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Browns' offense mostly sputtering

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Posted Nov. 03, 2011 @ 4:18 p.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

When the Browns hired Pat Shurmur as head coach in January, the signal was crystal clear: Cleveland was going to throw more.

Indeed, the Browns have done just that. They are on pace to throw 37 percent more passes than they did a season ago.

However, the results have been mixed. QB Colt McCoy, in flashes, has looked like a starter-caliber performer. It's clear he has an innate feel for the game, and Shurmur's West Coast scheme, which features a diet of short passes, suits his skill set. The 6-1, 215-pound McCoy has taken care of the ball, throwing just five interceptions.

However, McCoy's completion percentage is low. He still appears to be learning how to effectively deal with the pass rush. He lacks a power arm, which could be a hindrance in certain situations.

In McCoy's defense, he is undergoing the on-the-job training every NFL starting quarterback endures. Plus, this is his first year in Shurmur's scheme, and he's throwing to an inexperienced WR corps.

Another passing-game concern has been McCoy's protection from the rush. He has faced more pressure recently.

As the passing game has shown both glimpses of promise and cracks in the foundation, the running game has suffered, in part because of injuries. RB Peyton Hillis has missed multiple games and has all of 16 carries since Week Two. Backup Montario Hardesty is tough and strong, and he hits the hole hard, but he has struggled with injuries both in college and now on the NFL level.

"He'll give you everything he's got," one personnel man who has watched the Browns this season said of Hardesty.

Hillis, whose contract is up at season's end, has an uncertain future in Cleveland. Hardesty, a member of the first draft class selected by GM Tom Heckert and president Mike Holmgren, figures to be a key part of the offense next season, we're told. The Browns are also high on WRs Greg Little and Mohamed Massaquoi, the way we hear it. The Browns' TE depth is solid, and OLT Joe Thomas and C Alex Mack are exceptional performers.

Beyond those players, it's a bundle of questions and concerns for the Cleveland offense, ones to be endured until the offseason when the Browns can try to bolster an attack that has lagged behind its AFC North counterparts.

Of the Browns' offense, the personnel man said, "People don't really fear anything (they) do."

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