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Browns vs. Bills - The Sunday Five

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NFL: New York Jets at Cleveland Browns Scott R. Galvin-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. Bills game in Buffalo.

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.

Is this the Browns’ last real chance to grab that elusive first win? If so, defensive tackle Danny Shelton will need to win often against LG Richie Incognito in order to limit the Bills’ run game. Shelton owns the seventh-highest run-defense grade among interior defenders entering Week 15, as well as the sixth-highest run-stop percentage among defensive tackles.

  • PFF gave some props to LT Joe Thomas last week, but says that he’ll need to watch out for surprising sack artist Lorenzo Alexander this week:

Last week was the first time all season where Browns LT Joe Thomas didn’t allow a single pressure. This season, Thomas has already allowed 27 pressures, which is the third-most for him in his career; if he allows two against the Bills, that will be up to second most. Despite a slight decline in his play both against the run and the pass, he still owns a PFF grade of 88.3, tied for fourth-best among tackles. This week, he will see a lot of Lorenzo Alexander. Alexander hasn’t been recording a sack per game like he was in the first half of the season, but has continued to get a few pressures per game against quarterbacks. Thomas will do his best to stall Alexander’s strong season strong by adding another shutout.

  • In making his first start last week, RG Jonathan Cooper was the highest-rated guard in the NFL:

Right guard: Jonathan Cooper, Cleveland Browns, 84.8

Former first-round pick and reclamation project Jonathan Cooper had an excellent game for Cleveland in his first start for the team. Cooper didn’t allow a single pressure against the Bengals in 34 snaps, nor was he flagged during the game; he also run blocked well, and at least on that evidence, could be a key find for the team.

  • The only player PFF would send to the Pro Bowl from Cleveland is LT Joe Thomas.
  • Browns rookie CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun is getting some recognition:

Rookie CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun continues his strong first season as he allowed just 1 catch for 8 yards on just 2 targets. Boddy-Calhoun has allowed just 1 catch every 11.6 cover snaps, a mark that ranks 4th of all rookies but it's his play the last 4 games that have been impressive: he grades as the 4th best CB in the NFL in the span allowing a catch % of 44.4 with 1 INT and 4 PDs.

2. Some Notes from ESPN: This week, ESPN Insider had a few nuggets about the Browns. Let’s take a quick look at them:

Haden went to the Pro Bowl in 2013 and 2014 and was considered one of the best cornerbacks in the league. He and Joe Thomas were two of the players the Browns' new analytics-minded front office didn't move. But injuries have pulled Haden's game down and prevented him from living up to his five-year, $67.5 million contract. He has missed 14 games in the past two seasons. Pro Football Focus ranks him as the No. 90 cornerback in the league this season.

What a season it has been for the former quarterback, who has excelled in a full-time wide receiver role and set himself up for a major payday. Given Pryor's unique career arc, this is his first and best shot to cash in significantly. He's 27 years old and will likely surpass 1,000 receiving yards. While there are a lot of nuances to his game, a starting point is this: He looks like a natural-born receiver on the field. He's an outstanding athlete who can pluck the football in competitive catch situations and is very good after the catch. The Browns have endless cap space and may be inclined to use the franchise tag on linebacker Jamie Collins. Pryor should cash in.

With 14 draft picks, no team took a bigger dredge to the draft than the Browns in April. With so little talent on the roster, the team has had to play a lot of rookies, but ironically the best-performing rookie of the bunch wasn't one of Cleveland's 14 draft choices. That distinction belongs to cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun, who has been particularly impressive in the running game. Injuries have hampered WR Corey Coleman, but he teased hints of what he could do by tying Giants CB Janoris Jenkins in knots for a touchdown two weeks ago. And while QB Cody Kessler played well when on the field, injuries have undermined his season.

3. Catching Up on Transactions: If you hadn’t noticed, I posted a bunch of stuff on Saturday — I was very busy during the week with work and holiday shopping, so I fell behind a bit. Here are a couple of key transactions that were missed:

  • OG Alvin Bailey was suspended two games by the NFL for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
  • With that open roster spot, the team promoted WR Mario Alford from the practice squad.

