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10 things to watch in the Browns’ Week 6 match-up and the NFL

We look at trying to hurt the Texans in multiple ways, Kevin Hogan’s production against the blitz, where PFF ranks the Browns’ offensive line, and more.

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NFL: New York Giants at Cleveland Browns Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Week 6 of the NFL! This weekly column includes a lot of loose ends leading up to Sunday’s game.

Pokorny’s 10 Things to Watch in Week 6 - Browns and the NFL

1. Killing Two Birds With One Stone: It seems like we go through this every year: the Browns have a chance to improve team morale and draft capital by beating their opponent. Last year, it was when they faced the Eagles, and that didn’t work out for Cleveland. This year, it involves the Houston Texans.

The fact that Houston (2-3) lost both J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus for the season hurts their defense tremendously. It sucks as a football fan, but it should lead to more losses, which benefits Cleveland since they own their first and second round draft picks in 2018. Beating Houston contributes to improving draft assets next year, and would give Hue Jackson and that locker room a much-needed morale boost that could lead to a streak.

It’s true that winning hurts the draft assets that originated from Cleveland. However, the team is at a point now where the priority is establishing a winning culture. If they can accomplish both — winning and improving their picks via Houston — then that makes this a very important game.

2. Beating the Blitz: Pro Football Focus pointed out how Kevin Hogan and Deshaun Watson thrived against the blitz last week.

If you recall, DeShone Kizer was one of the league’s worst quarterbacks against the blitz. Per PFF, the only quarterbacks this season with higher passer ratings against the blitz than Hogan are Alex Smith and Drew Brees. Hogan’s QB rating vs. the blitz is 131.7. Houston blitzes 41.6% of the time, which is second in the NFL to presumably the Browns.

3. Key Match-Up to Continue Strong Run Defense: One specific match-up that PFF loves this week is DL Larry Ogunjobi going up against OG Xavier Su'a-Filo. Su’a-Filo is the 64th-ranked guard in the NFL, and ranks 52nd among guards against the run. Even though Ogunjobi is just a rotational player, he ranks 3rd in the NFL in run stop percentage.

The Browns are allowing 76.6 rushing yards per game and just 2.88 yards per carry on the season. That is awe-inspiring when you consider the team allowed 142.7 rushing yards per game for an average of 4.58 yards per carry in 2016.

4. Some Film Work on Kevin Hogan: I haven’t had time to break down Kevin Hogan’s film yet each week because more attention was focused on DeShone Kizer. But Hogan certainly passed the eye test. Now, let’s look at a couple nice examples of Hogan’s skills, thanks to Jordan Zirm on Twitter.

  • This shows the anticipation that Hogan has, hitting WR Kasen Williams on the right just as he comes out of his break. He’s not only putting the ball in the right spot, but he’s showing trust that his receivers will do their jobs.
  • Here is the touchdown pass to TE David Njoku. Off of playaction, Hogan places the ball very well over the linebacker where only Njoku can make the catch. The fact that it was a one-handed grab is not an indictment against Hogan. In fact, I think receivers appreciate that ball placement because he forces them to focus on making a grab where they aren’t concerned about the defense.

5. Some Film Work on the Texans: Let’s take a look at some of the things Cleveland could take advantage of against Houston.

  • Last week, Myles Garrett’s first snap was at the three-technique, and he got a free sack. If his ankle is better, we know he possesses great power than can be an advantage inside too where he’s not being chipped by tight ends. Here is a look at where Watson could sail a throw if pressure gets in his face and he doesn’t scramble.

There are also times when he can vacate the pocket like a rookie QB, but not nearly as bad as DeShone Kizer was doing.

  • This is where Watson can be scary to me: using his legs. It’s true the Browns didn’t have Myles Garrett or Jamie Collins against the Colts when Jacoby Brissett burned them, but here is a triple option: Watson fakes the handoff inside, the motion man is an option, and Watson keeps it inside for a gain.
  • Here is another play that takes advantage of Watson’s mobility. He fakes the slant to WR DeAndre Hopkins, only to roll the pocket right and hit WR Will Fuller.
  • Another tough aspect about the Texans? Watson’s escapability in the pocket, followed by him pushing the ball downfield. Like I said in our gameday preview, this is where someone like Jabrill Peppers could actually be in position for some deep plays on the ball for once.

