BEREA - The Browns might be the only team in the NFL that can take their fans out of a game in the first quarter.
It happened nine days ago on the second play when Colt McCoy lost a fumble against the San Francisco 49ers, who cashed in with a touchdown. Last Sunday running back Chris Ogbonnaya fumbled away the ball on the first play from scrimmage, leading to a touchdown for the Houston Texans in their 30-12 demolition of the Browns.
The offensive problems go beyond a couple of lost fumbles. Colt McCoy's growing pains have been well-chronicled, but he could be the least of the concerns. This is a dysfunctional offense in dire need of intervention.
Unfortunately, the draft is more than five months away and there won't be enough quality free agents available to help the cause. The only hope is that the next two weeks offer up the 1-7 St. Louis Rams and the 2-6 Jacksonville Jaguars at Browns Stadium. After that the Browns play the Cincinnati Bengals once and the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers twice each to finish the season, along with a road game against the Arizona Cardinals.
An argument could be made for the Browns using their two first-round draft choices next year on offensive linemen. Attempts to run block are futile, and it doesn't help that running back Peyton Hillis has been ruled out for another week and running back Montario Hardesty likely won't play.
Left tackle Joe Thomas has four Pro Bowl appearances to his credit and is unquestionably an outstanding pass blocker, but he's not a force as a run blocker. None of the other starters on the line are doing much to help the ground game, with the exception of center Alex Mack.
Attempts to get the passing attack going have been futile. McCoy is part of the problem, but he's been under siege by glaring breakdowns in protection. When McCoy does have time to go through his reads, he rarely can locate a receiver capable of getting separation from defenders.
Coach Pat Shurmur has the look of a man that has no idea how to stop the bleeding. For his sake hopefully he doesn't refer to his challenge in a way that former Browns coach Chris Palmer did during a 3-13 season in 2000. Palmer infamously referred to his job as like sitting on a runaway train. He was fired at the conclusion of the season.
"I'm a very impatient guy in a lot of ways," Shurmur said Monday. "But I do know this: you win. That's how you stop any negative momentum in this league."
Shurmur tried to put a positive spin in what's happened as the Browns' record has slipped to 3-5. He's still fully supportive of McCoy, but what else can he do when there's no other option but journeyman Seneca Wallace?
"What you take having worked through tough situations is you keep battling," Shurmur said. "I'm sure you're all getting tired of hearing me say that. That's the reality of it. In football you keep working."
The loss to the Texans came at the end of another week of controversy surrounding Hillis, who's missed three straight games with a hamstring injury. Several of the veteran leaders reportedly met with Hillis last week to air our issues regarding his attitude.
"We'll go through the process and try to bring him back as quickly as possible," Shurmur said. "He wants to be out there. He wants to be playing."
The arrival of the Rams later this week should be comforting for Shurmur. There's no opposing team in the NFL that he knows better after spending the last two seasons as their offensive coordinator.
Better yet for Shurmur is that Rams have been struggling more than the Browns.
"I'm looking forward to playing our next game," Shurmur said. "It just happens to be the St. Louis Rams. There are some personal relationships there. It will be fun to say hello to some people I worked with. Beyond that, it's the Browns and the Rams."
Don't expect an offensive explosion by either team.