead his receiver.

That's where our heads are at after this latest frustrating defeat. The one positive about these performances is they allow one to fall into a sort of catatonic stupor where thought exists at a higher plane. Today's coma state got me thinking about the worst Browns' offenses since the franchise's return, and how this unit compares.

The 2011 Browns are not expansion level terrible. They have a ways to go before they reach the dark depths of the so-called Darrin Chiaverini Epoch, when Couch and Pederson roamed the sidelines and the Browns finished dead last in the NFL in total offense two years in a row.

Nor would I compare today's iteration with 2008, the year Derek Anderson's rocket arm malfunctioned and the Browns failed to score an offensive touchdown in its final five contests. That season saw a quarterback carousel-from-hell that included Brady Quinn, Ken Dorsey and Bruce Gradowski under center after Anderson was sidelined by injury.

The best basis of comparison is probably 2006, a memorable 4-12 campaign that witnessed offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon and second-year quarterback Charlie Frye check-downing their happy way to a 9.7-yards-per-completion rate. That offense was lambasted for its lack of imagination and a receiving corps infamous for running five-yard routes on 3rd-and-ten. It got so bad that Carthon was fired six games into the season.

This year's team won't be able to fire its offensive coordinator, as he's also the guy wearing the head coach's headset. His quarterback, meanwhile, is averaging about 9.8 yards per completion, trapped in the amber of an inexplicably dull playset that includes a designed pass for a receiver five yards behind the line of scrimmage.

It's obvious that for whatever reason McCoy's confidence is flash-fried. Call it yips from learning a new system or fears of being destroyed behind a turnstile offensive line, but all the vigor we glimpsed with McCoy in his brief tenure last season seems to have evaporated. From a psychological standpoint, at least, he simply looks like a different QB than the one who suited up in 2010.

It's boring to talk about the Browns' perpetual offensive problems, and it's even more aggravating to watch for 3-plus hours every Sunday. Cleveland's version of the West Coast offense is a big complicated machine that doesn't quite work the way it's supposed to - a lumbering patchwork of bad ideas and worse execution that clomps unsteadily along like a mechanical steampunk spider with seven legs.

The Browns make everything look so damned difficult. Simple pitch-and-catch quick slants like San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith was zipping to Braylon Edwards today are just beyond this crew right now. If the Browns can't get the easy plays right, how can they be expected to put together any kind of consistent offense?

For this team, 3rd-and-10 may as well be 3rd-and-30. You know they're going to be punting, making Shurmur's decision to kick on 4th-and-short inside Niners territory while down two scores a head-scratching and cowardly choice. The Browns have so few opportunities inside the 50, they need to take their shots when they can, no matter how wretched their offensive attack may be.

All of our griping and speculation funnels down into one unfortunate fact: The Browns are a yet again a hot mess, and it's only Halloween. The offensive horrorshow on display these first seven weeks doesn't look to be ending anytime soon.