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10 things to watch in the Browns’ Week 5 match-up and the NFL

We look at the Browns’ terrible catch rates at the receiver position, re-evaluating the utilization of Duke Johnson, what the Jets do well, and more.

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Cleveland Browns v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Welcome to Week 5 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 5 - Browns and the NFL

1. The Browns’ Most Effective Targets: I was inspired to do this after seeing a post by our Jets affiliate this week, where they highlighted Josh McCown’s most effective targets. The primary column to look at is the percentage column, which shows how often DeShone Kizer (or Kevin Hogan) has been able to complete a pass to a receiver when targeting them.

Browns’ Receiver Catch Rate

Player Catches Targets % Yards TD
Player Catches Targets % Yards TD
Duke Johnson 20 28 71.4% 207 0
Ricardo Louis 10 20 50.0% 133 0
David Njoku 9 12 75.0% 70 2
Rashard Higgins 9 21 42.9% 105 0
Seth DeValve 9 18 50.0% 134 0
Kenny Britt 8 23 34.8% 121 1
Corey Coleman 6 13 46.2% 62 1
Isaiah Crowell 5 8 62.5% 50 0
Matthew Dayes 2 2 100.0% 9 0
Randall Telfer 2 2 100.0% 24 0
Jordan Leslie 1 1 100.0% 26 0
Kasen Williams 1 6 16.7% 10 0
Kevin Zeitler 1 1 100.0% -4 0
Sammie Coates 0 4 0.0% 0 0

The only players with respectable numbers are RB Duke Johnson (71.4%) and TE David Njoku (75.0%). Completions to those players have typically not had to travel very far in the air.

The wide receiver numbers are horrid. Ricardo Louis at 50% is the highest on the team, followed by Rashard Higgins (42.9%), Kenny Britt (34.8%), Kasen Williams (16.7%), and Sammie Coates (0%). Part of the issue is on DeShone Kizer, but the receivers have played a huge role with their drops:

To compare, the Jets’ speedster receiver, Robby Anderson, is at 50%. That’s understandable for a deep guy. Their No. 1 receiver, Jermaine Kearse, is at 72%. Jeremy Kerley, their slot receiver, is at 100% on 13 catches. How does Cleveland fix the problem? We get into that in our next bullet point.

2. Re-Visiting Duke Johnson’s Utilization: The Browns need to figure out a rotation and stick with it. They have attempted to spread the wealth among a lot of receivers, but it is hurting the production of the offense. All of camp and then in Week 1, Duke Johnson was used as a slot receiver. In Week 1, he played nearly every snap as the team’s slot receiver.

Since then, Johnson has returned to a role where he catches the ball out of the backfield but doesn’t line up in the slot. It worked in Week 2 against the Ravens, when they weren’t prepared for Rashard Higgins. But Higgins has struggled in two games since, looking like the receiver who warranted being cut after the preseason.

It doesn’t make sense to utilize Johnson so much in camp in the slot, only to drop it after a week. What I’d really like to see is the Browns finding a good mix for Johnson’s utilization, where he spends time as both a slot receiver and a running back out of the backfield. You keep your best offensive playmaker on the field often, you keep another potential playmaker on the field (in my opinion) in Isaiah Crowell, and you take away snaps from the receiver group that hasn’t been productive. It’s a win all the way around.

3. Browns’ Running Backs vs. Jets: Not surprisingly, Pro Football Focus sees Johnson vs. the Jets’ linebackers as a match-up advantage:

As a team, the Jets have allowed 7.56 yards per attempt (24th) and a 110.5 passer rating (23rd) on passes to opposing running backs.