6. PFF Ranks Browns’ OL 7th in NFL: After five weeks, PFF graded all the offensive lines in the NFL, and Cleveland came in seventh place. Not bad. I believe their pass blocking efficiency has improved quickly, but that they’re still experiencing some inconsistency in run blocking. Here is what they said about the Browns:

People had high expectations for the Browns offensive line coming into the season due to the additions of guard Kevin Zeitler and center JC Tretter. However, it’s incumbent starters LT Joe Thomas and LG Joel Bitonio who have been playing the best football on team. Thomas picked up where he finished last season and currently has a grade of 88.9, which is the highest among all offensive tackles as he has not allowed a single sack this season. Nevertheless, Cleveland will be looking to improve in the running game as currently they are allowing just 1.10 yards before contact on runs, which is the ninth-fewest in the NFL.

7. Talking About Myles Garrett and Safeties: Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was asked about Garrett’s first sack last week. Here’s what he said:

“That was something we had hoped we could get, and they just cooperated. They had shown that in that situation before. Sometimes from a self-scouting mechanism on their part, they don’t repeat something. It wasn’t the same pass concept, but the protection concept was same as. It just kind of fell into what we wanted to have done. Make no bones about it, though, that protection was built to handle what we did, but Myles’ quickness shocked that left guard. He saw him setting out there wide so he was doing everything he could to go, and Myles tricked him. We had a trick thing where Myles crossed his face and went back inside. He went back inside so fast that the guy had no chance.”

Williams acknowledged that Garrett’s sore ankle hindered his ability to change direction in his debut, but expects his playing time to increase each week.

“Yes, we can, and each week it will get better. We have seen that. He has seen that. It is not real hard because you can just see how he moves around in the practices. You can see the health. Also, he is a smart enough guy that he doesn’t fib or exaggerate when he is talking to the doctors and the trainers, and we all see it. It will just be a process, and we don’t want setbacks. There is no magic number. He would have played more last week if it hadn’t had been difficult for him to change direction. It just got sore, but he would have played more. I like the fact that he brought that up and he wasn’t trying to get out of anything. It was more us seeing it than him seeing it because he was just pushing himself through it.”

Williams also talked about the safety position, including Jabrill Peppers’ role and how Briean Boddy-Calhoun has some packages at the position.

On DB Jabrill Peppers playing closer to the line of scrimmage last week in situations:

“We had kind of shown some things the week before where he was in a move-around and in coverage and kind of tried to picture those same things up with him and now let him cut it loose. The other thing is we have more time-on-task with some of the other guys back there, and we have had more time-on-task with some of the other guys getting healthier and ready to go. Just like that, though – you have to smile and I love to see the excitement that he plays with – he has to work on changing direction in the pocket. He had a chance where he just ran by the quarterback one time because boom, it had been a while since he had been in the pocket. Now, he had been in the pocket in practice, but in the ball game, it is just one fraction of a little bit more speed and instincts that go into that. He will do that each and every week. We will put certain things in for his skillset just like we do all of them. We do that with all of them, though. It is not just him. It was just good timing for him because of some of the other things we had shown that blended in with the picture in the quarterback’s mind.”

On if DB Briean Boddy-Calhoun is playing at S some due to his skillset:

“Yes, it is a skillset thing. We do like him back there. Boddy is one of the guys like Burgess that plays multiple positions. Boddy can play outside, he can play inside in the nickel and he can also play in the safety position. We have a package that is called a certain package where depending upon what the offense comes out in and depending upon what type of call I make, he can be in one of two positions. He could either be back there playing that or he could be in the box playing the regular nickel position. That is his versatility, and he is smart. I tease him all the time as I’m sure he will have to dumb down and go into coaching one of these days because as players we always know they know more than the coaches so I tease him all the time about that, but he does want to coach one of these days. He is a smart kid. He is a very sharp kid. I can see him continuing to grow in the things we want done.”

8. Kirby Wilson Talks Running Plays, FB Usage: The Browns tried to run it on 4th-and-2 last week, despite Hue Jackson’s odd insistence that is was actually 4th-and-1. Run game coordinator Kirby Wilson said multiple players thought they could’ve done better, but that they liked the play call.

On the fourth-and-2 run last week that was stopped short: “We thought we had a good call dialed up, and it was something that we use regularly. At the end of the day, we didn’t get enough push and we didn’t get enough movement. We couldn’t make the necessary yardage we needed. It was very disappointing. Every time you have a play like that when you don’t succeed, you learn a little bit from it in terms of why didn’t this work? You go back and you look in your own mirror and you decide, ‘Hey, what can I do better next time to make sure we have success on this play?’ We are going to run it again at some point. That is kind of what everyone did. Everyone kind of decided, what can I do better? I promise, you every man probably felt like they could do something better for the success of it.”

