It sounds like a simple question: Can Colt McCoy play in cold, inclement weather?
But the subject of handling the cold continues to be a hot topic in Cleveland and one that will follow McCoy until he proves otherwise with the Browns.
Playing quarterback in Cleveland is not easy. It takes good arm strength -- one of McCoy's biggest weaknesses -- because the stadium is located right off Lake Erie. That makes for heavy winds and creates more snow than usual in the key games in November and December, when many teams try to make a push for the playoffs.
McCoy, college football's all-time winningest quarterback at the University of Texas, didn't play in many cold-weather games in the Big 12. And the few McCoy had were mild compared to what he will face every season as Cleveland's starting quarterback.
McCoy's first NFL experience last year playing in inclement weather didn't go well, leaving many to question if he is the answer for the Browns. According to ESPN's Stats & Information, McCoy played three games during his rookie season in which the temperature was below 40 degrees. In those games, McCoy was 0-3, losing to the Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, and saw his passer rating drop almost 25 points compared to games played in warmer weather. McCoy also threw six of his nine interceptions in those three games.
If playing well in the cold is something McCoy cannot do, it will surely be his undoing in Cleveland.
"Even though we didn't go through with it, that was something in my year with the Browns that we very much believed in: You gotta have a [strong-armed] quarterback because we were next to the lake," said Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson, who worked for the Browns in 2004. "And you got to have kickers and punters that are used to playing in that type of weather. I was there with Jeff Garcia and he didn't do well."
Coming off his success in San Francisco, Garcia was just 3-7 in his only season in Cleveland and turned out to be a bad fit. But he isn't the only Browns quarterback who has struggled. Former first-round pick Brady Quinn also couldn't solve Cleveland's tricky weather conditions.
Quinn spent three years in Cleveland and his numbers were dreadful in cold-weather games. Quinn's completion percentage (46.2) and passer rating (57.8) in games in which the temperature was under 40 degrees were both significantly lower than his career averages (52.1 completion and 66.8 passer rating). That led to Quinn's eventual demise and trade out of Cleveland.
The only Browns quarterback to have a Pro Bowl season in Cleveland since the team returned in 1999 was Derek Anderson, and he had the strongest arm of any Browns quarterback of the past dozen years.
Despite his woes in cold-weather games, McCoy scoffed at the idea that Cleveland's weather would be a factor for him late last season.
"I've played in the snow and wind in Kansas a couple times. I've played in Nebraska," McCoy explained. "We had some real wet games back home [in Austin, Texas]."
McCoy added that playing in bad weather is more mental than physical. He clearly didn't enjoy the constant questions about whether his arm strength was good enough to thrive in poor conditions.
"I guess we'll find out, won't we?" McCoy fired back last December.
But the early returns suggests it is an issue. McCoy's numbers across the board took a significant dip when weather became a factor.
McCoy's two victories as a starter came in a dome against the New Orleans Saints and an early November win at home against the New England Patriots. But back-to-back home games against division rivals Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the final two games of te season exposed McCoy's inexperience and lack of arm strength, as both teams combined for six interceptions.
Many of McCoy's passes fluttered and Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu easily intercepted his throws. McCoy, who showed good accuracy most of the year, also became erratic in the final two games and his arm wasn't strong enough to cut through the winds and fit the ball into tight windows.
According to Williamson, you may see more of the same from McCoy against Cleveland's division rivals, particularly late in the year.
"I think their passing game is still one of the worst in the league. How much offense can they generate?" Williamson said of the Browns. "Colt McCoy still has a lot to prove, and I don't think he has a real high ceiling. They don't have anyone dangerous that scares you."
The Browns have a lot riding on McCoy in 2011. If he turns out to be a bust, Cleveland's rebuilding process led by president Mike Holmgren, general manager Tom Heckert and rookie head coach Pat Shurmur could be pushed back even further.