There are a lot of opinions floating around out there on Colt McCoy as he gets nearer to his first full season as an NFL starting quarterback. Some are good, some are bad and some are unwilling to completely commit at this point.
As a firm believer in the future of Colt McCoy, I see little merit in opinions that brand him as an automatic failure. He's done nothing thus far to indicate that he deserves such a condemnation. Let's let him actually fail before we all decide to tell him he's a failure, okay?
However, I do understand that when it comes to McCoy's potential success as a franchise quarterback, it may be too soon to say for certain. I think McCoy has what it takes to succeed with the Browns in their chosen offense, but that still remains to be seen as well.
Much of it will depend on McCoy himself, but some of it depends on other external factors involving other members of the Browns organization that are out of McCoy's control. Following are five major external factors that will influence whether McCoy sinks or swims in 2011 and going forward.
Browns fans spent most of last season maligning the team's hapless receiving corps, a criticism that was unfortunately deserved. Luckily, things seem to be looking up in this area in 2011, though just two games into the preseason, there are no guarantees.
Whether or not the receivers can get their jobs done this year will hugely affect McCoy's success. Dropped passes were a problem for the Browns last season and while things have looked better thus far in the preseason, there has still been evidence that the problem continues to exist.
Obviously, every receiver, no matter how good, is going to boot one on occasion. But if the Browns receivers have the kind of problems hanging onto the ball this season that they did last year, McCoy's stats and his success will suffer.
Most people know that you can't blame the quarterback when a receiver has the hands of bricklayer's son. But at the end of the day if nobody can hang onto his passes, McCoy still comes off as an ineffective quarterback. Those watching a game know what they're seeing, but the next day's box score won't have an asterisk next to the incomplete pass totals with a note that says "not the quarterback's fault. Receiver had butterfingers."
The point is that McCoy and his receivers are literally in this together. If they don't get their job done, he can't get his done. No matter whose fault that is, the end result was that neither did what they were supposed to.
Fortunately, the receiving corps has looked much better thus far in the preseason. It's entirely too early to tell how this will translate in the regular season—particularly since we aren't entirely sure who the starters will be yet—but there's reason to believe this group can get their job done.
The Browns move to a traditional West Coast Offense this season was intended to maximize the strengths of the players on their offensive squad and at the same time mask their weaknesses. It's a system that caters to the best assets of McCoy, his receivers and the offense as a whole while avoiding the kinds of plays that would highlight their biggest flaws. Or at least that's how it works in theory.
So far, the choice appears to be a good one. The WCO focuses on accuracy quick strikes, smarts and good football instincts, minimizing the need for exceptional arm strength on the part of the QB or deep threat potential on the part of the WRs.
Considering the strengths of McCoy, who is exceptionally accurate, intelligent and quick to adapt, the system fits nearly perfectly on his end. Most of us are a bit more skeptical about the receivers, but it at least appears to be the correct call to play to their strengths as well.
In 2010, the Browns had tremendous problems with their ability to stay balanced—on the offensive line, that is.
While the left side of the line stonewalled would-be assailants of their quarterback, the right side could practically be knocked with a feather. Calls for the Browns to beef up their right side went unanswered when they drafted, leaving many of us wondering how they were going to solve this problem.
Luckily, based on what we've seen so far in the preseason, it seems the Browns have largely fixed it in-house.
Both sides of the line have done a pretty good job of protecting McCoy, giving him time to find his receivers and execute accurate throws and keeping him from getting steamrolled by opposing linebackers and defensive linemen who earn their pay by flattening quarterbacks.
Shawn Lauvao and Tony Pashos—both players with serious talent—were injured for the better part of 2010. We've seen what a difference they can make when healthy, especially when their efforts are coupled with the other players who have thus far made the right side of the line hold nearly as well as the left.
The Browns made a big move to ensure the entire line will stay intact for the future as well when they signed the exceptional Joe Thomas to what is essentially a contract for life last week. The injuries to LG Eric Steinbach in the preseason are a little nerve-wracking, but have not caused any major problems for the line as a whole in protecting McCoy.
Many of the Browns faithful, myself included, were skeptical when Pat Shurmur was hired to be the Browns new head coach for 2011.
He has no head coaching experience and very little experience as an NFL assistant! And he's calling his own plays?? Suffice it to say that my nerves started to fray as soon as I heard that there would be no one filling the offensive coordinator position this season.
Thus far in the preseason though, it looks like Shurmur is dead set on proving me wrong, which of course, I would be delighted to see happen in this situation.
McCoy, like every other quarterback in the world, is largely dependent on the playbook he's given and the coach who creates it. In only his second season, McCoy won't be calling his own plays for the most part, which means his success hangs on whether the guy who is calling them - his coach - actually knows what he's doing.
I like what I've seen from Shurmur so far in this area. He's made smart decisions on the strategy he uses for his offense and has taken risks when necessary without doing anything rash.
Only time will tell whether he can keep this up for a whole season and whether he can successfully adapt his playbook to adjust when defenses start figuring the Browns out, but so far, it looks as though Shurmur and his assistants are doing right by McCoy with the decisions they've made.
Many, many times, I've heard football neophytes mistakenly declare that the offense and the defense of a football squad are effectively two separate entities that don't directly influence each other.
While it is strictly true that Colt McCoy and the rest of the offense cannot get out there and save their defense when it struggles (and vice versa), the misconception that the way the team plays on one side of the ball has no effect on the other is simply not true.
Granted, most of their mutual influence is mental and based on confidence and motivation, but that doesn't change the fact that when one side of your team is struggling, the other often has a nasty habit of following suit.
Thus, McCoy has one last external factor that he'll be reliant on for success this season and that's the performance of his defense. Let's use the Browns' second game against Pittsburgh of the 2010 regular season as an example.
The Browns defense essentially laid down and died in that game, letting the Steelers run up the score. Because they were so far behind and desperate to try to catch up, McCoy and the offense panicked and started making mistakes out of desperation. McCoy threw multiple interceptions and made accuracy errors, things that under normal circumstances, he just doesn't do very often.
Granted, the older and more experienced McCoy gets the less he'll be tempted to overreact to his defense's mistakes and do foolish things to try to make up for them, but there is no quarterback—no matter how talented or how experienced—who is completely immune to this.
The Browns defense should be better this season and therefore less of a negative external influence on McCoy. His continuously growing experience will allow him to make smarter decisions about the errors they do make going forward, but the two will always be inextricably linked.