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10 things to watch in the Browns’ Week 8 match-up and the NFL

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We look at a ton of nuggets from the Browns’ time in London so far, the starting lack of success on offense to begin games, Doug Dieken not calling Sunday’s game, and more.

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NFL: International Series-Cleveland Browns Practice
Bagshot, United Kingdom; General overall view of Cleveland Browns practice at the Pennyhill Park Hotel & Spa.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Week 8 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 8 - Browns and the NFL

1. Some International Flavor: I wish I could appreciate the Browns playing their first regular season game in London a bit more, but being 0-7 makes it tough. This might be the first exposure that many fans over there have to Cleveland, and it’s natural for them to form an image that fans in the United States already have: “that team must suck.”

Nonetheless, it’s still refreshing to see something new, and that includes the sights of the team practicing in London, where they had access to a full-size football field at the England Rugby Training Centre:

The team also had a double-decker bus touring the city, featuring Hanford Dixon, Josh Cribbs, and both Browns mascots.

And here’s a neat shot of where the team is staying over the weekend:

2. Does the Bed Situation Matter? Earlier in the week, Andrea Hangst wrote about the contrasting travel accommodations between the Vikings and Browns. Head coach Hue Jackson made a point to mention about the team’s research in how it’s important to sleep on the flight to London, and that with the first-class plane arrangements made by team owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam, the players would “legitimately will be able to lay down and sleep.” You would think that the team’s starting quarterback would definitely get a bed, but that wasn’t the case:

On one hand, I get the rookie vs. veteran thing when it comes to however many beds there were, and DeShone Kizer hasn’t earned anything. But I think if he really had a grasp on the locker room, someone would’ve given up their bed for him. And it probably irks me a bit that, presumably, Kenny Britt was probably one of those players who got to cozy on up in a bed instead. Anyway, here is a brief interview that Aditi Kinkhabwala got with Kizer from London, where he talks about not lacking confidence and getting the ball out quick to prevent the rush from Everson Griffen:

One thing the Browns couldn’t have anticipated in their research is a gas leak forcing them to evacuate their hotel early Saturday morning, and therefore throwing their walkthrough schedule off by two hours the day before they play their big game:

3. Browns’ Three-and-Outs to Begin Games: The Browns don’t seem to have as many three and outs as they used to. They can actually move the ball at times, but they still suck in red zone and finishing drives.

But I learned an astonishing stat via Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer this past week. He said to begin games this season when DeShone Kizer has started, the Browns have gone three-and-out every single time. Upon further review, they did actually have one first down, but that drive still only lasted four plays. Let’s remind ourselves of every miserable opening drive:

WEEK 1 - STEELERS
  • 1st-and-10: Kizer scrambles for 1 yard.
  • 2nd-and-9: Crowell rushes for 9 yard loss.
  • 3rd-and-18: False start on Joe Thomas.
  • 3rd-and-23: Crowell rushes for 4 yards. (Punt blocked for TD).
WEEK 2 - RAVENS
  • 1st-and-10: Crowell rushes for 3 yards.
  • 2nd-and-7: Crowell rushes for no gain.
  • 3rd-and-7: Delay of game.
  • 3rd-and-12: Kizer throws incomplete pass to Coleman.
WEEK 3 - COLTS
  • 1st-and-10: Crowell rushes for 10 yards.
  • 1st-and-10: Crowell rushes for 1 yard.
  • 2nd-and-9: Crowell rushes for 1 yard loss.
  • 3rd-and-10: Kizer throws incomplete pass to Britt.
WEEK 4 - BENGALS
  • 1st-and-10: Kizer scrambles for 4 yards.
  • 2nd-and-6: Crowell rushes for 3 yards.
  • 3rd-and-3: False start on Britt.
  • 3rd-and-8: Kizer throws incomplete pass to Johnson.
WEEK 5 - JETS
  • 1st-and-10: Crowell rushes for 3 yards.
  • 2nd-and-7: Crowell rushes for 4 yard loss.
  • 3rd-and-11: Kizer sacked for 2 yard loss.
WEEK 6 - TEXANS
  • This was a start by Hogan, and Cleveland had two first downs.
WEEK 7 - TITANS
  • 1st-and-10: Crowell rushes for 3 yards.
  • 2nd-and-7: Crowell rushes for 6 yards.
  • 3rd-and-1: Crowell rushes for no gain.

