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. Giants game in Cleveland.
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.
- The top one-on-one matchup to watch this week is LT Joe Thomas (No. 3 ranked tackle) vs. DE Olivier Vernon (No. 13 ranked defensive end):
The ever-consistent Joe Thomas will attempt to keep Josh McCown upright on Sunday against an improving New York defensive line, often facing big-money free-agent pickup Olivier Vernon. Through Week 11, Vernon is the 13th-highest-graded edge defender, owning 48 total QB pressures (third-most among 4-3 DEs).
- PFF ranked the top 25 cornerbacks this season, but nobody on the Browns appears on the list.
- In trying to highlight something nice about one rookie on each team this week, PFF decided to focus on safety Derrick Kindred, who got the start last week:
Browns S Derrick Kindred has three passes breakups, the most for any rookie safety. Kindred is one of several Browns rookies to find a role in the Cleveland defense. Last week, he played all but one snap, and had his best game of the season. He didn’t allow a catch, and recorded two pass breakups. This week he faces a Giants team that, despite winning, has featured a less-than-stellar passing attack. Kindred and other members of the Browns’ defense will need to step up in order to shut them down.
- The lowest-graded quarterback in the NFL last week was QB Josh McCown and the second lowest-graded cornerback was CB Joe Haden.
Quarterback: Josh McCown, Cleveland Browns, 32.7 - After taking over for the injured Cody Kessler, quarterback Josh McCown couldn’t get anything going for the hapless Browns offense, as he struggled with even the simplest of throws. When the Steelers didn’t blitz McCown, he completed just 9-of-20 passes for a mere 54 yards. That’s just 2.7 yards per attempt, by far the lowest mark of the week. The Pittsburgh secondary dared him to beat them with his arm, and he failed to take any kind of advantage.
Cornerback: Joe Haden, Cleveland Browns, 31.5 - After a solid start to the season, Joe Haden has begun to struggle again, and finally those struggles were enough to land him on this list. He surrendered eight catches on 10 targets for 68 yards, including a bunch of big first downs.
2. Players Should Stop With Proclamations: We’ve heard it from Terrelle Pryor, Christian Kirksey, and Hue Jackson. Now, we’re hearing it from Joe Haden — that the Browns won’t go winless.
#Browns Joe Haden; "We have five weeks left and we’re not going winless''— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) November 25, 2016
It’s one thing for fans to talk about it, but the players should be more educated on proper PR statements. At this point, the Browns look like a team that will go winless, so making a proclamation to the contrary just seems laughable. What basis does Haden have for saying that?
Is the ghost of Dwayne Bowe still in Berea? (If you recall, last year he said that Josh McCown was a Top-5 QB and that Taylor Gabriel was a No. 1 receiver). The correct way to approach it, in my opinion, is to say something like, “My teammates and I are working and improving to make sure we can get that first win here soon.” Fortunately, we have the Cavaliers’ success to fall back on as fans.
3. A Vision at the QB Position? One of the big questions this offseason will surround the Browns and the quarterback position. Many fans are already drawing heart symbols when it comes to Mitch Trubisky, but another option is for the team to acquire Jimmy Garoppolo via a trade. Albert Breer of the MMQB discussed that possibility and how it could compare to the Raiders’ situation:
Keep an eye on the Browns and Saints. Cleveland could deal away the pick they got from Philadelphia, and hang on to what could be the first overall pick. And then, Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett and Garoppolo could, in theory, be Cleveland’s version of the Oakland draft that netted Khalil Mack and Derek Carr.
Could the Browns set themselves up with this: take Garrett first, and hope Trubisky falls in their lap with the Eagles’ first-round pick? If something goes wrong and another team drafts Trubisky, then deal out of the pick for Garoppolo.
4. Quotes from the Browns’ Coordinators: Here are some quotes from the Browns’ coordinators this week:
Defensive Coordinator Ray Horton:
On evaluating DB Joe Haden’s season, given he has missed games with injury and also played hurt:
“He missed  games last year, and then he did not practice, I believe, until the third preseason game maybe. He has always for the most part been on the team’s top receiver. Would you say that he is 100 percent healthy? Probably not but nobody is. I think he is having for him, he would probably say an average year. He would probably expect a little bit more from him. I think the league leader in picks has five – it may be the kid from Kansas City (CB) Marcus Peters (is tied for NFL league with two other players) – Joe has three. I would say for him average just because we expect so much more out of him. I am sure he does, too. He knows he can play at a very high level. He has done it – the accolades and the respect that people have for him. Obviously, when you go against the (Steelers WR) Antonio Browns, the (Giants WR) Odell Beckham Jr.’s, the (Bengals WR) A.J. Greens and all of the guys that he has been against, they are going to catch some of theirs just because of the way the league is, but we and he expects a lot more out of him, meaning he expects himself to be one of the top players in the league.”
On DBs Derrick Kindred and Ed Reynolds II playing significant snaps at S last week after rotating in previous weeks:
“What we are trying to find obviously is consistency of play back there. It gave us a little bit. Derrick probably had his best game tackling, command of the huddle and command of the defense and how they are setting and how they are run. Last week, I said something about breathe and just breathe. For him, I hope he took a deep breath and understands that ‘I can play in this league’ but there are a lot of things that are demanded mentally and physically to play the position and the responsibility that position holds because he is the deepest guy or one of them. For him, obviously, it is can you do it two weeks in a row? Can you do it three weeks in a row? Now, can you be a pro. For Ed, the same thing, just command of the defense and understanding the awesome responsibility of being the last guy in the line of defense. If you respect that authority and that responsibility and you can do it, you probably help us look a little better because you don’t get big plays.”
