As we reach the midpoint of the second season of this most recent blow-up and
rebuild effort, our beloved Cleveland Browns look to be staring down the barrel of an 0-8 start to 2017, after finishing 1-15 at the end of 2016. That performance caused head coach Hue Jackson to declare that it would not happen again, that he would jump in that lake if it did. He doubled down on that two weeks ago though was unable to make good on progress after losing his twenty-second game in twenty-three tries, 12-9 (OT) last week against the Tennessee Titans.
From the inside looking out, it’s been confounding watching this team squander a run of games that all appear to have been “winnable”. Today they play a tough Minnesota Vikings team (particularly on defense) in London. For a team that has struggled with various issues that mostly all point back to lack of experience (IMO), it’s difficult not to imagine a preponderance of that today, especially without the rock of our entire organization, Joe Thomas, who is on the sideline for the first time in ten years.
Thus, on top of the already existing struggles of this young team, we now have a major problem at a crucial position that has been a dominant strength for longer than any single member of the entire organization has been in place. Joe Thomas is more than just the best left tackle in the game (and probably of all time), he’s been the lone bright spot in a dank and depressing decade of (terrible) football put up by our beloved (r)orange helmets.
He’s been on the team longer than anyone, including the owner(s), any of the front-office personnel and certainly any of the coaches or players. He was a stud from the moment he stepped on the field, and made the pro bowl every year of his (first-ballot) hall-of-fame career. Over that time the Browns have had some truly, spectacularly bad quarterback play, but at least those guys never had to worry about the blind side.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t been enough for us overcome that aforementioned terrible, terrible play (I must be redundant as I am still shuddering after compiling that list →) This season, that has also been compounded by similarly horrifying wide receiver play, albeit with some improvements expressly in the last two games. Prior to that, they could be in the conversation as one of the worst squads ever, with the Colts’ game being the (substantial) low point.
Now, a continually struggling collection of passers with only marginally improving WR’s has to contend with a seriously depleted pass protection (which to this point in the season had been stellar) going up against probably the best defense we have faced all year. Suffice it to say, we have had more favorable match-ups. Their DE is openly mocking Thomas’ replacement Spencer Drango, which you’d hope would be bulletin board material but you know ultimately won’t matter, because he’s right: Drango is a guard. He just also happens to be the best (of all-bad) options to replace a legend.
To make matters
worse equally depressing, we head into this contest without our star-looking 1st pick overall Myles Garrett, who is in the concussion protocol. Also out will be good looking rookie DT Larry Ogunjobi. Jason McCourty also likely won’t play either, though his replacement(s) last week (Briean Boddy-Calhoun & Jamar Taylor) performed admirably in his absence. The Vikings’ receivers are solid but not spectacular, and they’ll be rolling with reputedly solid (and definitely unspectacular) backup QB Case Keenum.
Even with the injuries, the defense might be able to stall the Minnesota offense enough to keep us in the game. Although Jabrill Peppers potential return to the lineup may be a wild card in that effort. Even if it all goes right however, it probably won’t be enough to overcome the predictable offensive shortcomings we should expect, which is why I don’t expect us to win.
About Those Offensive Shortcomings
Last week Hue Jackson substantially simplified the offense for rookie DeShone’s Kizer’s return to the starting lineup after having been benched for a week in favor of Kevin Hogan. The results looked quite positive for most of the first half, as Kidzepplin’ efficiently moved the team using a series of short to intermediate pass routes to the RB’s and TE’s.
This was the exact proscription for success people had been clamoring for with respect to Jackson’s offensive play calling in 2017. It was looking as if the light was starting to come for the rookie, one of the youngest ever to start at QB in the history of the game. To be sure, much of Kizer’s problems this year have been aided by the aforementioned lousy WR play.
Outside of a bad drop by Ricardo Louis on the sideline (of a good pass that was on the numbers) the play of the receivers was solid for the most part against Tennessee. By the end of the first half, while we had not scored a touchdown, we also hadn’t committed a turnover - particularly in the red zone, which has been the bane of our offensive existence all year and a focus of attention in a lengthy presser Kizer gave prior to the game.
Unfortunately, it bit him again (courtesy of Chris Pokorny’s work earlier this week):
This was bad, as that’s a throw an NFL quarterback has to connect on - especially if he is to be your franchise savior. Granted, he’s a rookie, this is his sixth start, and all that. Still, this had to have been a crusher for him. He then came out for the first drive of the 2nd half, and proceeded to throw another pick, which ended his day.
Into the game came the Browns’ third-string quarterback, which in a way is progress because it took more than twice as long to reach that milestone as it took last year. In both instances the guy was Cody Kessler, and he looked Ok’ish for a while. However after Thomas’ injury and the subsequent pass-protection breakdowns which ensued ‘ol Cod didn’t really stand a chance (withstanding pressure isn’t exactly a strong suit of his). One thing that is noteworthy here is that for the second year in a row he looked better in the regular season than he did in the preseason. So there’s that.
Of course it wasn’t enough, but after observing Kizer’s thousand yard stare from the sideline I was convinced at that point that yips had overcome the kid to the extent that we probably wouldn’t see him again for the balance of the year. This is especially considering Coach Jackson’s bizarre handling of the entire position this season (and to some extent, last year).
However, it didn’t go down that way. On Wednesday, Jackson named Kizer the starter for this week’s game in London. This honestly surprised me, as I assumed Kessler’s modestly improved play in the 2nd half of our most-winnable game all year would provide the impetus to make a change. It would seem consistent with the decision to start Hogan for more or less the same reasons.
This turnabout, in my view, may be a sign of positivity. Not because I especially expect the kid to go out and reverse the mistakes he has been prone to making, but rather because it demonstrates an overall patience which (I desperately hope) indicates a genuine sense of security in his job status. I would be inclined to presume that, were he to be as under-the-gun as so many seem to think he is at this point, Kessler would be starting - as a last gasp. I would say “hail-mary”, but that’s just entirely too hilarious to ascribe to this exact paradigm.
That he seems confident in sticking with the development of Kizer, even after all the jacking around, seems to suggest that this maybe hasn’t been all fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants as it has appeared
at times often. This would be encouraging, both from the standpoint of gaging Hue’s ability to handle this QB situation as well as the unslamming-of-the-door on the Kizer project overall. Of course, it would all seem a lot more worth it if, you know, we got some good quarterback play and won a game.
That happening today would certainly go a long way towards making all this feel better. That seems quite unlikely though, just given the universe of factors at play. Still, there is much young talent on this roster, much in the way of draft and cap capital, and decent QB play away from being legitimately good. It’s hard to see, but we can get there. As was illuminated in my long conversation with Manyl the other night, things don’t look so bad if you just look at what’s been done in the timeframe we have had.
Alas, some wins - at least two of them I think, need to happen this year. That’s a modest, attainable goal, and technically keeps Hue out of the lake. Hopefully, it would also keep him on our sidelines to start 2018.
How Do You Feel?
This poll is closed
I Can Hack It
With Each Passing Day It Is More Difficult Than It Was The Day Before To Carry On, But I Feel As If I must, If For No Other Reason Than Steadfast Allegiance To An Almost Familial Relationship (That Is Relentlessly Abusive)
I’m Starting To Hate Everything
I Have Already Completely Given Up