To summarize, that’s 13 carries for 27 yards (2.07 YPC) for Isaiah Crowell. In the passing game, DeShone Kizer is 0-of-3. He’s had 3 other dropbacks, leading to 2 short scrambles and 1 sack. These are supposed to be the team’s scripted, bread-and-butter plays. Something needs to be changed up to get the team into a rhythm, and it might involve utilizing Duke Johnson either as a weapon or a decoy.

4. Otto Replaces Swagger: The re-branding of Swagger has come true...but for one week only. Swagger couldn’t make the trip to London, so the team found his “cousin,” Otto, to be a mascot for the team instead on Sunday. If you go back to July 2014 and read the comments, most fans didn’t care for the name Swagger, but were in love with the idea of if they had chosen the name Otto instead.

5. Some Film Work on the Vikings: Let’s take a look at some of the things Minnesota could be doing on Sunday, courtesy of Bernie Kosar and Dustin Fox.

  • Click here to watch the clip of Kosar and Fox talking about the Vikings’ offense. Minnesota wants their defense to win football games, so they’ll keep things safe and conservative on offense, which no doubt plays into what we were familiar with when Pat Shurmur was our head coach (he is Minnesota’s offensive coordinator).
  • One play sees the Vikings bring a receiver in motion from right to left, which draws the safeties that direction at the snap. Minnesota then runs a screen pass the other way that goes the distance. In the red zone, they’ll try for one-on-one throws to the outside.
  • Click here to see the click on the Vikings’ defense. You can see how Minnesota is able to get pressure with a four-man front after showing a lot more guys in the box, but those extra players, including S Harrison Smith who drops back for the interception, play a robber role that can confuse young quarterbacks:

6. More Film Breakdown on the Browns: Here is some more film review from the Browns’ loss to the Titans last week.

  • Over at Waiting for Next Year, they did a nice article focusing on how Spencer Drango did in relief of Joe Thomas last week. I picked one play below to highlight, which shows both a strength and a weakness of Drango in the same play: he loses his anchor, but is still able to battle his way through the finish.
  • We’ve wanted more playing time for CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun, and with Jason McCourty out last week, he got it. McCourty has been great, but I’m excited to again see Boddy-Calhoun’s aggression on display. He had the best two defensive hits of the game last week too.
  • Look at the excellent individual effort that BBC gives on this play too:
  • And then lastly, we have BBC not only shedding the block of probable Pro Bowl LT Taylor Lewan, but he makes the tackle on the running back.
  • We’re also seeing Jamar Taylor’s play settle into a solid job again for several weeks now. The Titans’ receivers weren’t the fastest, and Taylor did a good job timing this breakup. Also on display at the bottom of the screen, though, is how Cleveland’s linebackers left another tight end open in playaction coverage.
  • Even though Christian Kirksey had his best game of the season, it’s still fair to question why his instincts are so off in pass coverage this year.
  • And lastly, we have a play here that does nothing to spread the defense out, limiting Cleveland’s chance of succeeding in the red zone:

7. PFF Ranks Browns’ Offense Dead Last: After seven weeks, Pro Football Focus ranked every offense in the NFL. Cleveland came in at dead last.

