For the last two seasons, Pat Shurmur has been the offensive coordinator with the St. Louis Rams. No one knows the Rams better than St. Louis media member Howard Balzer, who has covered the team for years, publishes Gridiron Gateway magazine, and currently works for AM 590 The Fan and the St. Louis Globe-Democrat newspaper.
Balzer spent a few minutes with The Orange and Brown Report to provide some insight into what to expect from the Browns' fifth head coach since 1999.
"We see these guys, in terms of communicating with them, for 15 minutes a week," Balzer said. "We don't know how they are behind closed doors. When I did have a chance to talk to him one-on-one, he doesn't have that great of a personality. But, hey, a lot of head coaches that are a certain way are still able to be successful. From the little clips I saw from (the Browns press conference) he handled himself very well. He was always low key and never said too much."
In Shurmur's first season with the Rams they finished 1-15. Yet it allowed the team to select Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford with the first overall pick in the NFL Draft. Bradford worked closely with Shurmur and the rookie responded. Bradford started all 16 games, completed 60 percent of his passes for 3,512 yards with 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. More importantly, St. Louis entered the final week of the regular season with a chance at a playoff berth. The Rams lost to Seattle 16-6.
"I really do think the last two years in St. Louis were what I needed to make the final jump," Shurmur said at his introductory press conference Jan. 14. "Now we're here and I look forward to moving forward."
The Rams' newfound success can, in part, be credited to the working relationship between Shurmur and Bradford.
"Shurmur put together game plans to take advantage of what the rookie quarterback could do as he is learning the NFL game," Balzer said. "The Rams had, at best, an average wide receiving corps and they were able to move the ball. Their thing was to be 40 percent on third downs, keep drives moving and score one to two touchdowns in the red zone each game. If they do that, they'll have a good chance at winning."
Despite winning six more games in 2010 than in 2009, it was the Rams' ninth and final loss that resulted in Shurmur receiving heavy criticism.
Against Seattle, St. Louis had only 15 rushing attempts, well below its season average of 25.2 carries. Running back Steven Jackson carried the ball only 11 times.
"What people fail to grasp is that some of Bradford's success was because of Jackson," Balzer said. "The Rams didn't have a lot of deep threats, so defenses were able to play eight in the box to load up to stop Jackson. That created opportunities for Bradford to complete some. If teams play seven in the box, I'm not sure he would have been as successful as he was."
Jackson finished with 1,241 yards rushing on 330 attempts with six touchdowns. With a rookie quarterback under center, the Rams offense relied heavily on Jackson, whose 330 attempts were second most in the league behind Atlanta's Michael Turner (334) and ahead of Houston's Arian Foster (327).
"People freaked out after the Seattle game," Balzer said. "People think the Rams lost because of (Shurmur). The offense wasn't any different in that game than it was all year. It was very controlled, a lot of short passes and an offense devised not to expose Bradford, but take advantage of what he can do with an inexperienced wide receiving corps."
"Overall, I thought Shurmur did a good job with what he had."
Shurmur's controlled Rams offense doesn't mean it was conservative. According to Balzer, the Rams took shots down the field and won three games because of big plays.
"A lot of this was (head coach Steve Spagnuolo)," Balzer said. "His idea was he knew he had a good defense and a rookie quarterback so he wanted to keep it close and give themselves a chance to win in the fourth quarter. Essentially that worked."
When Shurmur first arrived in St. Louis, Balzer was impressed by Shurmur's Philadelphia background. Now, after two years of being an offensive coordinator, Shurmur will take those duties to Cleveland where he will also serve as a head coach.
"His time management will be key," Balzer said. "You're going to be the play caller and now also have the responsibility for the whole team. There has to be a certain amount of delegation in terms of Xs and Os. Some guys have been able to do it, a lot of guys haven't. That's the biggest question of all and a big question for anybody who comes in and does that."
Shurmur now must implement a new offense on a team that does not have the talent to fit that scheme. In addition, a labor issue is hanging over the entire league.
""If these guys aren't in an offseason program and they're trying to learn a new offense on the fly, that could create some difficulties," Balzer said. "Shurmur as a head coach? Who knows? That took me by surprise. It was a perfect storm in Cleveland."