Alford’s promotion leads me to believe he’ll be active. At 5’8”, 177 pounds, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Browns throw him at kick returner or punt returner right away to try to get a spark on special teams.

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

Defensive Coordinator Ray Horton:

On DB Tramon Williams Sr. playing his first game at S:

“That is not unusual for us to play corners at safety. I like guys that are versatile like that. It gave us, for him, positon flexibility, and it gave us a faster, fleeter guy and a guy with experience. Obviously, on third down especially and you think it is going to be a pass, it just gives us another guy who has played NFL who is used to seeing the ball and catching the ball. He played well, which it did not surprise me. He is very smart, and he has been in the league for a long time. Probably a little comfort back there and the communication. He knows what is going on, and it is fun to see him back there and play some.”

On DB Jamar Taylor’s contract extension:

“He has played really well for us. He is experienced. It is very important – football is very important to him. When he was at Miami, I did not know what kind of person, what kind of teammate he was. In the classroom, he is here early and he is here late. He helps the young guys. It is very important. He is calming. He is a solidifying force back there. He can play multiple positions. He also could play free safety if we needed him to in a pinch. He did that himself. He earned the right to get another contract and continue to play because he has played well for us.”

On DB Briean Boddy-Calhoun being around the ball and his development this season:

“For a young kid that I really did not know a lot about, the game is very important to him. I don’t know how he talks to you guys, but he studies a lot. He wants to be good. At this level, when you watch a lot of NFL football – I have said this numerous times about the rules of the game, how they are structured for TV, I believe – is they want passing and they want scoring. To get that, there is a premium on if you are a defensive back that the ball is going to come to you and you have to be able to make a play. You also have to understand – I think I saw last night, just watching TV where they talked about (Rams DL) Aaron Donald, the amount that he affected the quarterback or something. He was either No. 1 or 2 with (Texans DL) JJ Watt. One was I think at 17 percent and one was at 15 percent. You only affect the quarterback 15 percent of the time and you are No. 2 in the league? It is hard. The ball is gone. The rules, I have talked about the lax of how they protect, whether it is hands inside, hands outside, don’t pull him down or do pull him down. The rules have changed, and you can see statistically that interceptions are down, sacks are down and affecting the quarterback is down. You have to change a little bit of your vision that you are not going to get 22.5 sacks in a year. You are just not so how we evaluate and grade and say, ‘Well, this guy is not producing.’ You have to look around the league and go, ‘Well, I think he is probably, meaning if we are good, he is probably on par with the rest of the league.’ You just are not going to get 20. (Pro Football Hall of Fame DL) Michael Strahan is probably safe for a long time.”

Special Teams Coordinator Chris Tabor:

On the Browns’ stability in the kicking game and being pleased with how specialists have stepped into those roles:

“I am pleased with how they are performing and getting better. We still have a few games left. As we talked about a couple of weeks ago, the weather is changing. For (K) Cody (Parkey) for example, he did a nice job of hitting his field goal and then the extra field goal (PAT) last week, but the thing that really struck me that probably nobody saw in the stadium was his pregame warmup. That was probably the best pregame warmup that he has had, and those were tough conditions. I was almost wondering if he even knew the wind was blowing out there or not. I was really pleased with that, and hopefully, we can continue that. This will be another challenge because this is not an easy place to kick, either.”

On the Browns punt return unit and using DB Joe Haden:

