December 8, 2011
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- It's tough to decide if Colt McCoy can be the Browns' quarterback of the future, because he doesn't have a deep threat like Pittsburgh's Mike Wallace or Cincinnati's A.J. Green, according to NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, who will work Thursday's game in Pittsburgh.
"I think the kid's got the deck stacked against him a little bit right now," Mayock said in a phone interview. "They don't really have anyone like a Wallace or Green that can stretch the field for them vertically, and that's a difficult thing when you're a quarterback. Basically, you're kind of playing small ball. You're trying to run the football and move the chains with a lot of play-action and underneath stuff. And at some point, you've got to be more than that."
Mayock said Denver's Tim Tebow is getting all of the attention, "but Colt McCoy is one of the more interesting quarterbacks around the league that has to be evaluated. It's important to figure out whether or not this is your long-term guy."
Mayock, who's also the network's top draft analyst, charted all of the McCoy's 69 passes over the past two games (and one by Seneca Wallace) and pinpointed the major problem.
"I think the thing I've been frustrated with and it's not really just about Colt, it's more about what's happening offensively, is that by my notes, 55 of the 70 throws have been within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage," said Mayock. "Eight of them were between 11 and 20 and seven were 20 or more. I think it's really hard to evaluate a quarterback when he's not making the downfield throws."
Overall this season, McCoy is 30th in the NFL with an average gain of 5.90 yards per completion.
"He's not making the downfield throws and what's really happening is that teams are starting to squat on the wideouts, and it's difficult to watch when your offense is so compressed. It's an old-school West Coast offense -- a lot of three- and five-step drop, get the ball out of your hand. I understand it, but at some point you've got to watch this kid throw the ball. You've got to see more of the intermediate routes that demonstrate arm strength."
Mayock said it's imperative McCoy -- who's probable for tonight with his right knee injury -- proves he can succeed in bad-weather division games. In each of the past two games, against Cincinnati and Baltimore, McCoy has completed fewer than 50 percent of his attempts. Of course, at least 10 dropped passes didn't help.
"I'm a big believer that in the AFC North, you've got to have a quarterback who can hold up in the bad weather," he said. "Let's face it, the last couple of games by the Browns have been in tough weather, cold, rain or whatever. You have to have a quarterback with a big-enough arm that can hold up in the bad winds and all of the other elements."
Another reason for the compressed offense, Mayock said, is because of a lack of premier wideouts in general.
"Maybe the wide receivers aren't getting as much respect as you'd like," he said. "Greg Little is having a good year, but he's dropped four or five passes [actually six] in the two games I've watched. Mohamed Massaquoi is a pretty good receiver and Josh Cribbs obviously has the 'wow' factor, but he's certainly not a polished receiver."
Mayock has liked what he's seen from Little despite the drops.
"He's very raw, but I think he can develop into a very good NFL receiver. He's got good size and straight-line speed. But he certainly would benefit from having a Mike Wallace-type next to him."
Mayock saw sufficient arm strength from McCoy on a 24-yard TD pass to Jordan Norwood in the Bengals game, which made him think there's potential.
"He threw a seam route for a touchdown, and it was a really good throw," said Mayock. "Was it a strong-arm throw right down the seam? Yes. You go, 'that was pretty good.' So you take that in your head and you're going 'okay, if we had an A.J. Green or a Mike Wallace, would we be seeing more of that?' That's what makes this thing so difficult to evaluate."
Mayock said the Browns are doing what they can to win games, so they're not particularly interested in finding out of McCoy can get the ball downfield. "But they can see in practice whether or not he can make all the throws," he said.
Mayock said an encouraging factor is the team has the foundation for a good, young offensive line.
"If you have that, then should be able to run the ball in the AFC North," he said. "Then you have to decide: 'Can Colt McCoy be our guy if we get him the right weapons?' You have to look at a lot of things, including what does our wide receiver group look like this year and what will it look like a year or two down the road? What will we do to get an A.J. Green or a Mike Wallace, and what will that do for Colt McCoy?"