32. Cleveland Browns

BEST-GRADED STARTER: OT Joe Thomas, 86.4 overall grade
WORST-GRADED: WR Kenny Britt, 38.1 overall grade

DeShone Kizer or Kevin Hogan, neither seem to be the answer for a franchise in desperate need of a quarterback. Kizer ranks near the bottom of every advanced quarterback metric PFF has to offer but his supporting cast has not done him any favors this season either. He has been hit as he is throwing on 10 occasions, a league-high, has had 13 passes dropped and on an offense with too few stars, just lost arguably the franchise’s best player in recent history with Joe Thomas’ season-ending triceps injury. Thomas had not allowed a sack in 300 pass-block snaps this season, leading the league in that regard.

8. Doug Dieken Will Miss London Game: Per Mary Kay Cabot of the Plain Dealer, Browns radio color man Doug Dieken will miss his first game in 30 years due to an illness. In light-hearted fun, I joked that he’s simply paying homage to the end of Joe Thomas’ consecutive snaps streak. Fortunately, Browns senior VP of communications Peter John-Baptiste says that he should be OK in the long run:

“We understand Diek's a little under the weather and his doctor didn't want him to travel. In talking to him, he was pretty upset but he's confident that he will back to our broadcast soon.”

Taking Dieken’s spot in the broadcast booth will be sideline reporter Nathan Zegura:

9. NFL Week 8 Picks: Last week, I went 10-5 again, making my record 61-46 on the year (3-4 in Browns games). Here are my Week 8 picks, along with a few notes.

  • The Raiders got in a groove with Amari Cooper last week, but I still hesitate to buy in to them against the Bills. The Colts have hit a reality check, now that you see their only two wins have come against 0-7 clubs.
  • The Chargers are red-hot, winning three straight, and you have to remember that missed field goals killed their first two games. But New England still rolls after finding their defense in holding Atlanta to just one touchdown last week.
  • Teams need to start talking about the fantastic run the Saints are on right now, with a combination of great offense and (gasp) playmaking on defense. Chicago’s defense is the only reason they’ve won three games.
  • I give the Jets credit; I had some delusion that they’d be the joke of the NFL and losing by 20 points each week, but that’s not the case. I still view them as underdogs to the Falcons, though.
  • Philly will sleepwalk through the 49ers as the lock of the week, and if Carolina can avoid turnovers that lead to points for the opposition, they can do the same to the Buccaneers.
  • Houston vs. Seatte is one of the more intriguing games of the week, and it’s because of a Deshaun Watson-led team that is averaging 40 points per game over the past 4 games, and they’re coming off a bye.
  • The Redskins and Cowboys are each 3-3 and starting to chase the Eagles. Neither can afford to fall behind, but it’s like a flip of the coin to figure out which team will execute better in any given week.
  • Every year, we see the Steelers get dominated in a couple games early on, and everyone starts questioning their future. Then, the next thing you know, they’re 5-2 and dominating again. Mike Tomlin knows how to flip a switch.
  • Denver is averaging 10 points per game in their past four weeks, and some are wondering if Brock Osweiler should get the call. The Chiefs have lost two close games after a 5-0 start, but they should win this one easily.

10. Predicting the Browns’ Week 8 Inactives: I predict the following players will be inactive for Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings:

Projected Inactives: QB Kevin Hogan, OL Marcus Martin, DE Myles Garrett, DT Trevon Coley, DT Larry Ogunjobi, CB Jason McCourty, and S Jabrill Peppers.

This is a game where the inactive list will be changed up big time. Cody Kessler has been named the backup, so Hogan will likely be inactive again. With Spencer Drango starting at left tackle, I think Zach Banner is active for the first time as a backup tackle.

Garrett has been ruled out, and Ogunjobi is doubtful. Coley is questionable with a neck injury and only practiced on Friday; the team could keep him out with the bye next week just to be safe. They would then utilize Caleb Brantley and T.Y. McGill in a bigger capacity.

In the secondary, McCourty is doubtful. Peppers is questionable, but was a limited practice participant on Friday. I think they’ll keep him out and roll with the same secondary as last week.