“Right now, obviously, first and foremost, you would probably say that you have to have the ball in your hand at the end of the play. I know that sounds really elementary, but New England has muffed seven of them. You are trying to avoid those kinds of things. The other thing is we have to set field position, and we are always looking for the first first-down and being able to establish 10 yards or more. Everything after that is gravy. We haven’t done a good job there at all. Sometimes it is opportunities, too. I think that we had (Bengals P Kevin) Huber hit a 72-yard touchback. That was a returnable situation, but it went 72 yards into the end zone so you kind of throw that opportunity out the window. If they are at midfield, closer and we stop them and they are out of field-goal range, they are into the pooch area and it is probably going to be a fair catch or you are going to hopefully steal a touchback there. It is no secret we haven’t hit any big ones at all. The ones that we have, we have had penalties, which goes back to doing a better job of coaching. The self-scout showed that the ‘would have, should have, could haves; a bowl of nuts, oh what a party we would have.’ When you eliminate those penalties and say what would the yardage be with the limited returns we had, I think we were at 9.6, which at that time was fifth or sixth – it was a top-10 number. What it tells you is we have to do a better job coaching to eliminate penalties. Schematically, we have to keep staying with who we are and what we want to be but at the same time playing to our players’ traits and what they can do. We have three more games to get this thing rectified. Has it been frustrating? Yes because we have taken great pride here at the Cleveland Browns of being a good return team. I think we have been No. 1 in the league since being here, and obviously now, we are almost 33rd in a 32-man league. We are working at getting better, plan on getting better and we won’t stop.”

Associate Head Coach Pep Hamilton:

On if one week of practice can help chemistry between Griffin and WR Terrelle Pryor Sr., who was only targeted three times on Sunday:

“Absolutely. We had a really good week of practice. RG and Terrelle and RG and (WR) Corey (Coleman), (WR) Andrew Hawkins, RG and (TE) Gary Barnidge, he had a chance once again to get another good week of practice and reps with those guys. Hopefully, we will improve our overall continuity and we can be more efficient and effective as an offense unit this Sunday.”

On what clicked for the running game to have success last week:

“It was a situation where we showed them some looks that gave us the opportunity to take some guys out of the box. We had a good mix of runs and passes going at that point in the game, and it was good to see Crow (RB Isaiah Crowell) get in the secondary, and it was good to see us break a couple runs.”

On WR Terrelle Pryor Sr. and his visible emotion in games:

“Be specific.”

On if Pryor is a person is displaying that he is so passionate about winning or if it can be disruptive:

“Terrelle is very competitive. That is the case with most of the players in the National Football League. Our team and our offensive unit, we need guys to get fired up and be more excited about having an opportunity to play a kid’s game for a living and having a chance to go out and compete every Sunday for four quarters and to want to win their matchup and/or want the ball on every play. We see that as a good thing as long as it doesn’t take away from our guys being able to make good, sound decisions and continue to use their fundamentals and technique.”

On OL Jonathan Cooper’s performance:

“Cooper played good football, but I am sure that he will be the first to tell you that there are some plays that he would like to have had back. Throughout practice this week, he is no different than some other guys that we talked about with regards to having more time in practice and then getting themselves better prepared to go out and play in the game. He is another guy who hasn’t played football in a real live game in quite some time. Having the opportunity to get back on the field, it will help him to re-acclimate himself, as well.”

On if Cooper has shown the ability as to why he was such a high draft pick:

“Yes, I can. He is a tough, smart player that has the ability to win his one-on-one matchups, but we will see.”

On if RB Isaiah Crowell has ever approached him or Head Coach Hue Jackson and complained that he is not receiving enough carries:

“No.”

On if Crowell would want more carries:

“Yeah, all our guys want more carries and they want more targets, and the quarterbacks want more opportunities to throw touchdowns.”

On if there is frustration the Browns haven’t been able to get TE Gary Barnidge more involved in the offense, given his Pro Bowl season last year:

“No, each week, we as coaches identify guy that we want to get the ball to. Gary is right there near the top of that list but because he is coming off of a Pro Bowl, a lot of teams decide that they want to focus their attention on taking Gary away. Each week, we have a lot of different ways in mind to try to get him the football. We just have to do a better job of getting him the ball on gameday.”

5. Predicting the Browns’ Week 15 Inactives: I predict the following players will be inactive for today’s game against the Buffalo Bills:

Projected Inactives: QB Josh McCown, QB Kevin Hogan, RB Darius Jackson, WR Ricardo Louis, OL Shon Coleman, DE Tyrone Holmes, and DB Trae Elston.

If WR Mario Alford is returning kicks, and eligible to be a wide receiver, then I think Louis could be down this week. The rest of the inactives are the same as a week ago.

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.