Oct. 26, 2011
By Fred Greetham
OBR Senior Reporter
BEREA, Ohio — The most talked about area of the Browns is the offense … or lack there of it.
Much of the disappointment this season has centered on it being just as exciting as it was under Eric Mangini and Brian Daboll. Fans thought the adaptation of the West Coast offense was going to be much more exciting.
Through six games, the Browns are averaging 16.1 points per game and are 23rd in the NFL offensively. They haven't been effective on either side of the ball (29th rushing, 22nd passing).
Pat Shurmur has tried to implement the new offense on the fly, but he has either been run oriented or pass oriented in the first few games. In other words, not as balanced as he hoped.
"I'd like us to become a team that can do both (run and pass)," he said. "You'd like to be able to stay run/pass as long as you can score points and then get to a point at the end of the third quarter, end of the fourth quarter where you can run it more because you're ahead. I don't know what the number is, it's just whatever it is, it is."
One factor that hasn't been talked about a lot, other than the play of quarterback Colt McCoy, is the offense's cast of characters. Looking at the lineups from 2010 to 2011, there hasn't been much of an upgrade in talent, if any. The most talked about unit is the wide receivers, with the biggest upgrade being the drafting of rookie Greg Little in the second-round.
The Browns 2011 media guide listed the 2010 usual starting lineup on offense as follows: WR-Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie; LT-Joe Thomas; LG-Eric Steinbach; C-Alex Mack; RG-Floyd Womack; RT-John St. Clair/Tony Pashos; TE-Ben Watson; QB-Colt McCoy; RB-Peyton Hillis and FB-Lawrence Vickers.
The differences in this year's starting lineup are the following: Little in place of Robiskie; rookie Todd Pinkston in place of Steinbach; second-year Shawn Lauvao in place of Womack; Pashos in place of St. Clair and Owen Marecic in place of Vickers.
The jury is out whether Pinkston and Lauvao will be long-term answers on the offensive line, but Steinbach and Womack were clearly better players at both guard positions at this stage of the young players' careers. Pashos is an upgrade over St. Clair and the same could be said for Little. At this stage of his career, Vickers was much more effective as a blocker in the running game.
Overall, it could be argued the Browns are currently less talented than they were a year ago. The absence of Steinbach and Vickers in the lineup is one of the big reasons the rushing game hasn't been what it was a year ago, even with Hillis' illness and hamstring issues. Hillis rushed for 1,177 yards and a 4.4 average in 2010. If his numbers were prorated through six games, he'd end up with 562 yards and a 3.5 average per carry in 2011.
Shurmur said for the Browns to be successful rushing, the offensive line has to be productive.
"When you run the football, it starts with the guys up front."
It is noticeable that the defense has played pretty well thus far in 2011, currently ranking fourth in the NFL overall.
It is also noticeable that the first two draft choices in each of the last two drafts have been players on the defensive side of the ball.
Hillis, Fujita Back: Two key players who sat out last Sunday's win, running back Peyton Hillis (hamstring) and linebacker Scott Fujita (concussion), over the Seahawks were back at practice and expected to play against the 49ers.
"Hillis will be out there practicing," Shurmur said.
Shurmur said he feels the distractions are behind him.
"I am very confident and am looking forward to him performing on Sunday," Shurmur said. "He's our starting halfback and if he's able to go, he will be out there."
"Fujita will be out there," Shurmur said. "He looked good (at Wednesday morning practice) and my understanding he will be full go."
Both players were taking parts in all the drills during the portion of practice open to the media.
AFC North Defense: Ironically, this week's NFL rankings have all four teams in the AFC North ranked Nos. 1-4. The Bengals are first, followed by the Steelers, Ravens and then the Browns.
Shurmur said he is confident in the defense and thinks they can keep the Browns in games each week.
"I am very confident there is no reason we can't go into every game and not expect a great performance in the defense."
The Browns have allowed more than 20 points in three games, losing all three. They allowed 31 to the Titans, 27 to the Bengals and 24 to the Raiders. In the three wins, the Browns have allowed 19 to the Colts, 16 to the Dolphins and three to the Seahawks.
He says the players also believe in defensive coordinator Dick Jauron and what he's trying to accomplish.
"I think there is confidence in the guys on the defense," he said. "I don't think you can expect a defense to keep an NFL team to three points each week."
Carlton Mitchell Up: Shurmur was asked about WR Carlton Mitchell and he said he was going to be active against the 49ers.
"He's going to be active this week," Shurmur said. "He has made progress and he is one of the guys who plays a lot of scout teams and has been getting looks."
Mitchell suffered a broken finger in training camp that required surgery and that set him back.
"I don't know about the injury to his finger (setting him back)," Shurmur said. "But, he's a young, second year player, but there is a lot of things that need to be learned and he's a big, good looking guy.
Mitchell was active when Hillis was a scratch against the Dolphins, but he had no statistics. Mitchell played in five games as a rookie with no receptions and one rush for nine yards.
Shurmur said that Mitchell has shown progress on the practice field.
"Unfortunately, in his case because he wasn't active, it has to be in practice," he said. "Assuming something crazy happens, he'll be up this week."
With Massaquoi and tight end Ben Watson both going through the concussion process, Shurmur said either one or both will be out against San Francisco.
"There's a very good chance one of them will be down."
Injury update: Shurmur said there were no updates on the injured players, but did so most will be limited. He did say that Massaquoi (concussion) and Watson (concussion) will not practice Wednesday, but didn't rule anyone out for the game.
"Nobody has been ruled out," Shurmur said.
Besides Massaquoi and Watson, offensive lineman Shawn Lauvao (knee), kicker Phil Dawson (thigh) and defensive back Ray Ventrone (hamstring) will be limited at practice. All of the players were on the practice field. Lauvao was riding a stationary bike.
Offensive lineman John Greco replaced Lauvao last week, but said that if Lauvao can play he will be back in the right guard spot.
"Shawn's our starter," he said. "If he can play, he'll start."
Shurmur said that Lauvao is playing better each game.
"Shawn is improving each week," he said. "He'll be limited a little bit (at practice), which is not uncommon at this time of year."
Seely Missed: Former Browns special teams coach Brad Seely has the 49ers special teams playing well, like he did in 2009 and 2010 with the Browns.
"He's an accomplished special teams coach whose teams have been very good."
Shurmur was asked if he tried to retain him when he was hired as coach of the Browns.
"I spoke to Brad about it, but he felt he had a good opportunity in San Francisco," he said.
Shurmur said the Browns have to get better on special teams.
"We have to shore up a couple of areas."
Post Game Drama: Shurmur was asked if he was making plans for his post game handshake with 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.
"What I've seen is typically the coach's visit before the game and then shake hands after the game," he said with a smile.
Harbaugh and Lions' coach Jim Schwartz had a much publicized post-game ‘handshake' after the 49ers defeated the previously unbeaten Lions.