As we’re rapidly approaching the Browns September 10th date with the Saints (and starting a 6th different QB in their 8 years back) I wanted to take a look back at how the QB situation has evolved since the Browns revival in 1999. The problem with that is I can’t shake everyone’s feeling that Tim Couch was one of the biggest busts of all time.
This seems to be the prevailing thought in Browns circles. So much so, that if you even mention Couch you’re bound to get chuckles and comments of how awful he was. But was he really? There is no easy answer, but if you take a look back at his career, year-by-year, I think you’ll see that he wasn’t the flop that fans make him out to be.
So let’s do that. Below is the Evolution of Tim Couch:
1999: 1st overall draft pick, groomed by Ty Detmer to be the future of the franchise—EVENTUALLY. Enter 41-0 vs. the Steelers on opening night, and Couch is thrust into the start role. Here is what he had to work with:
Running Game: Terry Kirby. Enough said really…just abysmal.
Best Receiver: Rookie Kevin Johnson.
He really had absolutely nothing to work with, and he had a decent season, throwing 15 TD’s to 13 INT’s (two of those INT’s came on hail Mary’s at the end of the half). Seemed like he was poised for success. Just upgrade the O-Line, get decent RB, maybe some other WR’s and in a couple of years we’d be playoff contenders.
2000: Incomplete. The Browns actually started the year 2-1, and through 3 weeks Couch had the highest QB rating in the AFC. Throw in a bad start against the Raiders, and his Rating was down to 77 through 7 games—which is all he played this season due to hitting his thumb on a lineman’s helmet during practice. The team took a nosedive after he left, and finished the season 3-13. Couch gets an incomplete.
2001: Butch Davis arrives, the team adds Quincy Morgan to the receiving corps, Dave Wahlabaugh at Center, and suddenly the Browns look like a team. However, the team was still very incomplete:
O-Line: REALLY BAD.
Running Game: Top RB’s include Jamel White and James Jackson. Worst in the NFL.
Top WR: Continues to be Johnson, but even he is really a #2 at best. Quincy Morgan is added, but drops as many as he catches in his rookie season.
Couch did struggle somewhat this year, throwing just 17 TD’s to his 21 INTS. But, given that he probably had the worst 10 guys around of any QB in the league winning 7 games is an accomplishment, especially considering they won only 3 the year before. If the Browns win the game against the Jags where the refs review a play two plays later, they would have been in the playoff hunt. Given what he had around him, he did about as good a job as anyone could have. Football is 11 on 11, and when only 2 or 3 guys are #1 caliber, the results aren’t going to be good no matter who you have behind center.
2002: The Browns actually address some needs. They draft Willie Green to help the run game, and add Ryan Tucker to the O-line. However, the O-line is still in the bottom 10 in the league, and their best runner is a rookie. Andre Davis the WR is drafted in the second round, and actually looks like he’ll be an impact guy. Team looks poised for a playoff run.
O-Line: Still very bad, but slightly better. Ross Verba misses much of the season which doesn’t help either.
Running Game: A little better, but Green doesn’t come on until game 7. Even then, he‘s still a rookie runner and shows a ton of hesitancy. At worst he prevents defenses from completely ignoring the run as in years past.
Receivers: The Browns essentially have 4 #2 receivers at this point. Johnson, Morgan, Northcutt, and Davis are all very decent, but none of them are game breakers. Certainly the best they’ve had since they were back.
Couch: This was the watershed season. Kelly Holcomb started the first two games because Couch had elbow tendanitus (which would ultimately be his downfall). Holcomb puts up impressive numbers, but the team goes 1-1. Couch comes in and has a few decent games. Then there is the debacle on Sunday night against the Ravens where the fans boo Couch while he is hurt, and chant “Kelly, Kelly”. The seed has already been planted that Holcomb was better, and from this point forward Couch really never had the fans backing.
Couch actually leads the team to an 8-6 record in games he starts, and to their first playoff birth in 8 years. However he is injured for their playoff loss to the Steelers where Holcomb throws for over 400 yards, and essentially plants himself in the starting role. His QB rating for the season is mediocre, but again, he still doesn’t have much to work with.
2003: In a surprising move, Butch names Kelly Holcomb the starter, and thus essentially ends the Couch era in
Cleveland—a year removed from a playoff berth. However, the defense was dismantled and a team that looked to be a serious SB contender fizzles with both Holcomb and Couch at the helm. While he actually puts up his best numbers for the season (and roughs up
Pittsburgh on a Sunday night), the writing was probably already on the wall for Couch. The fans had already made up their mind, and apparently so had Butch as he followed his ‘gut feeling’ all the way to the end by dumping Couch and bringing in Jeff Garcia.
So at what point did Couch go wrong? Really at no point did he have anything around him that resembled an offensive line, or an offense for that matter. This is why I still contend that we never got a chance to see him with a full compliment of weapons. Ultimately it was his elbow problems (and not his talent) that cut his career short.
However, my conclusion is that football is a team game and you can’t judge Couch’s career in a vacuum. Had we drafted McNabb in 1999 instead of couch, I doubt we would have been much better off. McNabb went to a team with a great offensive line and defense, and was able to mature slowly into a great QB. Couch was never afforded such luxury as he was thrown to the wolves from day 1 (actually, day 2). Had he gone to the Eagles, it very well could have been him leading them to the SB in 2005.
If you want to see a bust, then take a look at Akili Smith. Couch at least gave us 4 years of starts, and took us to the playoffs—Smith faded away after just 1 year. The point is playing QB is different from team to team, year to year, and I’d like to think that Couch’s career is still more of an unknown rather than a complete bust, as many rush to conclude. It doesn’t change anything, but we’re so quick to tear down our own athletes in this town that I think he deserves at least a second thought, and not a snap judgment.