Panic Regarding Browns Is Unfounded…For Now.

The Cleveland Browns have started 0-2 once again this year, and we think it is a reflex for the fans and media alike to start thinking another disastrous season is ahead for the team.

While it is a possibility that Hue Jackson ends the season with a 2-14 season, we still think that the 5-11 mark we expect is still very much in play.

We know the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Browns’ opponent in the home opener are the favorites to win the AFC North, and for all we know, the Baltimore Ravens could be a 10 win team as well.

That’s why you can’t overreact to things after just two weeks.

The next four games come against opponents which should give people an idea if the Browns have indeed improved from the 1-15 mark a year ago, and being widely regarded as the worst team in the NFL.

Next week, Cleveland visits Indianapolis to visit a Colts team that is without Andrew Luck and has the same record as Jackson’s squad at 0-2.

They will be starting Jacoby Brisset, making his fourth career start, a far cry from Super Bowl winners Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco.

The Colts lost to playoff contender Arizona in overtime on Sunday, but were hammered by the Rams in week one.  Let’s just say the Browns’ foes are in a higher class than those teams.

Then come home games against Cincinnati and the New York Jets, both sitting at 0-2, the same as Cleveland.

The Bengals have already replaced their offensive coordinator, and have looked dreadful against the Ravens and Texans.

Meanwhile, the Jets are copying what Sashi Brown did a year ago, jettisoning many older players and collecting draft picks, probably in an effort to take a shot at the possible franchise quarterbacks coming out in the 2018 NFL Draft.

They are starting Josh McCown at QB, and their losses have been against another rebuilding team in Buffalo, and a pummeling by the Raiders.

Then comes another road game at Houston (1-1), a team whose win is against Cincinnati and they lost to another team that usually drafts in the top ten, the Jacksonville Jaguars.

These four opponents are more in the Browns’ “weight class” than the mighty Steelers and the perennial playoff contender Ravens.

This isn’t to say the Browns will win all four games, or even two of them, but they have a better shot at victories against this quartet than they did in the first two games.

And remember that Cleveland is starting a rookie quarterback, and it would be more the norm than not to expect up and down performances from a player just entering the league.

However, we would still like to see a more simplistic approach from the coaching staff.  We would like to see more of an emphasis on the ground game using an offensive line that the front office spent a boatload of money on.

For all we know right now, the Steelers and the Ravens could be two of the three or four best teams in the AFC.  If you can’t get some victories against the next four teams, then there will be reason for panic and concern.

Right now, Browns fans just need to relax just a little bit.

JD

 

 

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Puzzling Decisions By Browns In Loss

The young Cleveland Browns went on the road for the first time this season, and their inexperienced showed in a 24-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens at M & T Bank Stadium.

Cleveland is now 0-2 on the season.

If a team turns the ball over five times in a game, lose the turnover battle 5-2, get outgained on the ground, and lose the time of possession battle, that’s a pretty good recipe to come out on the short end of the scoreboard, and that’s what Hue Jackson’s team did today.

Considering all the turnovers, the defense didn’t perform terribly.  Joe Flacco completed 25 passes, but only gained 217 yards on those throws, and most of those yards came on tosses to the running backs and tight ends.

The only negative was just two sacks of Flacco (one each by Christian Kirksey and James Burgess).  That’s just three on the year, and we would guess that defensive coordinator Gregg Williams longs for the return of rookie Myles Garrett.

Offensively, there are a lot of question marks.

Going into the season, we believed Jackson needed to take pressure off his rookie QB DeShone Kizer, and today, he did just the opposite.

Kizer missed much of the first half with a migraine, but he and Kevin Hogan put the ball in the air 42 times, and it seemed like the coach abandoned the ground game with ten minutes to go in the third quarter, down two touchdowns.

At that point, there was plenty of time to keep running more.

Outside of Kizer’s scrambles, the Browns ran two running plays after that point, one a draw by Duke Johnson (that gained 16 yards) and the other being an ill advised option play on 1st and goal at the Baltimore 2 yard line.

Instead of giving the ball at least twice to Isaiah Crowell, they ran the play by Kizer, which lost yardage, and then threw two passes, the second of which resulted in an interception.

Crowell ran just 10 times today for 37 yards with a long of 17.  We still feel Crowell should get the majority of his carries between the tackles.

We also think the Browns have some players who can make plays on offense, but to date, they have had problems identifying them.