On viewing the Steelers early long drives only resulting in FGs as a positive and negative:
“Yeah, for us, there are a lot of statistics and whatever you want to say. The bottom line is for us as a defense, our job is to keep the game close and help our offense win. That is what we want. Games go so weird. Points, sometimes you win 37-35. Sometimes you win 17-16. The bottom line is keep your team with a chance to win in the fourth quarter, and for the most, part we did that. Really as a team concept, that is what you want. You want somewhere to have a chance to win the game and off you go. The long drives, I think if you said ‘Can you hold (Steelers QB) Ben (Roethlisberger) to no touchdown passes – and I think (Steelers WR) Antonio (Brown), it was a run that they got in – you would think you would have a pretty good chance to win the game that way, and you do not always want one thing skewed too far left or right but each week is different. If we can do the same thing this week to help our team get a chance to win in the fourth quarter, I would sign up for that right now.”
Special Teams Coordinator Chris Tabor:
On if there is frustration the Browns kickoff return unit hasn’t produced a big return:
“I am. I am frustrated to be honest with you because we have always hung our hat on being a return team. We are still going to do that. The guys are working hard. I am still seeing signs. We haven’t had a lot of opportunities. The balls are going out of the end zone. (Steelers K Chris) Boswell, I think those were really mishits on those squibs and that disrupts some things. Those kicks, you are hoping to get passed the 20, and we did a decent job there. Just with regards to coming out and pressing the coverage, we haven’t had a lot of opportunities there. Hopefully, we will these last few games as the weather changes.”
On the number of missed PATs last week:
“Twelve of them. Just all across the country, the wind, she was blowing. I said it that if you were worried about your hair, you shouldn’t come to the game. I think that was probably at a lot of the stadiums. I think was kind of a culmination of that. I’ll be honest with you, everyone says ‘extra point’ and kind of, ‘Oh, they missed an extra point.’ It is not an extra point. It is an extra field goal. If a guy misses a 33-yard field goal, you say, ‘Well, he missed a 33-yard field goal.’ When he misses an extra point, everyone goes, ‘Whoa! An extra point?’ No, an extra field goal. It was kind of a freak day really.”
Associate Head Coach Pep Hamilton:
On if switching QBs impacts the offense’s timing and chemistry:
“Yeah, timing, chemistry, just the rhythm of our offense. It is imperative that the quarterback can trust that guys are going to be at certain spots, as well as when you get enough reps together, you tend to learn the body language of your wide outs with regards to when they are running routes, when they are about to make a break and so on and so forth. Those things matter. It matters. It matters for our offense line to hear a quarterback’s voice and the command of his voice at the line of scrimmage when we play situational football. The continuity, the ability to troubleshoot certain issues together, the more guys play together, the more effective we should be at doing those things.”
On his level of confidence with the Browns’ pass protection after the Steelers game:
“We have worked hard to address some of those issues. I think you have to look at it this way: it is not just our pass protection. We have to be able to run the football. We have to be able to run the football. We have to be able to throw some body punches early in the game, wear those guys down and make it tough on them to just pin their ears back and rush our quarterback. It has a compounding effect when you can run the football early in games, especially on first and second down. I shouldn’t just say first and second down in the first and second quarter. You invest in those body punches. They play tremendous dividends in the second half. We have to be able run the football. That will take some pressure off our pass protection, as well as we have to more effect on the first and second down in the general sense. We have to be a lot more effective executing our offense on early downs so that we can stay out of third-and-long situations.”
On why the running game has not been as effective in the last few weeks:
“We have to do a better job. It starts with myself. We have to do a better job of making sure that we find creative ways to get Crow (RB Isaiah Crowell) the ball and to get (RB) Duke (Johnson Jr) the ball. We expect that teams are going to come in at times and just really focus their attention on stopping us from running the football, but that is still no excuse for us to just not be able to run the football. We have to do a better job that way.”
On if Crowell is hitting the running lanes:
“Oh, he is hitting holes hard. Crow is an explosive playmaker at the running back position, and we all know that he can create his own yards. He has had probably the longest two runs in the National Football League, the longest rushes from scrimmage this season in the National Football League. We know that he can make the big plays. We just have to do a better job of finding ways to get him into the secondary.”
On development of Browns rookie WRs, outside of WR Corey Coleman:
“They have gotten better at practice. They just have not had a ton of opportunities in games to go out and make plays for us. Unfortunately, we have not run a ton of plays in the last four or five games. I think we are only averaging low-to-mid-50s as far as the number of plays in games. We have not had many opportunities in games to get those guys involved, but they are working hard. (Senior offensive assistant) Coach Al (Saunders) and (offensive quality control) Coach Bob Saunders, they are doing a great job of working with those guys. We have seen those guys make progress over the week of practice.”
5. Predicting the Browns’ Week 12 Inactives: I predict the following players will be inactive for today’s game against the New York Giants:
Projected Inactives: QB Cody Kessler, QB Joe Callahan, WR Jordan Payton, OL Jonathan Cooper, OL Gabe Ikard, OLB Corey Lemonier, and S Ed Reynolds.
I was perfect with my inactive predictions last week. I’m keeping five of my picks the same (Callahan, Payton, Cooper, Ikard, and Lemonier). The two players I have active this week are QB Kevin Hogan and CB Tramon Williams. Hogan is an easy one, because Kessler is out with a concussion. The big question mark is with Reynolds, who has started the past two games at safety and done well. Williams was a limited participant in practice this week.
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.