Last season, Mayock watched tape of the Browns' victory over New England last season and was convinced McCoy had a bright future.
"I thought he had a phenomenal game for a rookie quarterback," he said. "I remember watching the tape and thinking 'that's really good, that's something you can really work with.'"
Now after a 6-14 record in 20 starts, Mayock thinks the jury is still out.
"I'm anxious to see him in Pittsburgh against this No. 1 defense and see what happens," he said. "I need to see some more throws and I need to see him play against good defenses like these. ... If I were grading him right now, it would be incomplete."
The same goes for Browns coach Pat Shurmur, who said this week that he has a good read on McCoy, but will wait until the year is over.
"I think right now he's our quarterback. He's standing right next to me battling through this season and I think that's the important thing," Shurmur said. "We just keep battling, that's what we do."
He acknowledged that division games will carry the most weight. McCoy is 0-7 in the division.
"I think that's the starting point," he said. "That's how you get in the playoffs and it's the first goal of any organization is to win your division because then you're guaranteed a spot in the postseason. I think from a total evaluation standpoint, we'll have to look at the whole year in total."
Hillis questionable: Running back Peyton Hillis (hip) is among three Browns who were limited in practice on Wednesday and questionable for the game. The others are safety Mike Adams (shoulder) and right tackle Tony Pashos (ankle). Linebacker Chris Gocong (hip) and running back Montario Hardesty (calf) are probable.
On Twitter: @marykaycabot
Tony Grossi’s Four Things for Browns-Steelers
• 1. No let up: How does a team rack up wins in 20 of 22 meetings against its arch-rival, including 14 of the last 15? Besides having superior talent, it’s the organization, too. The Steelers never lose sight of the fact that two wins over the Browns are currency to break division ties with Baltimore or Cincinnati. They also know that they have missed the playoffs every time the Browns have beaten them in their expansion era — four out of 25 meetings — in 1999, 2000, 2003 and 2009.
• 2. Watch Ben’s protection: You think the Browns’ line is bad? Watch Pittsburgh’s. Ben Roethlisberger gets hit (59 times) and sacked (34) as much as any quarterback in the league. And he still makes plays. The Steelers have had only one constant in front of Roethlisberger — center Maurkice Pouncey. In 12 games, they’ve lined up three left tackles, three left guards, two right guards and three right tackles. They’ve used five different starting combinations. Quarterbacks have to make plays regardless of their line.
• 3. One-man wrecking crew: James Harrison might be the meanest player in the NFL. In the game in Pittsburgh last year, Harrison took receivers Mohamed Massaquoi and Josh Cribbs out of the game with vicious hits. He was fined for the Massaquoi hit for making contact with his head. The Cribbs’ hit was simply a legal, if lethal, blow. Harrison lost four games this year due to a broken orbital bone. He’s trying to make up for lost time. He can dictate the game by himself.
• 4. Tick, tick, tick: Josh Cribbs’ return touchdown-less streak has reached 30 games. In past meetings in Pittsburgh, Cribbs always could be counted on to make something happen to help his anemic offense. The Cribbs’ Factor has gradually dissolved. It has to be restored for the Browns to have a chance in this game.
— Tony Grossi
Plain Dealer predictions
• Mary Kay Cabot (9-3) / Steelers 27, Browns 6: Colt McCoy will be lucky to emerge healthy.
• Tony Grossi (6-6) / Steelers 28, Browns 6: Can’t remember when there was less hope of a win in Pittsburgh.
• Bill Livingston (8-4) / Steelers 31, Browns 13: A December wasteland of defeat and dejection confronts Cleveland yet again.
• Terry Pluto (8-4) / Steelers 33, Browns 9: Not sure any Browns fan will want to watch this game.
• Bud Shaw (8-4) / Steelers 27, Browns 13: Pat Shurmur says, “I saw eyes roll in here” and this time he means during his pre-game pep talk.