Johnson had just seven touches, gaining 80 yards.  Why isn’t he getting the ball more often?  TE Seth DeValve caught two balls today for 61 yards, he has six catches in the two games.

We don’t believe Crowell was targeted on any throws out of the backfield, so he had just ten touches.

Unbelievably, the leading receiver today was WR Rashard Higgins, who was on the practice squad until yesterday.  He caught seven passes for 95 yards.

Meanwhile, Corey Coleman caught one pass.

Look, we aren’t saying Jackson is a bad coach, and needs to be fired.  Frankly, that’s the last thing this organization needs.

But, he does need to protect his rookie quarterback better, and he needs to identify who should his feature guys and get them the ball.

Crowell fell just short of 1000 yards a year ago, and still seems to be an afterthought in this offense.

Special teams continue to be a problem as well. Penalties seem to be a norm with this unit, and twice Jabril Peppers downed kickoffs in the end zone, when he was only about two or three yards deep in the end zone.

He can be a playmaker too, and it seems like he is reluctant to try to take a chance.

There was simply a lot of things to shake your head in wonderment in today’s loss.

JD

Plenty Of Good Coming Out Of Browns’ Loss

Although we are encouraged about what the Cleveland Browns are doing, we would have been pleasantly surprised had Hue Jackson’s squad won the season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Our expectations were reinforced with today’s 21-18 loss to Pittsburgh at First Energy Stadium.

The young Browns (and yes, that will be a theme for this season) acquitted themselves quite nicely for the most part, and it appears that there will be plenty for the coaching staff to build on throughout the 2017 season.

Offensively, rookie QB DeShone Kizer played well, completing 20 of 30 throws for 222 yards and his first NFL touchdown and his first NFL TD pass, a three yarder to second year wide out Corey Coleman.

The Browns didn’t force Kizer to throw 40 times, although he was sacked seven times, many of those as a result of the rook not knowing to throw the ball away.

Isaiah Crowell ran 17 times for only 33 yards and another rookie, Matthew Dayes carried three times, so Jackson did try to stay with the run.

Coleman, last year’s first round pick, caught five balls for 53 yards and another second year guy, TE Seth DeValve caught four passes.

Our criticism on the offense was too many empty backfield sets for Kizer, thus the Steelers knowing he was going to pass.  And those sets didn’t have much success either.

Also, it appeared Cleveland had success running the ball up the middle with Crowell, but they didn’t seem to stick with that.

Veteran free agent Kenny Britt also dropped a wide open throw for Cleveland.

Defensively, stopping the run wasn’t a problem for Gregg Williams in his debut as defensive coordinator here, Pittsburgh got just 35 yards on the ground.

The problem was stopping WR Antonio Brown, who caught 11 passes for 182 yards, and was the recipient of a pass interference call which set up the Steelers last touchdown.

Carl Nassib (2nd year pro) had a sack, and another player picked in the ’16 Draft, Derrick Kindred had an interception.

And another second year player, LB Joe Schobert, had four tackles, five assists, and deflected a pass.

It did seem Williams decided that without first overall pick, Myles Garrett, he decided to play coverage against Ben Roethlisberger, instead of trying to put pressure on him.

We are anxious to see if he changes next week.

The thing that stuck with us was the swarming nature of the Cleveland defense.  It seemed that whenever a Steeler was tackled, there were five or six other Browns around the play.

Now, about special teams.  We have wondered why coach Chris Tabor has survived several regimes, and we continue today.  The first punt of the year was blocked for a touchdown.

There have been many  special teams breakdowns over the past few seasons, and the first one in 2017 was costly.

On the positive side, Jabrill Peppers had a 25 yard punt return, and P Britton Colquitt pinned Pittsburgh inside the 20 for most of the first half.

The officiating was bad today as well.  There were several questionable calls against the Steelers today (notably a pass interference called on David Njoku) and the league needs to change the penalty for that violation.

On the PI call which benefited Pittsburgh, Brown was grabbing Jamar Taylor as much as Taylor was grabbing him.  To give a team 30+ yards due to something like this is ridiculous.

Next week, Cleveland travels to Baltimore, who shutout the Bengals today.  We will see if the progress shown today is something to be very encouraged about.

JD

 

 

Five Wins Would Be Real Progress For Browns.

The Cleveland Browns open their 2017 season Sunday afternoon at First Energy Stadium against their rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Hue Jackson’s crew is coming off a 1-15 season, so hopes aren’t exactly high for a playoff spot, the first since 2002 for the brown and orange.

