After the initial novelty of veteran quarterback Seneca Wallace wore off last Sunday, most Browns fans were reminded of just how far the team has to journey in its attempt at regaining NFL respectability.
After all, it is late December in Cleveland, which is a time for both reflection and channeling blind hope toward the future.
Or, just a time for distractions.
"I'm going to cross that bridge when they are both healthy. Right now, until Colt's healthy, we're going to go with Seneca."
-Pat Shurmur – 12/19/11
At this point in the season, who cares?
The growth of Shurmur's offense is so stunted that any authentic quarterback discussions are completely negated. Anyone who passionately argues for either McCoy or Wallace is completely missing the point. The offensive structure as a whole is a passive being – one that is incapable of generating its own positive momentum.
In fact, the offense is tragically similar to Randy Lerner's tepid ownership over the last decade.
Anyway, both McCoy and Wallace bring some positive attributes to the position – but neither are capable of transcending the current limitations set by the coaching scheme, playcalling and lack of surrounding talent. Certainly, McCoy has a strong pedigree and amazing toughness, while Wallace is somewhat experienced and mobile.
But in the end, each specific skill set is eclipsed by offensive playcalling that reflexively tightens in pressure situations and offers inopportune bursts of creativity elsewhere.
While much of this designation could be attributed to Shurmur's own learning curve as a head coach/offensive coordinator, it's troubling to think of the Browns wasting talented players like Robert Griffin III or Justin Blackmon in this offense.
"We were backed up, for one thing. They had three timeouts. You have to consider where you're at. If you incomplete the ball and have to punt, they're going to have a situation where they can put themselves in position to get a field goal. So you try to get a first down and do it with a couple of your best run plays as well. So if you're not, the clock is running, and they're using their timeouts as well."
-Pat Shurmur – 12/19/11
Speaking of which, Shurmur's logic regarding the Browns' late-game malfunction is perhaps the most passive statement uttered by a Browns' head coach since the days of Romeo Crennel's innocuous post game clichés.
Basically, the Browns' head coach/offensive coordinator admitted that he has zero faith in his team's passing game. Shurmur, who basically designed the team's passing game, is contending that his creation is so inept that the Browns would be better served to run time off the clock, rather than aggressively trying to preserve a much-needed win.
This strategy was completely ineffective, as every team the Browns have faced this year has continually stacked eight defenders against the run. In the final moments of a close game, this occurrence was certainly expected and Shurmur did not disappoint. After calling "a couple of (his) best run plays," the Browns quickly handed the ball back to the Cardinals and watched another near victory slide away.
Yet, this entire episode again speaks to the Browns' overall lack of urgency and intensity. While it doesn't appear that any players have mailed in another lost season, the coaching staff appears completely impotent at the most inopportune moments. The Browns clearly lack any sense of killer instinct.
Perhaps no better example could be found than through a simple comparison of how the Browns and 49ers each respectively handled the Steelers' hobbled Ben Roethlisberger. While the Browns passively reacted to the Steelers' offense with pedestrian four-man fronts, the 49ers sent chaos Roethlisberger's way throughout the game. Conversely, the Browns' offense performs an almost pre-meditated stumble every time they are put in a position to close out a game.
Of course, one could make the argument that the Browns' late-game deficiency is the result of a lack of playmakers. However, it's worth asking just how different things would be – considering the tepid nature of the team's playcallers.
"Everyone that I mentioned that for some reason can't play we're going to try to get them all back and then will decide how the roster looks for Saturday."
-Pat Shurmur – 12/19/11
Another sign that it is late December is the burgeoning injury list coming out of Berea.
With another lost season already in the ledger and games against two playoff-bound AFC North opponents in Baltimore and Pittsburgh, the Browns have entered into another sort of preservation mode. No logical-thinking Browns fan expects a win over the next two weeks, but any fan with a heart at least should ask that no players get seriously injured.
At the moment, Browns' players have suffered a whopping 11 concussions on the season, highlighted by McCoy's injury against the Steelers. McCoy's injury has ultimately proved historical, as the league is pushing for changes in the medical protocol regarding concussions. However, tight end Ben Watson's third concussion of the season will ultimately prove more damaging – considering the long-term implications of brain trauma.
As for the Browns' current roster, again the talent engaged in Berea practices is razor thin, which references the team's historical expansion history. Usually during this time of year, the Browns can barely field a 53-man roster. On Saturday against the Ravens, a depleted linebacker corps will again try to chase down Baltimore's Ray Rice, while a battered secondary will be prone to downfield attacks.
Hopefully, all parts of the team can survive into the regular-season finale against Pittsburgh. Similarly, perhaps GM Tom Heckert is still paying close attention to his hand-crafted roster. While the obvious roster needs – such as adding playmakers – are just that, the current injuries have exposed a woeful lack of overall depth.
Of the many needs facing Heckert and the Browns in the offseason, adding a linebacker, safety, pass rushing defensive end and cornerback top the defensive priority list. Offensively, the right side of the offensive line needs to be fixed, while receivers, a running back and new quarterback are desirable.
Of course, given the team's current lack of identity, it's worth asking what kind of impact these potential new parts would even have.