Colt McCoy has battled the opinion he's too short to play quarterback in the NFL.
Now, it's his throws that aren't long enough.
McCoy is averaging just 5.53 yards per completion this season, the league's second-lowest average and a stat that perhaps best sums up Cleveland's woeful lack of big passing plays so far this season. Also, the Browns (2-3) have just eight completions over 20 yards, a league-worst mark and one that has raised questions about McCoy's arm strength, his grasp of the club's new offense and whether the team's front office has given him enough weapons.
''We'd like to try and get it deep a lot,'' McCoy said Wednesday. ''I'd like to throw it down field, and throw touchdowns, but I think it's a collective effort.''
More like a collective failure.
Forced to throw on nearly every down last weekend after falling behind in a loss at Oakland, McCoy completed just 21 of 45 passes, 38 of which were deemed ''short'' on the official game summary. McCoy, who now has 13 career starts, has opted for the safer dink-and-dunk approach as defenses have been able to drop back and take away the Browns' ability to throw deep.
First-year Cleveland coach Pat Shurmur has been careful not to publicly criticize his young quarterback, who because of the lockout was forced to take a crash course in the multi-faceted West Coast system, which puts a premium on the QB's ability to quickly recognize coverages and deliver the ball promptly and on target.
But after five games, McCoy isn't catching on.
His completion percentage of 55.8 percent ranks him 27th overall, an alarming drop for the former Texas star who completed 60 percent of his passes in eight starts as a rookie and 70 percent during a four-year college career. McCoy is averaging 19 incompletions per game.
''He needs to just get better,'' Shurmur said when asked to explain McCoy's imprecision. ''I don't think there's any one thing. I go back to footwork all the time. It's footwork, timing, accuracy and we just continue to work on it.''
With one of the league's youngest rosters, the Browns are indeed a work in progress. But McCoy's development is essential for the team to finally make significant strides toward contention. If McCoy isn't the answer, and it appears the team has committed this season to finding out if he is, then the rebuilding plan will have to start anew.
Shurmur said there's plenty of blame to go around on an offense starting a rookie guard and waiting for playmakers to emerge. But it all starts with the man behind center.
''If you're going to win games, the quarterback needs to play well,'' Shurmur said. ''I really believe that. What `well' means is that he's got to play well throughout the game or, if he's not playing well early, find a way to get on track and finish the game strong.''
There's still time for growth and improvement, and McCoy is determined to get it right.
One of Cleveland's biggest problems has been starting slowly. The Browns have been outscored 34-3 in the first quarter. They've recovered well in the second quarter, scoring 45 of their 91 points. But the early deficits have forced McCoy to be perfect and taken much of his margin for error.
''That's just pretty poor,'' McCoy said of the first-quarter disparity. ''We've got to do a better job. For whatever reason, we just come alive (in the second quarter) and that's how offense is supposed to work, right there. We know we can do it. We've just got to collectively not mess up. Don't mess up on the little things. Don't screw basic plays up and if we can do that across the board, then I think as a team, as an offense, we'll move the ball and have an opportunity to win.
''But when you beat yourself up and slow yourself down by messing up on little things, that's when you get out of rhythm and all of a sudden it's third and long and you're off the field. That's the frustrating part.''
Browns tight end Evan Moore, whose role in the offense could expand in the weeks ahead, has sensed McCoy's frustration.
''But it's a healthy frustration,'' Moore said. ''Colt's a worker. He's not the kind of guy that's going to go into the dumps and sit at home. When he gets frustrated, he comes here more to watch film. He goes upstairs to meet with coach more because he's going to find a way to correct it. He just has that attitude. He knows that he has to work, correct his mistakes and move on
''This isn't the first rough time he's been through in football. He'll be fine.''
It hasn't helped McCoy that Cleveland's running game has been stuck in neutral. Last week, the Browns intended to pound Peyton Hillis at the Raiders, but the bruising back injured his hamstring in the first half, forcing Cleveland to alter its game plan. Hillis didn't practice Wednesday and may miss Sunday's game against Seattle
Without the threat of a running game, defenses can gamble and blitz more, putting more pressure on McCoy. With defenders in his face, McCoy has to get rid of the ball more quickly to receivers who have to shorten their routes and catch shorter passes. Mohamed Massaquoi leads the Browns with 224 receiving yards, ranking him 38th in the AFC.
With 11 games left, there's time for the Browns to fix their offense - and their record.
McCoy is determined to make it better.
''We are pretty young and inexperienced at places, but that's no excuse,'' he said. ''We've got to really figure it out and it's going to be all right. We're fighting through it. We're hungry. It's frustrating when you lose. I think I take it harder than anybody. We just got to keep getting better.''