The New York Jets take on the Cleveland Browns in East Rutherford, New Jersey tonight on Monday Night Football. Previewing this matchup, Chris Pokorny of Dawgs By Nature was kind enough to answer a few questions for us regarding the 2019 Browns.
1. The Browns were getting a lot of love this off season. They brought in premium talent in Odell Beckham Jr., Sheldon Richardson, Olivier Vernon, Kareem Hunt and others to add to an already young, talented roster. They have a promising 2nd year quarterback in Baker Mayfield who galvanized the team and the city. Many were predicting big things for the Browns, including a division championship. What were your expectations coming into the season and have they changed at all after week 1?
Chris Pokorny: My expectations heading into the season were that the Browns would make the postseason as either the AFC North champions or a wildcard team. We knew that Cleveland sacrificed a key piece of their offensive line this offseason, but the addition of Odell Beckham Jr (to pair him with Jarvis Landry and Baker Mayfield) and a strengthened defensive line made it seem like it was worth the trade-off -- and I still do believe that it was worth the trade-off. Overall, my expectations haven’t changed since Week 1; however, I would say that I am a lot more on edge about those expectations. I feel like my tortured soul of seeing so many losing seasons is climbing out of my body to ask myself, “but what if they continue being bad?” I have to snap myself out of it and tell myself that it is just one game, and to believe in the talent this team has assembled (and most importantly, the star that Mayfield should be).
2. Speaking of week 1, ummm … what the heck happened? The Browns got blown out by the Tennessee Titans. Three turnovers, five sacks and 18 penalties for 180+ yards doomed the team. Was this just a case of first game of the year kinks that can be easily worked out, or are there deeper problems here that won’t be so easy to fix, and if so, what are they?
Chris Pokorny: It was pretty shocking to see the final outcome be a 30-point deficit. Near the end of the third quarter, the Browns made it a 15-13 game, providing hope that the team could rally despite how bad of a game they had played up until that point. But then, things really fell apart and the Titans ripped off 21 unanswered points in what seemed like a 5-minute span. It wasn’t a case where the Browns were unlucky to give up so many points so quickly; in fact, after it happened, the first thing that came to my mind was, “well, Tennessee really should’ve had this lead earlier in the game with how poorly the Browns have played, so we kind of deserve this.”
It wasn’t a talent deficiency; I believe the Browns have a better 53-man roster than the Titans. I wouldn’t call it just a case of the first game of the year either. The magnitude of the offensive line issues were exposed, as was a lack of discipline by too many of the players on the roster. Also, from a gameplan perspective, new head coach Freddie Kitchens was out-coached by Titans head coach Mike Vrabel so badly. I don’t think those things can be fixed in a matter of one week; however, they can be improved if Kitchens goes back to what worked last year: a quicker passing attack overall and stressing attention to detail to the players.
3. The Browns let Gregg Williams walk despite him doing a seemingly good job as interim head coach last year and hired Freddie Kitchens instead. Do Browns fans think that was the right decision? Why or why not?
Chris Pokorny: Here is my perspective on Gregg Williams: as a defensive coordinator, I was OK with him, but I didn’t have any particular allegiance to him. When he became the interim head coach, I thought to myself, “Oh, OK, I guess it makes sense because he has some experience.” And then, the Browns started winning. A lot of that winning was attributed to Freddie Kitchens having been promoted to offensive coordinator and calling plays that “clicked” with Baker Mayfield’s style of play. With Williams, I can’t quite put my finger on any one thing that I liked about his job as head coach, but I formed a deep appreciation about how he knew he was probably nothing more than an interim coach, and yet he said, “I am not treating this like a joke, I am treating this like this is my audition to be a head coach in the NFL again.”
If Williams would have been kept on as the head coach, I would have been OK with it -- but part of me also thought, “Did we get a bit fortunate with his success, and we’re missing out on the chance to get a better candidate?” I loved the idea of hiring Bruce Arians, who basically said he would’ve kept Kitchens and Williams as his coordinators. But I also was a fan of Kitchens -- although inexperienced, the concern was that a team would steal him a year from now to be their head coach, if his offense continued to be successful. So when the Browns made the decision to name Kitchens as their new head coach, I was fine with it. And all offseason, things were great too. Losing breeds panic, though, and that’s what we saw after Week 1 last week with respect to the job Kitchens did.
4. What is the best way to attack the Browns offense and the Browns defense?
Chris Pokorny: The best way to attack the Browns’ offense right now is to go after right tackle Chris Hubbard and do everything you can to put him on an island; after that, giving some zone defense looks to Mayfield (with that pressure) is a much wiser decision than going man-to-man on him. The best way to attack the Browns’ defense? I’ll go with the blueprint that the Titans used last week: frustrate our defensive front with chip blockers, and then have your receivers run crossing routes to beat our cornerbacks across the field. Now, granted, I hope our defense fixes those things in Week 2, but that stood out all of Week 1.
5. How close are the Browns to being a legitimate Super Bowl contender? What does this team still lack, if anything, and when do you expect Super Bowl talk to be a realistic thing?
Chris Pokorny: I thought it was fun and feel-good to see how high the Browns were in Super Bowl odds this year. Could it happen? Sure, I guess any decent team could get on a hot run. But I never entered the 2019 season thinking that Cleveland was fighting for the Super Bowl this year. The good news is that many of their star players like Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb, Myles Garrett, and Denzel Ward are set to be here for awhile. More and more players are wanting to play in Cleveland. The team is pretty much set on offensive playmakers; but really, the thing the team lacks to make the Super Bowl a more realistic thing is the winning culture and experience playing together. It is one thing to feel the excitement of the hype and think that the culture has changed, but it’s another thing to actually put those victories on the board. I mean, it was just one loss last week, and the team was talking about needing to overcome adversity after that loss. On-the-field, the team does need to improve the offensive line in some manner, particularly at one of the tackle spots.