Behind Enemy Lines: With the Browns Report

Patrick D. Starr

In this weekly installment of Behind Enemy Lines we get help from the Browns Report and Max Berry. Max discusses Colt McCoy, Josh Cribbs, Lawrence Vickers, the potential of Joe Haden, the Madden cover boy Peyton Hillis and something in Houston we all want a nose tackle like Phil Taylor.

browns fan

Questions to the Browns Report

peyton hillis

How has Colt McCoy done for the Browns to this point and is he the long term answer?

Wow. Million dollar question right there. Is Colt McCoy a weak armed, unambitious quarterback, limiting this offense? Or is this a limited offense exposing Colt McCoy to weakness?

Colt certainly isn’t getting any help; guards Shawn Lauvao and Jason Pinkston have been at fault for 28 pressures and 3 sacks this year, making them one of weakest tandems in the league; meanwhile Tony Pashos at right tackle can’t be totally absconded of responsibility from the sieve protection that is struggling to keep Colt upright. Elsewhere on offense you have a struggling run game and no true dynamic threat at receiver has emerged – McCoy has suffered the most drops of any QB in the league.

The ensemble is weak, and the offensive playcalling vertically limited, but Colt has had struggles of his own to contend with. His deep accuracy is poor, yet his yards-per-attempt is a miserable 5; he is overly cautious and content to throw short, but when his mind and the offense do consider going deep, he is wildly inaccurate. Not ideal.

Trying to extract who the real Colt McCoy is from the mediocre offense that surrounds him is an unenviable task, and one that is the primary focus of Browns management now the season looks destined for defeat. My take? Give him one more season with a legitimate weapon.

What is the deal with Peyton Hillis?

Peyton Hillis is banged up. Hillis has had to deal with a freak occurrence of strep throat which cost him a game, and since then has struggled with his hamstring – an injury which cost him a season in Denver and plagued him in college. Peyton is a warrior who the Browns expect back this Sunday, but contract disputes and a no-show at a Halloween charity event last Monday have sullied his name ever so slightly in the Cleveland community.

How has Phil Taylor adapted as a rookie in the NFL?

Flashes. Flashes in preseason, flashes in the real season. Phil Taylor took a little extra time getting to camp, and had us all singing his praises after a monstrous week one showing against Clint Boling and the Bengals. Since then he really hasn’t put it together in any meaningful way. Defensive tackles – especially large ones who are new to big money – are a difficult breed to maximise the potential of. Perhaps fitness issues are hampering him. For comparison, our other starting defensive tackle is playing about 85% of our defensive snaps each game. Phil is averaging low-60s.

Is Josh Cribbs the browns best offensive weapon?

I’m going to say trick question. If you consider offense to be moving the ball towards the opponents line, then as one the league’s best returns men (both kickoff and punt) he is one hell of a weapon. As far as the stricter definition of an offensive player lining up in an offensive formations? Not in the slightest. Annually there is talk from coaches and fans of getting Cribbs more involved. I know a lot of fans champion him as a third down back now more than ever, given the ailing state of our running back stable, but his offensive contribution over the last few years has been minimal. 2011’s JC may well be in the top-10 for YAC amongst receivers – a key component of a good West Coast offense wide-man – but he rarely threatens to get separation.

Come Sunday, Peyton Hillis, back from injury and angry at his haters, might well prove himself to be Cleveland’s best offensive weapon. Hopefully... Maybe...

Talk about the #5 defense in the NFL and what the Browns are doing good.

It all starts up front. Jabaal Sheard has had a spectacular rookie season, and despite a recent slump, still factors as a consistent threat off the edge. Meanwhile Jayme Mitchell on the opposite end has anchored the defense against the run, whilst the massive obstacles of Athyba Rubin and Phil Taylor inside have freed the linebackers to make plays. Led by Joe Haden and TJ Ward, the secondary are no slouches either. What are the Browns doing well? Tremendous balance brought about by the addition of Sheard and Mitchell.

Is head coach Pat Shurmur the right guy for the job?

There is a lot of anti-Shurmur feeling amongst Cleveland fans. Rightly or wrongly, he has been cast as a mild-mannered, overly conservative puppet for Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert (our illustrious front office). Shurmur is head coach and offensive coordinator combined (a big step up from his OC job in St. Louis), and if you want an indicator of the strain that’s putting on him, the Browns have already announced they’ll be searching for a dedicated offensive coordinator this offseason. Will they be searching for a new head coach as well? I certainly don’t think so.

Is Joe Haden turning himself into a top corner in the league?

Without a doubt Joe Haden is maturing into a top-5 corner. Consider all the corners who have been on the field for at least 60% of their teams defensive snaps: Joe Haden is allowing just 40% of passes thrown his way to be completed (4th in the NFL); just 15 receptions (5th in the NFL); 10 passes have been batted away (1st in the NFL); and when a pass is completed on him, his tackles are immediate (just 61 yards after the catch is 9th fewest in the NFL). Joe Haden is an exceptional player who deserves to be known as one of the best corners in the league.

Who are some not household names Texans fans should watch for on Sunday?

Despite our lack of wins, Cleveland is weirdly stacked with those unknown greats. Joe Haden gets the plaudits, but safety tandem TJ Ward and Usama Young are equally worthy of any secondary praise you care to throw around. Jabaal Sheard will also be looking to get his season back in gear after a slow few weeks, and when he is on he has proved to be an unblockable force from defensive end. Meanwhile Athyba Rubin is perennially overlooked as a defensive tackle with guile as a pass rusher and a mean streak in run defense.

I’m inclined to hang out on defense for my picks because the offense is just so stagnant, but if you want a guy to watch... Evan Moore? 6’6. Ultra athletic. In that Jimmy Graham-Rob Gronkowsi mould, just without the yards or TDs to prove it so far. This is Moore’s make or break season, and in the extremely limited action he has been granted so far he has shown some sparkling hands. We actually broke down how it might be the offense limiting Moore, not a lack of skill, on our site recently. Ben Watson is a little banged up heading into Sunday, so maybe Moore gets a chance to grab a touchdown or two; we know Colt likes TEs, and Moore has the frame to do it.

What did Lawrence Vickers mean to the Browns and their fans?

Vickers had a couple of good early seasons in Cleveland which endeared him to the fans and organisation, but events conspired against him and his contract wasn’t renewed. The events I mention were a combination of a drop-off in play the final year he was with us, and the impending installation of the West Coast offense that wasn’t likely to feature a full back to any great extent. Given the fact that Vickers wanted to get paid like a top guy, the drafting of Stanford brute Owen Marecic and the reasons above, the reaction from Cleveland as he departed was one of “huh... makes sense”.

What do the Browns need to do on Sunday to beat the Texans?

Andre Johnson better be at 100% if he is going to beat Joe Haden. If he isn’t and Haden snares him early, then I don’t expect Kevin Walter to do much against Sheldon Brown on the opposite side either. Everyone talks about grounding the Texans, but with Arian Foster now in town that point is slightly redundant. Cleveland has a strong run D though, and if they get a lucky break of a sub-par Andre Johnson, then there is hope of keeping the score close.

Offensively for Cleveland it is all about Peyton Hillis. Jonathon Joseph can drape himself all over Greg Little for all we care; our receivers are all equally inept as the next one, so that stud-lockdown ability of Joseph won’t help you here! If Hillis comes back battling then there’s the outside chance of an upset, but with that said I could realistically see the Texans running out 17-10 winners.

A special thanks goes out to Max for his help. You can visit his website or follow him on twitter.