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Browns vs. Bengals - The Sunday Five

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NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at San Diego Chargers Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Each week during the regular season, I take a look at five general bullet points about the Browns, either about this past week, today’s game, or fan-related news. Here is what we have for you heading into today’s Browns vs. Bengals game in Cincy.

The Sunday Five

1. PFF Notes of the Week: Each week, we’re going to start The Sunday Five off with some bullet points provided by Pro Football Focus.

  • NT Danny Shelton continued receiving praise from Pro Football Focus, and Cincinnati’s center hasn’t been the greatest. Even if the Browns are just having one defensive match-up in their favor each week, it’s better than nothing.

Shelton had the game of his career as he racked up 5 run stops and notched his first career sack while making C Ben Jones look foolish. Shelton grades as the 8th best overall interior defender at 82.7 and is No. 3 in run defense at 83.8. Shelton also showed a little versatility as he dropped into coverage for the first time this season. He continues to lead the league in run stops (23) and run stop percentage (15.8) and is bucking the recent woes of first round busts.

  • Two Browns defensive backs who were praised last week included CB Jamar Taylor and SS Ibraheim Campbell. Taylor now ranks 15th in the NFL and “has not been the culprit for any of the Browns’ coverage issues in recent weeks.” He’s been solid aside from those “chances” he took against Baltimore in Miami in back-to-back weeks. As for Campbell, his praise was exclusively against the run: “[Cambell] ranks 5th in the NFL in run defense as he shows an impressive knack for filling gaps and hitting his run fits.” They also say that Campbell has missed just 1 tackle this season, while fellow rookie S Derrick Kindred has missed 6 tackles.
  • Before last week’s Titans game, we noted how well both of their offensive tackles were playing, and they completely shut down the pass rush of DE Emmanuel Ogbah and DE Carl Nassib. Cincinnati doesn’t fare as well at right tackle, so maybe Nassib will have a few opportunities this week.
  • If he plays this week, PFF says the best one-on-one match-up in the Browns vs. Bengals game will be WR Terrelle Pryor (22nd ranked receiver) vs. CB Adam Jones (55th ranked cornerback).

In this matchup of two teams desperately in need of a win — maybe the Bengals more so at this point than the 0-6 Browns — Terrelle Pryor will try to fight through an injury to lead the Cleveland offense against Adam Jones and the Bengals defense.

Cameron Erving (36.7) was equally poor at both pass and run blocking on Sunday. He allowed a hit and three hurries, as well as a few other plays in which he was beaten. In the run game, he was unable to open pretty much any holes for Clevelands’ RBs, a group that gained just 37 yards on 14 carries.

While rookie Emmanuel Ogbah (38.1) did record a sack in this game, it was a late-pursuit sack. In fact, it was his only pressure in the passing game, and in the run game he fared no better. Ogbah failed to make a single run stop, and only had one other tackle.

  • PFF ranked all 32 teams’ receiving corps heading into Week 7. The Browns were ranked 25th, but it was noted that they’d be much higher with a healthy Corey Coleman and/or Josh Gordon in the mix again.

25. Cleveland Browns (preseason rank: 30)

Starters: WR Terrelle Pryor, WR Andrew Hawkins, WR Ricardo Louis, TE Gary Barnidge

This group would look much, much different with Corey Coleman healthy and Josh Gordon in the facilities. With that pair, in fact, the Browns’ receiving corps could easily be a top-five unit. But as it stands now, it’s basically the Terrelle Pryor show. Andrew Hawkins has never been able to recapture his 2014 magic, and is 89th in yards per route run, while tight end Gary Barnidge has slipped off a little from a season ago and already has three drops.

  • PFF ranked all 32 teams’ secondaries heading into Week 7. They ended up being ranked 20th, which might come off as a shock (too high). However, that value comes from how well the unit has played in run defense.

20. Cleveland Browns (preseason rank: 25)

Current nickel package: CB Joe Haden, CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun, SCB Jamar Taylor, S Jordan Poyer, S Ibraheim Campbell

The Browns’ secondary hasn’t been very good in coverage this season. Jamar Taylor is much-improved compared to his performance last year with the Dolphins, and Joe Haden has played well when on the field, but four of the five other players with significant playing time have earned below-average coverage grades. However, this group has been one of the best in run defense, which is even more important when playing with one of the worst linebacker units against the run.

2. What About Pierre Desir? With the Browns having issues in the secondary (Joe Haden’s groin injury and Jordan Poyer going on IR), is it possible the Browns end up trying to bring DB Pierre Desir back?

If you recall, Desir was one of the Browns’ cuts this offseason, even though I thought a solid final showing in the fourth preseason game might have saved his job. The team had tried to convert him to safety this offseason, but he was always stuck on the back end of the depth chart. He was a practice squad candidate, but the San Diego Chargers claimed him off waivers to stick him on their 53-man roster.

