After a month of training camp, four preseason games and six regular-season games, many Browns fans and observers still don’t understand the West Coast Offense being installed by coach Pat Shurmur.
That’s not necessarily a knock on those watching. Through six games the offense hasn’t looked like Shurmur had hoped.
The Browns are ranked 23rd overall, 29th rushing and 22nd passing. Quarterback Colt McCoy has been inaccurate and inconsistent. The receivers far from explosive. The running game slow to get going.
But it’s about time people stop wondering if the run has a place in Shurmur’s West Coast Offense.
Fans are paranoid their beloved Browns will lose their identity as a rugged team that is built to take advantage of the bad weather on the North Coast. The fans want to keep the connection with the successful teams of their youth or those they heard about from their fathers.
Shurmur should’ve put those concerns to rest Sunday in the 6-3 win over Seattle. The Browns rushed 44 times for 141 yards compared to 35 passes for 178. If you figure seven of McCoy’s eight runs were scrambles that were supposed to be passes, the run-pass ratio is close to 1:1 — against a Seahawks defense leading the league in yards per rush.
This is a sharp turn from the first five games, when the Browns threw 217 times to 122 runs. These numbers were greatly influenced by deficits that dictated a high number of throws.
The run has always been part of his game plans, but Shurmur turned to it as option No. 1 when the passing game couldn’t get going against Seattle and it was obvious the Seahawks weren’t a threat to score a bunch of points. Running allowed the Browns to possess the ball, keep the defense off the field and take the burden off McCoy.
Shurmur even called a few runs on third-and-medium, which had been a certain passing situation the first five games.
“I think it’s a little bit looser in there when they’re into their pass-rush stuff and I felt like that was something I could do this week,” Shurmur said. “It helped us keep drives alive.”
This doesn’t mean we should expect a weekly smashmouth attack. Shurmur believes throwing is the best way to be explosive and score — especially in the red zone.
He will always throw. He knows it’s important, and you can’t win without it.
He will always run. He knows it’s important, and you can’t live without it.
Shurmur was asked for the umpteenth time Monday for his ideal run-pass ratio. He gave a version of his standard answer.
“What it takes to win,” 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 and in the fourth where you can run it more because you’re ahead.
“I don’t know what that number is. Whatever it is, it is.”
Fans should get used to seeing the pass used to set up the run. That’s how Shurmur was raised in the West Coast. But if the Browns struggle to throw early, and are still within striking distance, he will run. That’s what he showed last week.
The plan is for fans to soon see a crisper, more efficient version of the West Coast. One with first downs, touchdowns and the occasional big play.
The biggest issue so far has been a lack of completions. McCoy’s inaccuracy, combined with inconsistent protection, a few dropped passes and a lack of separation from some of the receivers have made routine completions hard to come by.
Perhaps it was the lack of an offseason, but the Browns have yet to master routes that are integral to the West Coast, such as the shallow cross, the quick out and the slant-and-go. These are called constantly, but haven’t been executed with the consistent results Shurmur’s system demands.
“You just need to get more completions,” Shurmur said. “I think that’s an important piece for a quarterback. Get completions and if you’re running crossing routes, hit them in stride so they can run with the football.”
For those nostalgic for the ground-and-pound of the Eric Mangini era, you seem to have forgotten the angst caused by watching his version of offense the last two years. Not to mention the grief directed toward coordinator Brian Daboll for his “prehistoric” play calling.
The West Coast is a proven system. It’s won Super Bowls. It’s worked in the cold of Green Bay. It’s a better alternative.
The Browns’ 2011 version is just not there yet. And if it ever gets there, it will include a healthy number of runs. When it comes to the Browns, that’s one thing you can stop worrying about.
“If you can run the football a bunch and score, I think it’s a good formula,” Shurmur said.