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Thursday, October 13, 2011
Browns need to find identity on offense

By Jamison Hensley

Pat Shurmur
Coach Pat Shurmur (right) has relied heavily on the arm of quarterback Colt McCoy.
There ares plenty of reasons for the Browns to be excited coming off their bye: Cleveland's 2-2 start is its best since since 2007, and the defense is ranked No. 9 in the NFL.

Where Cleveland needs to improve is on offense, which happens to be coach Pat Shurmur's specialty.

The Browns don't have an identity on offense. This is the most overused cliché when it comes to struggling offenses, but it couldn't be more true in Cleveland's case. It's difficult to build a personality on offense when the faces change from play to play.

On one snap, the Browns line up Mohamed Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie, Ben Watson and Peyton Hillis. On the next play, it's Josh Cribbs, Greg Little, Evan Moore and Montario Hardesty.

Shurmur says shuffling personnel causes defenses to adjust. But it seems as if it's been a harder adjustment on the offense. The Browns rank 21st in total yardage, 17th in passing, 27th in rushing and 26th in scoring.

"I've already spent a lot of time looking at everything we've done, not only in the first four games, but also through the preseason offensively," said Shurmur, who also doubles as the team's playcaller. "There'll be some things we'll focus on more and things we'll focus on less. You'll probably see more of certain guys in the game than you may have seen. There'll be plays and concepts we'll use more and some we'll put on the shelf for a while. Making wholesale changes is not the way to go."

Shurmur added, "We have plenty of things we do base-wise that I think are important that we emphasize. Then, just continue to try to get the ball to the guys that we know can make plays."

No one expected the Browns to be averaging 30 points per game in a year where they're installing a new system without the benefit of offseason practices. So, let's say the first four games have been an extended preseason where Shurmur has had time to get a feel for the players. The time has come to shift this offense into gear.

The Browns are currently the only team in the AFC North without a winning record. The Ravens bounced back from a disappointing loss at Tennessee with two convincing victories. The Steelers responded from getting shoved around in Houston with a physical win over Tennessee. And the Bengals came back from an ugly loss to San Francisco with two dramatic wins.

Now, it's the Browns' turn to answer and they must do it with a clear vision of the offense.

Here are three ways to improve Cleveland's offense:

Peyton Hillis
The Browns should give Peyton Hillis more carries to take some pressure off Colt McCoy.
1. Cut down on Colt McCoy's passes. He is averaging the second-most pass attempts (43) in the NFL. Yes, it's skewed by his 61-pass outing but he shouldn't be anywhere close to throwing more passes per game than Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers. This is his first full season as a starting quarterback, and the Browns are putting too much responsibility on his shoulders.

Cleveland needs to run the ball more to take some pressure off McCoy. In fact, McCoy has a higher completion rate off play-action (65 percent) than when he's not using any fakes (56 percent). So it helps McCoy when there's more of a threat to run.

2. Give Hillis the ball. The Browns' running back isn't the most popular player in town after missing a game because of strep throat and averaging nearly one yard less per carry than last year. But he's still running hard. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Hillis is tied with Maurice Jones-Drew for the most yards after contact (2.8) among running backs with at least 50 carries. Hardesty has shown flashes as a backup, but Hillis is the more proven commodity. Ignoring him in the offensive game plan is only hurting the offense.

3. Expand Moore's role. One of the biggest head-scratchers of the Browns' season is watching their talented tight end stand on the sidelines 80 percent of the time. Moore has two touchdowns on seven catches. That screams for more involvement in the offense. Shurmur says Ben Watson is playing at a high level and needs to be a three-down tight end. That has led to Moore playing eight snaps against the Colts and eight against the Dolphins. In the last game against the Titans, only two of McCoy's 61 passes were thrown in Moore's direction. Moore is being wasted in this current game plan.