Desir was active for five games this season in San Diego, all as a backup. He combined for 3 tackles and 1 pass defended in that limited time. They just waived him on Saturday, though, meaning Cleveland could have him back on Monday if they desired to. Although the team is rolling with rookie Tracy Howard at the position and picked up a few other new defensive backs, it’ll be interesting to see if Desir gets brought back into the fold. We saw it happen with Cam Johnson at outside linebacker a few weeks ago, and now he’s practically a starter.

3. Falling Behind in the Jersey Sales: Let’s take a look at who the leading NFL player is in jersey sales per state. The first graphic takes data from the past two months, while the second one looks at data from the past six months:

In both cases, WR A.J. Green is the leader in Ohio and Kentucky. Previous, CB Joe Haden has been the highest-selling jersey among Cleveland fans, but with his struggles and inability to stay on the field, you can imagine why his brand has lost some buzz. If the Browns end up signing WR Terrelle Pryor to a long-term deal, I think he’d have the opportunity to overtake Green. Not only would he get the support of Browns fans, but the Buckeye pride might even bleed over a bit.

4. Quotes from the Browns’ Coordinators: Here are some quotes from the Browns’ coordinators this week:

Defensive Coordinator Ray Horton:

On DL Danny Shelton and if he is playing to Browns’ standard:

“Danny, I think I mentioned earlier, when we came in we asked him to make some changes to his game, his body and just him to be a better player. We think he can be a Pro Bowl, dominant player. I don’t want to put an undue burden on him, but that is what we feel, and we are pushing him to be that. He changed his body, and that is not easy. We understand. [I know] how hard it is for me to change my habits, and now, he has. He has shown flashes of being ‘wow’ dominant in there, and I think the changes we have asked him to make help that. I was just talking to the team today about him, the defensive team about we have asked guys to do some things and they are for a reason, and he has shown improvement in his play. I know other teams know that because they make comments to me about it. Is he coming along? Yes, I think he is maybe now starting to understand, ‘I can be pretty good at this level.’ I think you need validation from somewhere. You may know you are good, but you still need validation because if it is only in your own mind, what does that mean? He is taking steps and becoming a leader. He is a very smart player. He works hard. He has intensity. He has range. We just want to see him continue that and not just be a guy that is up and down like a roller coaster but really be one of the best players. If you can be a stud defensive nose in the AFC North, you can be a stud defensive nose in the NFL. That is what we are trying to push him to be.”

On Shelton consistently grading out well on a football analytics websites and if he has been consistent enough:

“There are ebbs and flows in games, and maybe it is the opponent that you are playing against that maybe gives you a blocking scheme or a double or maybe the guy – like a (Dolphins C, Mike, or Steelers C, Maurkice) Pouncey or something like that – but for us to get where we want, we have to be very consistent. That is what you want. You know there is going to be a game, a play or two that really swings the game, and what we are striving for is our better players to show the younger players that this is how you do it day in and day out in practice, and he does. He works hard, but I think with him and probably himself also, the expectation is more, and it is. We are going to drive him for more. Is he playing better? Is he playing well? Yes. Can he play better? I think the answer is yes, he can play better, and that is what we are pushing him to do is be more dominant, more consistent, and if he needs a break to come out, come on out and go back in. We always want more from all of our players, and obviously, our coaches, too, we want more. We push our coaches too to make sure no stone is left unturned, and that means watching every game and going back, watching film from last year even though Hue was there watching what (Bengals offensive coordinator) Ken Zampese may do.”

On if Shelton is taking steps to increase his range and be a ‘numbers to numbers’ type player:

“Yes, and more. If you watch film, he is downfield on screens, on alley screens and plays. He does it in practice, too. He is that kind of player. I remember at the University of Washington, he was that type player, also. It was something that was in him, and it is just something that we are demanding from him. He is starting to understand that he is going to be one of our leaders, and he is trying to be one of our leaders.”

On the biggest challenge for Howard moving from CB to S:

“The corner is a tougher position in my opinion because you are going against world class athletes. I often use the term (Cavaliers SF) LeBron (James) would probably be a tight end, he would be a dominant tight end in the league. For our guys, they are against more of the wide receiver, sleek (Bengals WR) A.J. Green types. It is hard to do that. It sounds simple, but it is not, at all. At the safety position, it is less one-on-one and more about protecting us deep and it is more about angles and really for me, it is a security position. You cannot miss tackles back there. You have to get the guy on the ground. Really, it is your eyes, it is trusting everything that we do preparation wise and just trusting the process that what we tell you will work. I think he can handle everything that the position entails, and he may play all three for us now this week, too. He has proven to be a valuable part of our team.”