To some fans and people in the media, anything short of a post-season berth will be considered a failure, but we feel this will be a successful season, even without extra games, that is if the Browns, the youngest team in the NFL, start showing progress, and start to develop some star players.

First of all, the organization is seeing if they indeed have a young quarterback they can develop.  Second round pick DeShone Kizer will be the youngest starter in the league this fall, and here’s hoping Jackson can bring him along slowly by running the ball and playing defense.

Gregg Williams may be the most important free agent signing of the off-season, coming to Cleveland to be the defensive coordinator.  Williams has directed six top ten defenses (in terms of yards allowed) in 15 seasons heading up a defense.

He has brought an attacking style to the unit, and he has some potentially very good youngsters to work with, players like first overall pick Myles Garrett (who may not play in the opener), Emmanuel Ogbah, Christian Kirksey, Jamie Collins, and first round pick Jabrill Peppers.

The defense should be able to keep Cleveland in games this season, and that will ease the burden on Kizer, so he will not have to put the ball in the air 40+ times in many games.

Isaiah Crowell is another who should help in this regard.  Crowell fell just short of 1,000 yards a year ago, and with an improved offensive line, bolstered  by free agent signees Kevin Zeitler and JC Tretter.

We should learn about progress from last year’s draft class, which many considered a bust at various times during last season.

The following players drafted in 2016 are considered starters this season:  WR Corey Coleman, RT Shon Coleman, Ogbah, MLB Joe Schobert, and S Derrick Kindred.

Add Garrett, Peppers, Kizer, and K Zane Gonzalez to that quintet, and you have nine starters obtained in the last two drafts.

And that doesn’t take into account Peppers impact in the return game, another factor that should help an inexperienced passer.

We also expect TE Seth DeValve, WR Ricardo Louis, and DE Carl Nassib, three more players drafted in ’16 to get considerable playing time and make impacts.

If the Browns can get to five wins with these young players as central figures, the people hammering last year’s draft choices will have a lot of crow to eat.

The front office is still getting a lot of criticism from around the league, and we believe this is because they aren’t traditional “football guys”, and they are doing things a little differently.

For example, we’ve heard them getting toasted for making the trade for Brock Osweiler and a second round pick, the most important thing in the deal, because of the cap hit they are taking.

Then you realize the Browns are still over $60 million under that cap.

The key word for this Browns’ season is progress.  Progress in the win column, and progress of the players drafted a year ago.

The 2017 campaign could be the beginning of the rebirth of a franchise that has been down for many, many years.

JD

 

Really, Kizer Was The Only Choice

DeShone Kizer was named the Browns’ starting quarterback for the season opener against Pittsburgh by coach Hue Jackson, and it really wasn’t up for debate.

The rookie from Notre Dame hit just 6 of 18 passes for 93 yards and an interception, but he was hurt by some dropped passes and a fumble inside the Tampa Bay 20 yard line by Duke Johnson.

Otherwise, he would have put more points on the board and his statistics would’ve looked better.

When it comes down to it, Jackson didn’t have much of a choice.

Training camp started with Cody Kessler as the starter, but the second year man out of USC seems to refuse to do what the coaching staff wants, which is throw the ball downfield occasionally.

He has completed 66.7% of his 27 passes, but only for 145 yards.  His 5.4 yards isn’t what Jackson wants out of his QB.  Remember, Kessler was benched at halftime in a game the Browns were leading a year ago, because he checked down way too much.

Next, Osweiler had the starting job, but he didn’t put up any points in his time on the field, and if you think 5.4 yards per pass is poor, the former Bronco and Texan signal caller’s three yards per pass makes Kessler look like John Elway.

We truly believe that Jackson didn’t want to start his rookie second round pick in the opener, particularly because it is against the Steelers, but given the performance of the two guys he tried to give the gig to, he didn’t really have a choice.

Kizer is hitting just 51% of his throws, a low total in today’s NFL, but his average yards per pass attempt is 7.2, the best of the four passers on the roster.

One thing you have to remember is the team knows who is the quarterback best equipped to lead them, and if Jackson were to start someone else, he loses credibility in his own locker room.

Our hope is that Jackson doesn’t put the burden of the offense on Kizer.  If the Browns are going into games planning to throw the ball 35 times, we can sense a disaster.

Rather, do what the Seahawks did with Russell Wilson as a rookie, do what the Steelers did with Ben Roethlisberger as a first year player.  Ease the weight on their shoulders.