As for the early botched pitch between DeShone Kizer and Isaiah Crowell, it seemed like Wilson gave a slight dig at Kizer for initially pointing the blame at Crowell. Wilson took a more diplomatic approach, but added that the coaches were all excited when they saw the audible because they thought it was going for six.

On if both Kizer and Crowell were responsible for the fumble on the red zone option play last week: “We like sharing the blame. We all want to make sure we aim our thumb and not point our finger. I think both players will admit that they had some responsibility in that happening. It shouldn’t happen because we practiced that multiple, multiple times last week, and in the heat of the battle, we didn’t execute it well enough for success.”

On Kizer calling an audible to the option play and if it is a good play for that area of the field: “At that particular time, it was an outstanding check because it was something we knew about them that there was a weakness there that we could exploit at that particular situation. When we saw him giving the signals that he was checking to it, the entire sideline lit up because we knew it was probably going to be a touchdown and he would probably go in there untouched. Like I said earlier, it is unfortunate. We didn’t execute it well enough, and the results are the results.”

Lastly, Wilson was asked about FB Danny Vitale getting more reps, and Wilson indicated that we might actually see that if Cleveland can sustain a lead in the fourth quarter.

On determining how much FB Danny Vitale plays and in what situations: “It has already been built in the gameplan during the week and how we prepare and what we study. Anytime you get into the flow of the game in terms of, what is the score? What is the situation? Where we are at that point? It can be added if we are up, for example, in the fourth quarter, maybe he will get 7-10 more snaps or it could decrease if we are behind and he can lose five-seven snaps. It has been rehearsed all week in terms of what we think he will get and then the actions of the game will determine the final results.”

9. NFL Week 6 Picks: Last week, I went 6-8, making my record 46-33 on the year (1-4 in Browns games). Here are my Week 6 picks, along with a few notes.

  • I see two locks this week: the Falcons over the Dolphins, and the Broncos over the Giants. The Giants’ receiver situation will be a sight to see, and I can’t believe this game couldn’t have been flexed out sooner. Was there that much desperation to keep Beckham in prime time prior to knowing about his injury?
  • The Ravens’ defense should offer some confusing looks for Trubisky, especially their safeties. Chicago’s better bet is to go heavy with the run, capitalizing on Brandon Williams sitll being out.
  • It wasn’t too long ago that Vikings fans were excited about Sam Bradford and Dalvin Cook. Their team is still 3-2, but I’m sure there is a deflated feeling, especially if they drop a big home division game to the packers.
  • Upset of the week: the Saints, winners of two straight and off the bye, continue their red-hot mojo against a Lions team that still has every game go down to the wire, win or lose. At least they’re not like the Chargers, who lose almost every one of those...speaking of which, I like the returning Derek Carr to handle them this week.
  • That Jets team should be dismantled by the Patriots, who no doubt will have figured out some defensive patches during their mini-bye week.
  • The 49ers came oh-so-close again last week, but the winless streak continues against Washington. I like Adrian Peterson to give a decent debut in victory for Arizona.
  • The Rams vs. Jaguars game is compelling -- who would’ve known? It’s probably unfair of me to sour on the Rams after one lackluster week, but picking the Jaguars is more about me being impressed that they’ve held three teams to under ten points.
  • I’d love to see the Steelers dig a bigger hole for themselves -- don’t let there be a redemption story against the only perfect team remaining in the NFL, the Chiefs.
  • Mariota will be a game-time decision for Monday night. Credit Jacoby Brissett for keeping the Colts in the division race until Andrew Luck returns, I see Tennessee pulling out a boring win here.

10. Predicting the Browns’ Week 6 Inactives: I predict the following players will be inactive for Sunday’s game against the Houston Texans:

Projected Inactives: QB Cody Kessler, WR Kenny Britt, OL Zach Banner, OL Marcus Martin, OLB James Burgess, DL T.Y. McGill, and DL Caleb Brantley.

This would be the same exact inactive list as last week, except that Burgess is on it instead of the returning Jamie Collins. The only real question mark here is about Kenny Britt. If Britt is active, I think Sammie Coates goes down as a health scratch. Let’s hope none of Cleveland’s starting offensive linemen (C J.C. Tretter or RT Shon Coleman) are out. If either are iffy, maybe Banner or Martin could be activated as extra gameday insurance policies.