Through four games, the Jets rank 29th in the NFL against the run, allowing 143.8 yards per game and 4.67 YPC. Here is a distribution of what they’ve allowed in four games on the ground to individual rushers:

Rushing Success vs. NYJ

Week Runner Rushes Yards Average TD
Week Runner Rushes Yards Average TD
1 (BUF) LeSean McCoy 22 110 5.0 0
1 (BUF) Mike Tolbert 12 42 3.5 1
1 (BUF) Tyrod Taylor 8 38 4.8 0
2 (OAK) Marshawn Lynch 12 45 3.8 1
2 (OAK) Jalen Richard 6 58 9.7 1
2 (OAK) Cordarelle Patterson 3 57 19.0 1
3 (MIA) Jay Ajayi 11 16 1.5 0
4 (JAC) Leonard Fournette 24 86 3.6 0
4 (JAC) Chris Ivory 9 42 4.7 0
4 (JAC) Blake Bortles 4 38 9.5 0
All Total 111 532 4.8 4

Besides the Dolphins being shut down in Week 3, teams have had success against the Jets. One thing that also stands out? Mobile quarterbacks (Tyrod Taylor and Blake Bortles) have also been able to get some good runs in. If Cleveland’s defense holds tight, the Browns can stay committed to the run in the second half and will get some success out of it.

4. PFF Compares the Browns vs. Jets: Here are the nice infographics again from Pro Football Focus, highlighting grades for the starting lineups on offense and defense:

Browns’ Offense (12 Personnel) vs. Jets’ Defense (Base Defense)
Jets’ Offense (12 Personnel) vs. Browns’ Defense (Base Defense)

5. Some Film Work on the Jets: Let’s take a look at some of the Jets’ success last week against the Jaguars.

  • First, I’m sure you’ve heard about the two basically 70-yard touchdown runs they had. Here is one of them
  • You see that the Jets pull both guards and crack the tight ends inside. A hole opens up, but some a fluky play happens where Bilal Powell jumps over a linebacker’s tackle, hits the ground, and everyone assumes he’s down. He then gets up and is free for the long touchdown. Now granted, Cleveland has had some bad plays on defense (see the screen to Giovani Bernard last week, where he went untouched). But this isn’t a concern on tape for Cleveland.
  • Here was the Jets’ other long touchdown run. Jacksonville has very poor backside pursuit on the play, and then the safety misses the tackle. There is nothing exotic about the run blocking, and it’s more of a bad play by the Jags.
  • We noted in our preview for the game that Jamal Adams is playing more linebacker than safety, and he’s done a great job. When the Jets shut down the Dolphins’ run game in Week 3, here’s an example of Adams shedding a block and making an impressive run stop.
  • A goal I have for the Browns this week is to break the 100% catch rate that Josh McCown and Jeremy Kerley have on 13 targets. Kerley knows how to use the field, and McCown puts the ball in good spots for his receivers when he’s comfortable.

6. Not Making it So Obvious: Last week, the Browns tipped their hand on this corner blitz in the red zone. It was painfully obvious that the cornerback covering A.J. Green in the slot was going to blitz, and after Andy Dalton saw it, he adjusted the protection and released the ball quickly for a corner touchdown. Jabrill Peppers never stood a chance.

What did Gregg Williams have to say about the play on Friday?

“Our defense has a say and we have a check system. For whatever reason, we didn’t check. We have to play the play and so now we have to go. The ball was thrown in about 1.6 [seconds], so even though we had a free runner with the pressure, the quarterback blocked the pressure by getting rid of it fast. That is why you want to have a system in place. We just didn’t execute, and we have to live with the play and move onto the next play.”

He also talked about the team’s issues in the red zone:

“We have a very good staff here in the scouting area, the analytic area and then the assistant staff that I work with. My son (linebackers coach Blake Williams) is off the chart with all of the analytics. He was part of the analytic department in the National Football League offices last year. We take a look at every little bitty variable. We take a look at point of attack things. We take a look at it from a person to a technique to a call to a position on the field to a hash mark, all of those things. You look at that and more times than not. Right now it is experience and also it is me knowing a little bit more about each one of these guys experience-wise. Some of the things even, when you take a look at some of the stuff in the preseason, some of the guys that are in there now weren’t in there and held them and didn’t ever let them get close enough to get down in the end zone. Now, they are playing some more end zone plays, and we have to do a better job of helping a few guys there because we will play zone and man and pressure. I wish I had that one pressure back last week when here we came and we didn’t get it checked.”

