Heading to Cleveland this week, the Jets are looking to go above .500 for the first time since the end of the 2015 season. To preview the game, I asked Dawgs By Nature’s Chris Pokorny five questions on the Browns.
1. How would you describe the current state of the Browns franchise? Is this a team that is still many years away from reaching contention, or are they just a few impact players away?
I wish I had the answer to this question, because it's been close to 20 years since the Browns came back in 1999 and I'm still scratching my head at what the solution is. If I forget about the past and focus on the present, the key thing I have to stress to myself (and other Browns fans) is patience. The organization did a complete teardown, and are really in year number two of the re-build. Because we were intrigued by some of the moves made this offseason, expectations jumped a bit to, "Hey, maybe the team make some noise this season," only to see the club get dominated by the previously-winless Colts and Bengals. Being 1-19 over the past two seasons has tested patience, but we have to see this through. Right now, I'd like to say that Cleveland is several receivers and pass rushers away from being where they want to be for Hue Jackson's gameplan on offense and Gregg Williams' scheme on defense to be what they'd like it to be.
2. Is there any heat under Hue Jackson's seat? Has the team shown committed patience in him, or are things getting too far out of hand?
The team continues to show patience toward Hue Jackson, and I'm still willing to as well. He continues to have a good reputation around the league, and despite all the losing (1-19 in two seasons), it doesn't seem like there is in-fighting or a disinterested mentality in the locker room. I guess you could say I'm disappointed that with the level of parity in the NFL, you'd think that even a roster that is still searching for answers like the Browns would be able to pull off a few more wins or turn in some more competitive results on gameday. Why is the execution on gameday so bad if Hue Jackson preaches that many of these mistakes aren't being made in practice? Could it really be as simple as players getting more gameday experience? I certainly hope so, because we're tired of shuffling head coaches and front offices around.
3. How has DeShone Kizer looked? Has he flashed potential through his struggles?
We were higher on him during the preseason, but he was not the starter throughout the majority of camp. Therefore, our best full look at him came when the regular season started, and that's when we were able to pinpoint his weaknesses. He needs to work on his accuracy, particularly on crossing routes where he's been throwing behind his receivers. He also holds on to the ball longer than any quarterback in the NFL, and his productivity is worse the longer he holds on to it. He's still not confident in reading defenses on a consistent basis, because he's either hesitating or missing certain reads.
As far as some of the good, I was encouraged by his running ability two weeks ago against the Colts -- that should be a real asset to his game once he gets more comfortable. He's also managed to take fewer sacks despite how long he's holding on to the ball. He's taken quite a few hits, but has gotten back up fine after each of them, which is a positive because Cleveland has a history of their quarterbacks being so fragile. The toughest part in evaluating Kizer has been how bad his receivers have been. For example, in the first half against the Bengals last week, the team scored 0 points...but on three of the first four drives, you could say that Kizer made proper throws that could have led to at least two touchdown drives, only to see missteps by WR Kenny Britt that killed the drives (missed field goal off of a Britt slip, then an interception at the goal line that bounced right off a wide open Britt).
4. Are there any areas where the Browns are particularly strong?
The offensive line is supposed to be the strongest unit on the team based on the investment made in it, but it's only been OK through the first four games. The strength in terms of productivity has surprisingly been the run defense, where Cleveland is only allowing 3.03 yards per carry (third best in the NFL). Rookie third round pick Larry Ogunjobi isn't an everydown player, but he's been one of the best in the league at defending the run, and in general, the team has done a great job containing backs to minimal gains. The flip side of that is that Cleveland (without Myles Garrett available) can't pass rush to saves their lives, which hurts the pass defense in turn.
5. Which players have proven that they are for sure a part of the long-term core in Cleveland?
Even though he's set to debut this Sunday, Myles Garrett had an offseason that surpassed expectations for a No. 1 overall pick, if that's even possible. Everyone believes that he can be a defensive-MVP type of player, which is why it was so morally deflating when he went down prior to Week 1. The Browns signed both of their guards, Joel Bitonio and Kevin Zeitler, to big-time contracts this offseason, and they did the same with linebackers Christian Kirksey and Jamie Collins. So those are two players on each side of the ball that the team has committed significant money toward. Ultimately, I believe the reason they have so much cap space still is they are saving it in hopes that one day, they'll find a franchise quarterback and then making him the highest-paid player in the NFL won't be an issue. We have to find that guy first, though, and it's taking forever to do so.