On what he saw on film of Howard that showed he could play S:

“Probably a simple answer would be the fluidity in his hips. Probably that more than anything.”

Special Teams Coordinator Chris Tabor:

On who is emerging on special teams, especially among the younger Browns players:

“The younger guys, I think that we are getting better, slowly. We still have a long way to go. Don’t get me wrong, we are not satisfied with where we are, but the last few weeks, (LB Joe) Schobert has stepped up. You are starting to see him make some tackles. (LB) Dominique Alexander is playing well. (LB) Tank Carder, he is a guy that has obviously been here a long time and has played well for us. His play is increasing. There are a lot of guys that are starting on offense – (DB) Ibraheim Campbell, (DB) Derrick Kindred – there were plays two weeks ago you saw Derrick Kindred take the next step. He is blocking (Patriots WR) Matthew Slater, the six-time Pro Bowler, on kick return. It might have been a touchback, but Derrick Kindred wins the battle, the one-on-one battle and you see the player growth right there and say, ‘OK, that is what you put on tape. That is who you are. Now, we want more.’ I’m starting to see some guys develop, but with anything, we have to get better. The only way we are going to get better is to just keep working on our fundamentals.”

On if the Browns were close to recovering the second onside kick attempt at Tennessee:

“We did. I thought we snuck through. (WR Rashard) Higgins ended up hitting the guy, and the ball went out of bounds. Sometimes, when you hit onside kicks and you see it a lot on tape, when you go wide, obviously, you bring ole ‘Sammy the Sideline’ into play, and that is what happened. Had the ball obviously been in the middle, the ball is loose again. It is a free for all.”

Associate Head Coach Pep Hamilton:

On why the Browns run game has struggled the past two weeks:

“It is just like anything else. When our opponents go back and scout our tape, they pretty much make it a point of emphasis to try and stop something that we have done in the prior games and so they really loaded up the box the past couple weeks to take away the run, but that is no excuse for us not to be able to run the football. We have to do a better job that way. We have to do a better job of finding ways to get both Crow (RB Isaiah Crowell) and (RB) Duke (Johnson Jr.) into the secondary of the defense and run the ball the way that we expect to run the ball.”

On if teams are loading the box in part because Kessler is a rookie QB and opponents want him to prove that he can beat them with his arm:

“I think that could potentially be a part of it, but when you look back at the success that we had running the football early in the season, I think that played a big part of it, also.”

On WR Jordan Payton and his development:

“He needs to play. When given the opportunity to play, it is good to see that it was not too big for him in a critical situation that he was close to making a big play for us in the passing game. When the opportunity for him to play presents itself, hopefully, he will be ready to go out there and compete and play.”

On WR Ricardo Louis and if he has gotten over his drops from previous weeks:

“He bounced back. He has worked hard this week to make sure that we don’t have those drops in critical situations, not to say that that was not a point of emphasis for all our receivers throughout the course of this season. We have to make the plays when the plays present themselves, but he is working hard at it. He is a young guy that the more he plays, the more confidence that he is going to develop and that he has developed up until this point to be able to go out there and know that he is a playmaker in this league and he can be a playmaker in this league.”

On WR Rashard Higgins and what makes the coaching staff confident he can play well if needed this week:

“The way that he has practiced. He is a heady football player. Even so, we say this quite a bit, until you do it in games, it is hard to say where a guy is until we can see him go out and compete against the likes of a (Bengals DB Adam) Pacman Jones, who is a really good football player and (Bengals DB Dre) Kirkpatrick. They have some good guys, some really good players in their secondary so he will be faced with the challenge of having to make plays and make some tough catches in tough spaces at critical times against some proven veterans if he is given that opportunity to go out there and play.”

5. Predicting the Browns’ Week 7 Inactives: I predict the following players will be inactive for today’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals:

Projected Inactives: QB Josh McCown, FB Dan Vitale, WR Corey Coleman, TE Seth DeValve, OG Jonathan Cooper, CB Joe Haden, and CB Marcus Burley.

This week, four players are officially ruled out: McCown, Coleman, DeValve, and Burley. Haden is doubtful, so he’s likely out too. I think WR Terrelle Pryor will give-it-a-go, just at a reduced workload. My other two inactives are Vitale and Cooper. With TE Randall Telfer coming back and Vitale not seeing action last week, I think the team is just seeing what they have in him during practices. Cooper was active for just four special teams snaps last week, and with the team waiving DL Gabe Wright again, I think DL Xavier Cooper will be active for some snaps again.

Game Thread

Our game thread on Dawgs By Nature will go live at 11:30 AM ET on Sunday, which is an hour and a half before kickoff.