7. Jets Will be in Plenty of Zone Coverage: According to Pro Football Focus, the Jets play a lot of zone coverage: they line up in it 58.1% of the time. DeShone Kizer has been bad in general, but PFF adds that Kizer is a league-worst in QB ratings against zone coverage.

8. A New York Sweep? The Cleveland Indians were already 2-0 against the New York Yankees to begin the American League Division Series on Thursday and Friday, and the football teams and baseball teams will each square off Sunday (the Browns vs. Jets in Cleveland, and the Indians vs. Yankees in New York). So this can be a bit of a mini-rivalry that factors in from a fan perspective.

A little personal storytime about my Indians vs. Yankees playoff experience. Ten years ago (2007) on nearly the same day was also Game 2 of the ALDS against the Yankees. It was my first year in college at CSU, and my brother and I would spend Fridays playing basketball at the rec center for countless hours. After playing that day, we camped out at the rec center to watch the Tribe game on their big screen TV.

The game took long and the rec center closed as the game was going on, so we walked to Progressive Field to stand outside the left field gates just in time to see Travis Hafner's walkoff win and the stream of fans joyously pouring out immediately afterward. Yankees fans were besides themselves on the street; I even remember a couple of fans saying “fuck your face” as we passed them by.

I wasn't downtown for the historic comeback in Game 2 of 2017, but it felt unbelievable how timing works on practically the 10-year anniversary of it. In a fan twisted way, it got my spirits up for Sunday’s Browns game too (although Myles Garrett’s debut has helped). The past few weeks have been dreadfully emotionless as I’ve live-blogged the game, and that’s a feeling I’d never thought I’d have as a Browns fan.

9. NFL Week 5 Picks: Last week, I went 10-6, making my record 39-25 on the year (1-3 in Browns games). Here are my Week 5 picks, along with a few notes.

  • The Bengals have put things together over the past two weeks, but Buffalo’s defense hasn’t been allowing teams to score and I think that’ll bring up some old habits for Cincinnati behind that offensive line.
  • Carolina vs. Detroit looks like the game of the week among the morning slate. It was good to see the Panthers’ offense come alive last week, but the last thing Cam Newton needed was for something off-the-field to creep in to his mindset.
  • The 49ers have played teams tight, and this week they’ll be rewarded as I think Brissett has a bit of a setback week.
  • The Titans and Raiders should both be without their quarterbacks this week. Oddly enough, they’re both facing teams that have been awful offensively at points the past two weeks (Miami and Baltimore, respectively). I took the home team in both cases.
  • The Jaguars could really use a better quarterback to put them over the hump, but their overall team is talented enough to pull off an upset on the road against Pittsburgh. After all, the Bears did. But I’ve still got Pittsburgh.
  • The Rams look ready to take over the NFC West, and they can cement it by beating an ugly-performing Seahawks team.
  • The Packers vs. Cowboys is a good afternoon game, but Dallas has certainly lost a lot of their swagger from a year ago.
  • The Chiefs vs. Texans Sunday night game has suddenly become must-see TV. It’s the undefeated Chiefs vs. a red-hot Texans team under Deshaun Watson. Who would’ve thought that’d be a headline so soon?
  • Mitchell Trubisky makes his debut on Monday Night Football. I’m selfishly hoping another rookie QB doesn’t pick up a win before Kizer.

10. Predicting the Browns’ Week 5 Inactives: I predict the following players will be inactive for Sunday’s game against the New York Jets:

Projected Inactives: QB Cody Kessler, WR Kenny Britt, OL Zach Banner, OL Marcus Martin, OLB Jamie Collins, DL T.Y. McGill, and CB Reggie Porter.

This week, we’ve got WR Sammie Coates, DT Danny Shelton, and DE Myles Garrett coming back. The inactive substitution I really see here for Coates is Porter, because Coates can take his spot on special teams. Britt being inactive would allow the newly-claimed WR Bryce Treggs to be active with a gameday role. Shelton being back means that either McGill or DL Caleb Brantley will be down, and McGill had fewer reps last week.