Well the preseason is underway. The Browns are readying themselves for the Vikings and the reactionaries are preparing to proclaim our top draft pick and our #1 quarterback busts in the wake of an unspectacular controlled scrimmage against Buffalo. Some of the more tentative fans already find themselves gripped with panic while others cry for Holcomb to take the starting QB position ahead of Tim Couch. Shades of Mike Pagel, indeed.
Now unless I missed a memo, preseason is the time to hone your play, exercise your skills and develop as a team. If you are already a cohesive unit looking to take the next step, the things that you already do well are not necessarily the things you want to focus on. The anointed starters are not necessarily the ones you want to see the most of. Last year was different, as we did not appear to do anything well entering training camp. We needed to show up in force for the Buffalo scrimmage just to send a message to both teams that we were not losers and we would not be walked over. This year on the other hand we actually have some proven strengths and bankable assets. Treading water by rehashing those proven commodities will not make you grow as a team though. You want to go out and try to improve on what you know you do badly under live conditions and you want to see who is going to be your #5 receiver, your third team running back, your number 3 & 4 offensive guards, This is the only chance you get to do these things ‘under fire' and not have it count when you screw up. Nobody wants to perform badly at any time, but often times you can gain a lot more in a losing effort if you learn how and where to improve than you will if you win with the same old bag of tricks.
Let's look at the Buffalo scrimmage. I am confined to assimilating second hand accounts of that game in forming my opinions. I tried to watch it on line, but the image kept freezing up and the audio kept modulating in such a bizarre way that I was sure I was flashing back to 1977. However, I digress. After the scrimmage, Bruce Arians flat-out said that going into the scrimmage they had a limited set of pre-defined plays for the offense to run. They were plays that were targeted at specific capabilities. The intent was to work on the things they do not do well. Surprise, they still didn't do them well. But we need to go through that trial by fire if we are going to improve. If it is going to take a dozen offensive series against a live opponent's defense before our offense starts to gel, then at least we got some of those reps out of the way and we are that much closer to where we want to be.
For example, popular opinion is that Couch locks onto Kevin Johnson to the exclusion of other receivers. OK, we call plays to force him to throw away from KJ. Run offensive plays where Kevin is the 3rd or 4th option. It may not go well, at least initially, but if that chemistry between Couch and the balance of the receiving corps is going to build then reps are needed, mistakes will be made and lumps will be taken. Ultimately, improvement will be seen and I say the sooner the better.
The ‘Chicken Little' syndrome (I made that up, you like that?) is by no means limited to Browns fans either. Friday morning after the Steelers fell in lackluster style to the Jets there were cries on the Steelers Insiders site for Cowher's head. There were complaints that he kicks too many field goals. Other complainants were disgusted at their team's inability to punch it in from inside the 10. Many referred to Coach Cowher as ‘Marty Junior', which I find hysterical. The special teams were ripped for their inept play. Jerome Bettis was trashed for his performance. As much as I would like to believe that the Steelers are imploding in rapid fashion I know that is not a reasonable conclusion to make based on the first preseason game. I think most of you would agree with me on that. So why is it that so many of us lose that perspective when it comes to the Browns who haven't even played a true preseason game yet?
As far as the quarterback situation goes, I don't see where the dissatisfaction with Tim Couch comes from. His performance is not the difference between boom and bust in our offense. Does anyone honestly think that any other quarterback, living or dead, could have brought this team to a significantly higher level with the surrounding cast we have seen to date? I'm not saying Couch's play has been flawless, but the accepted logic in 1999 was that he would have to learn to play at this level. Well his learning conditions have been less than ideal to say the least. It's hard to grow while you are reduced to running for your life. Tell me, does Otto Graham handing off to Travis Prentice make you swoon? How about Joe Montana throwing to Leslie Sheppard? Think John Elway could have mounted ‘The Drive' behind such immortals as Roger Chanoine and Scott Rehberg? Which quarterback could we plug-in in place of Couch to make it all better? How about Donovan McNabb? Which talent is the silver bullet? Nobody, that's who! Cripes, Johnny Unitas, Fran Tarkenton, Kenny Stabler or anyone else you could think of would have been running for his life as well on the squad we have fielded for the last 3 years. Blame Couch? Give me a break.
The simple fact is that this organization has given Tim Couch neither the necessary personnel nor the continuity of offensive philosophy to have a chance to succeed. We as fans are not applying a fair measuring stick either. Kevin Johnson hauled in over 1000 yards in receptions and he is lauded as a star. Fair enough, but who threw him the ball? A receiver can be a star when we are losing, but our accepted measure of success for the quarterback is wins and losses? Tim Couch threw for over 3000 yards last season. Only two other Browns have ever done that. But we only won 7 games, so he is a ‘failure'. If TC had the exact same statistics, interceptions and all, but we had won 10 games and made the playoffs we would be praising him as the savior of Cleveland football. Perspective, people. I am no more inclined to brand Tim Couch the cause of our offensive problems than I would be to crown him the source of all things good once our offense improves. He is one man out of 11. Granted he is the ‘boss' out there on the field, but the best boss will fail if his employees and delegates do not do their job.
Having said that, Couch has specific areas where he can show improvement.
Make reads and check off receivers more quickly. What can I say? Familiarity, repetitions and confidence are the only things that will fix that.
Spread the ball around. KJ has remarkable hands and is a high-percentage target, but we have several talented receivers. He needs to learn to trust them (as they need to learn to trust Tim and run their routes clear through).
Get rid of the ball faster. This is directly tied to making reads and check offs more quickly but sometimes Tim hangs onto the ball trying to make something out of nothing. This is the NFL Timmy. You are not expected or encouraged to do it all yourself. Don't try to be a