HOUSTON: After the game, Colt McCoy had the presence of mind to tell two Browns reporters to have a safe trip home.
Considering the hits he had just absorbed, he could have been sitting in front of his locker crying.
That’s not a shot at Tim Couch, the first quarterback of the Browns’ expansion era to practically have his teeth knocked out every week. It’s merely a statement of a frightening reality.
The Browns seem headed down the same road with McCoy as they did with Couch.
Any chance McCoy has to prove he’s the future of the franchise is being compromised by the fact that they can’t keep him upright.
Forget one Mississippi, two Mississippi. At this point, Ohio is a stretch.
McCoy was sacked four times and hit eight more in the 30-12 loss to the Houston Texans on Sunday at Reliant Stadium. That brought his sack total to 20 and his hits absorbed to 52 at the midpoint of the season. After the games Sunday, only four teams had allowed more quarterback hits than the Browns.
The numbers are not as bad as those of Couch, the first overall pick who was sacked 56 times as a rookie in 1999, 51 in 2001 and 166 times in his five-year career. But the Browns still have to play the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers twice in December and January, so Couch’s dubious numbers are still within reach. If McCoy lasts that long.
The moment that captured the pressure the Texans defense brought wasn’t a sack. It came on McCoy’s 24-yard completion to rookie Greg Little in the fourth quarter, when blitzing rookie outside linebacker Brooks Reed ran free through the Browns’ protection and drilled McCoy.
“I felt that one pretty good,” McCoy said. “He got me. I got the breath knocked out of me. You just have to keep getting up and keep fighting and keep playing.”
Reed finished with two sacks, five tackles, two for losses, and three quarterback hits.
“I did miss a couple of opportunities ’cause I couldn’t believe that they weren’t blocking me,” Reed said.
But McCoy continued to pop back up.
“He’s a super-tough kid,” left tackle Joe Thomas said. “Not many guys in the league would be able to take a hit like he did on that long pass and be able to come back, but he’s a guy that wants to be out there competing.”
Asked about McCoy’s relatively diminutive size at 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, Thomas said, “He plays big, though, and that’s all you can ask for.”
Center Alex Mack is also an admirer of McCoy’s for refusing to get discouraged.
“Colt’s done a really good job; he maintains a good attitude. It’s tough,” Mack said. “I admire him for continuing to work hard. It’s good to see someone who’s able to keep a level head and continue to go out there and support his team.”
McCoy blamed some of the protection issues on injuries to the Browns’ top two running backs and the fact that starter Chris Ogbonnaya has been with the Browns for two weeks and backup Thomas Clayton since Wednesday. Thomas said the line’s issues are can be corrected.
With the Texans pressuring him “from the first snap to the last,” McCoy said, he completed 14-of-22 for 146 yards and a touchdown with one interception for a 79.0 passer rating. Another interception on a two-point conversion attempt didn’t count in the statistics.
McCoy said the Texans played nothing but man-to-man coverage, which “disrupts some things.” He said Ogbonnaya’s lost fumble on the Browns’ first play, which ultimately put them in a 14-0 hole, forced them to abandon their game plan for the second consecutive week.
“In this situation it is best not to get flustered early,” McCoy said. “Defenses get hits on quarterbacks early and [take] them out of rhythm. I was just focusing on hanging in there, sitting in the pocket and delivering the ball where it needs to be thrown or getting out of the pocket when I needed to. I feel like I hung in there until the end.”
Coach Pat Shurmur said McCoy needed to play better but conceded, “Colt played tough. Quarterbacks get hit. Colt is a battler and a competitor, there has never been a doubt.”
In the Browns’ front office, there might be doubts on whether McCoy is the quarterback of the future. His career record is 5-11 and sinking fast, thanks to the Browns’ approach to this season.
They seem so hell-bent on finding out whether McCoy can operate the West Coast offense that they refuse to let him operate out of the shotgun, the formation in which he excelled at Texas, perhaps in part because it helped him see the field. Instead of featuring what their players do best, they appear intent on weeding out those who don’t, even if their quarterback has to limp to the bus every Sunday because of it.
McCoy has been under duress since Game 2 at Indianapolis, when Dwight Freeney got loose and slammed into his back. The pounding doesn’t seem to be affecting McCoy’s confidence, but it seems like only a matter of time.
The Browns must be concerned with more than the physical abuse McCoy is taking. The emotional toll on the 25-year-old could be just as great. Unless they’ve already seen enough to know that McCoy’s not the answer, they must guard against the possibility that his spirit might soon be broken.
And at this point, they can’t seem to guard anyone.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at http://marla.ohio.com/. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/MarlaRidenour. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.