Run the ball, play defense, and make it as easy as possible for them to play the most difficult position in professional sports.

As for who backs up Kizer, that’s another quandary for Jackson.

We expect to see a lot of Kevin Hogan on Thursday night against Chicago, because amazingly, he has performed better than both Osweiler and Kessler in the preseason games.

We are sure the coaching staff would like to see him against some second team players instead of guys who will not make teams once the rosters have to be cut to 53 players.

We firmly believe Jackson’s intention was to bring DeShone Kizer along slowly, but the mediocre performance of the more experienced passers forced his hand.

Hopefully, Kizer joins the rookie quarterback success stories rather than the players who were thrown to the wolves early and got devoured.

JD

It Might Be Kizer, Because He Seems To Want The Job

The Cleveland Browns have a quarterback dilemma.

This is nothing new, the team has been looking for a signal caller since they returned to the NFL for the 1999 season.

Tim Couch is the closest to being a guy fans could identify as the QB for the Browns, as he was the starter for five seasons (’99-’03), but he absorbed so much punishment in those years, that his career ended after the 2003 campaign at age 26.

This year’s problem is a little different though.  The Browns do not want to rush rookie second round pick DeShone Kizer, they would rather let him learn at the beginning of the year and get used to the professional game.

Unfortunately, the two veterans on the roster, Brock Osweiler and Cody Kessler, don’t seem to want the gig.  This may force coach Hue Jackson’s hand, and he may have to go with Kizer, who seems to be clearly playing the best.

Osweiler was the starter in each of the first two games, and he has completed 12 of 22 passes for just 67 yards, with an interception and hasn’t been sacked.  A bigger issue is the offense hasn’t scored with him at the helm.

FYI, an average of three yards an attempt is awful for an NFL quarterback.

Kessler played with the second unit in the first pre-season games, and the threes last night against the Giants.  He is 12 for 17 (70.6%) for 97 yards and did lead Cleveland into the end zone in the exhibition opener.  He is averaging 5.7 yards per pass attempt, and has been sacked once.

The rookie has had the most opportunity, playing the entire second half against the Saints, and about two and a half quarters last night.

He has completed 19 of 31 (61.3%) for 258 yards (8.3 yards per attempt), and a touchdown pass and a TD run.  He has also been sacked five times.

After last night’s game, we wonder what Kessler would look like if he played with the first team.  That’s how little we have thought of Osweiler’s performance, and also how little we want the Browns to throw a rookie out there in the season lidlifter against the Steelers.

Remember, Kessler started training camp as the starter, and didn’t play well in practices and the intersquad scrimmage at First Energy Stadium.  That’s why Jackson turned to Osweiler.

If the coaching staff wants to protect Kizer, then they should probably go back to Kessler.

However, if they go with Kizer, they need to approach games the same way the Seahawks did when Russell Wilson was a rookie, meaning try to win games with your defense and running game.

In our opinion, putting the burden of the attack on a rookie before he is ready is detrimental to his future.  We don’t want to see Kizer firing 35-40 passes in the opener or in any games at the beginning of the schedule.

And we would feel better if Jackson eliminated the read option from the Browns’ offense too.

Based on the first two pre-season games, it doesn’t seem like Jackson has any choice but to hand Kizer the keys to the engine.

It isn’t the ideal situation, but it probably gives the Browns the best chance to win games, which after a 1-15 season in 2016, they desperately need to do.

JD

 

 

Starting Osweiler The Least Risky Move

The big news of the week in Cleveland seems to be that Hue Jackson named Brock Osweiler to be the starting quarterback in the Browns’ first pre-season game Thursday night against the Saints.

First, it’s a pre-season game, and certainly Jackson can change his mind between now and September 10th when the Browns and Steelers get together.

Second, it seems that the coaching staff and front office are showing everyone they are pumping the brakes on DeShone Kizer.

We have been critical of Osweiler in the past, and have pointed out on a few occasions that Cody Kessler had more games with a passer rating of over 100 in his rookie season than Osweiler has had in his career.

However, it appears that Kessler hasn’t progressed as the coaching staff hoped, still dinking and dunking and reticent to throw the ball downfield.

And we have been consistent in saying the Browns need to resist the temptation to throw Kizer to the wolves before he is ready.

Cleveland has done that before with other young quarterbacks and it hasn’t worked.  Didn’t someone say those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it?

Complicating things for some fans as well as those in the media is that the Browns went 1-15 a year ago.  They have to start winning some football games, not for the fans, but to start building a winning atmosphere in the locker room.

It may be right now, that Osweiler gives the team the best chance to put up some “W’s”

After all, his supporters will point out the former Bronco and Texan has a 13-8 record as a starter.

We would counter that argument that the former Arizona State standout tooks snaps for two teams that have incredible defenses.

It is a fact that he is the only QB on the roster who has started and won an NFL game.

So, Osweiler will get a chance to resurrect his career starting Thursday night.  And why not, the coaching staff has to know what they have in Kessler and they don’t want to rush Kizer, so why not see if Osweiler can get the job done.

Remember, he was a throw in last spring in a trade for a second round draft pick. When the Browns announced the trade, the pick was mentioned first.

The point is, what does Jackson have to lose?  Osweiler played the best in Friday night’s scrimmage, and he has starting experience.

If he looks good throughout the preseason, he will claim the job against Pittsburgh in the season opener.

That doesn’t mean we would rule out Kizer, we just wouldn’t force him into the job.  If he is clearly the best QB in practice and the games, then he should start.

But he shouldn’t start because he might be the franchise quarterback in a few years, or because he’s big, has a strong arm, and is mobile.  Let him observe, get used to the speed of the game, and show something when he gets his opportunity.

Remember, he was a second round pick, so if the Browns would get the first pick in next year’s draft, they can still take Sam Darnold of USC or however the top college QB is after this upcoming season.

So, Jackson is taking the least risk is seeing what Osweiler can do.  It doesn’t mean he will open the year as the starter, but right now, it’s his job to lose.

JD

Leave Browns Alone…They Drafted a QB

Picking up where we left off after round one of the NFL Draft, any criticism about what Sashi Brown and the rest of the Browns’ management did on day one had to do if you are one of those who are QB-centric.

If you are a fan obsessed with the quarterback position, you bemoaned the fact that Cleveland didn’t draft Mitch Trubisky with the first overall pick (a massive reach), and then didn’t trade up for Patrick Mahomes II (very raw), or just sit at #12 and pick Deshaun Watson (our choice).

The lure of getting another first round pick was too much for the front office, and when it was all said and done, Cleveland still got two excellent athletes in Jabrill Peppers and David Njoku, who should have inside tracks to start in 2017.

We even joked that apparently the QB drama queens must have thought that the draft ended on Thursday although several good passers currently in the league (Drew Brees, Kirk Cousins, Russell Wilson, and the great Tom Brady) were picked after round one.

Those people can relax today because in the second round, the Browns drafted DeShone Kizer out of Notre Dame.

Kizer was expected to be a first rounder, so there is good value in the pick.  He’s also the big guy (6’4″, 233) that some feel is necessary to win the cold and wind of the AFC North.

The downside on Kizer is his Irish team went 4-8 a year ago, and he is inconsistent.  He appears to need a lot of work on his mechanics, which makes him a good pupil for coach Hue Jackson and his “quarterback whisperer” credentials.

We said before the draft that even if the Browns drafted a QB in the first round, that Cody Kessler should be the starter coming into the season, and the rookie should sit back, learn, and develop.

Remember, that at the beginning of the college football season, the consensus best two signal callers were considered to be Watson and Kizer.  Notre Dame’s losing season hurt Kizer’s stock.

There are also rumors about Kizer’s love for the sport, but perhaps he didn’t take well to Brian Kelly’s constant temper tantrums at practice and on the sidelines.

One thing we won’t know if would Kizer have stayed at ND had Kelly left.  There are some who speculate he would have.

No doubt Kizer is a boom or bust pick, but the same can be said about Trubisky and Mahomes.  The difference is the Browns did it on round two, which is what we have been advocating since the end of the season.

Cleveland also bolstered its defensive line with the pick of Charlotte DT Larry Ogunjobi, who may end the tenure of Desmond Bryant, another player over 30 years old in Berea.

He could be next to Danny Shelton at DT and join Emmanuel Ogbah and Myles Garrett on the Browns’ front four.

Ogunjobi played in the Senior Bowl, so Jackson and his staff got a real good look at him, and must have been impressed.

There are still picks to come today, but isn’t it refreshing to not hear the commentators saying the Browns have no clue as to what we are doing?

The media who wanted “football people” running the show must be thinking hard to themselves today.

Of course, these players still have to play, and the Cleveland Browns have to start getting better.

JD