The toughest losses are the ones to teams you could have beat.
The Cleveland Browns suffered one such defeat today, dropping a winnable game to the New York Jets, 17-14.
The team gained 419 yards and looked better than in the first four weeks. However, mistakes in the red zone and missed field goals doomed the Browns
If you couldn’t watch, or wouldn’t watch, we’re here for you. Below are the seven talking points, including *sigh* a bubbling quarterback controversy:
1. The Debut of the Promised One: The Browns’ first overall draft choice made his much-anticipated debut on Sunday. He gave the Browns’ faithful a show.
Myles Garrett entered the game on the third play of the game, to raucous cheers from FirstEnergy Stadium patrons. Garrett proceeded to sack Josh McCown, easily sliding by the Jets’ offensive line.
Garrett provided pressure later in the second quarter, sacking McCown again with less than two minutes left in the half. Garrett was doubleteamed by a tight end and running back, but snuck away and downed McCown.
Garrett provides a distinct advantage for the Browns. Garrett allows the Browns to only blitz four players and still generate pressure on the passer. Without having to blitz as often, the Browns’ defensive backs can be more aggressive in coverage, knowing there is more help over the top.
In addition, Garrett’s pressure can help the Browns’ defense get off the field on third downs. The Browns have struggled to stop opponents on third downs, prolonging drives for the opponents. With Garrett on the field, the Browns can stop the bleeding early in drives and get the offense back on the field.
Garrett did exit the game late, seeming to be hobbled again by his ankle. Hopefully the ankle does not hold him back next week.
2. DeShone dethroned: After the Browns entered halftime with a 3-0 deficit, head coach Hue Jackson decided to call upon his backup quarterback, Kevin Hogan. DeShone Kizer exited the game 8-of-17 passing for 87 yards and an interception.
Hogan created an immediate impact, completing 5-of-5 passes for 52 yards and an 11-yard run on his first drive. The Stanford product completed the march with a touchdown pass into the adroit arms of David Njoku. Yes, that first round selection was well spent on Njoku.
Hogan finished the game with a nice statline: 16-of-19 passing for 194 yards and two touchdowns. Hogan, however, did throw a big interception, despite his otherwise solid day in orchestrating scoring drives for the Browns.
At the end of the day, however, no matter how well Hogan played, removing Kizer was a GIGANTIC mistake.
If you want to evaluate a rookie quarterback, you do not give him four and a half games. You allow him to develop over the course of the season and experience the ups and downs of an NFL season to see how he reacts to adversity. You’re looking for how the rookie QB performs in the pocket, how he leads the team, his arm and accuracy, and his adjustments week-to-week.
Hue Jackson has repeatedly said this season to expect mistakes from Kizer. That’s the norm for a rookie quarterback. All rookies will make mistake.
Remember your first “real” job? Think back to all of the mistakes you made your first year on the job. Did your boss take away your responsibility or fire you? Or did your boss teach you, help you avoid the mistake, and develop you as an employee? Luckily for me, Hue Jackson was not my first boss.
Kizer has certainly made his fair share of mistakes. Kizer has thrown 8 interceptions this year against 3 touchdowns. He’s also completed just over 50% of his passes. Not great numbers, but we need to look beyond the statistics.
Kizer has not enjoyed great performances from his wideouts. In the first four games, his receivers dropped numerous passes. Plus, the Browns’ defense and inability to commit the running game early in games forced Kizer to throw the ball a ton. Here are Kizer’s attempt numbers in the first four and a half games – 30, 31, 47, 34, and 17. A rookie should not be forced to throw the ball 30 times a game. That’s too heavy a burden for a first-year player.
Moving beyond the player, let’s look the coach.
An old adage says, “A smart man learns from his mistakes. A wise man learns from the mistakes of others.” Hue Jackson is a quarterback whisperer, and a smart coach. But Jackson is not a wise coach.
Jackson has not learned from the mistakes of the coaches before him. Jackson’s quick trigger finger creates a quarterback controversy and hinders Kizer’s development and psyche. If Jackson does grant Kizer another chance next week, Kizer will know he has a short leash. Kizer will be looking over his shoulder and waiting for Jackson to yank him.
In each of the last four seasons, three different quarterbacks have started for the Browns. Jackson could avoid the same aggravating quarterback carousel. If he does not, he is ignoring the mistakes of the past and falling down the same rabbithole so many previous coaches have tumbled into.
Four and a half games is not enough time to evaluate a quarterback. Don’t create a controversy. See what you have in Kizer, so you know how to approach the 2018 Draft. Not playing Kizer sets this franchise back even further.
End the quarterback controversy and play Kizer.
3. Grounding it out: The Browns’ running backs thrived behind an improved effort by the offensive line today. The Browns moved the ball well, thanks to the ground game, especially in the first half.
The Browns showed an increased dedication to the running game, with 21 rushing attempts in the first half. The strategy paid off, with the Browns gaining 92 yards on the ground in the first two quarters alone.
The offensive line blocked quite well inside, opening holes for Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson. The line paved the way inside, with JC Tretter, Joel Bitonio, and Kevin Zeitler opening space and running lanes. Joe Thomas also pulled from left to right on several plays, helping the ground game greatly.
The Browns’ backs ran the ball well, too. Crowell and Johnson showed aggressiveness and smarts in hitting holes and utilizing cutback lanes. Johnson showed determination in picking up extra yards and Crowell continued to be slippery in space. Though not on a running play, Crowell slipped under Jamal Adams on a short passing play, getting a key third down.
Duke Johnson also weaved his way to a 41-yard touchdown on a screen pass in the fourth quarter, using beautiful blocks and cutbacks to get the Browns back into the game.
We wondered what the offense might be able to do with more emphasis on a blossoming running game. We received a glimpse today.
4. Stunning Secondary: In the first half, the Browns’ secondary stunned fans with its effectiveness. In the second half, particularly the fourth quarter, the defensive backs stunned fans by falling apart.
The Browns bended slightly but showed no signs of breaking in the first half. Josh McCown led the Jets to a field goal at the end of the first half, but only managed 58 yards through the air.
As mentioned above in Point #1, Garrett and the Browns’ defense (credit Trevon Coley, Larry Ogunjobi, and Jamie Meder, too) generated more pressure in the Jets’ backfield without having to blitz. The Browns entered the game as the most aggressive blitzing team in the NFL, bringing an extra defender 45% of the time. The defense’s ability to bring the heat without sacrificing a defender let Gregg Williams and the Browns drop back more defenders.
With more help over the top, the Browns’ corners could cut routes without fear of missing and allowing a long play. As a result, the Browns deflected several passes and thwarted the Jets’ passing offense time after time. Devin McCourty also made a brilliant play on the ball for the Browns in the first half.
The secondary had its back broken in the second half, however. First, Austin Safarian-Jenkins beat Ibraheim Campbell for a touchdown following a Kevin Hogan interception. The following Jets’ drive, however, proved to be more costly.
After the Browns could not convert a critical fourth down inside the 10-yard line, the Jets drove 97 yards on 8 plays. McCown beat the Browns’ secondary like a drum, repeatedly beating the Browns’ safeties. Briean Boddy-Calhoun bit on a fake on a Jets’ pass, allowing McCown to drop it over top of him for a touchdown.
McCown’s 97-yard drive broke the Browns’ backs. The Browns are not built to overcome 10-point deficits, especially not in the fourth quarter. The lengthy drive largely ended the team’s hopes of grabbing a win over a less than impressive team.
5. Who are these guys? For a change, the Browns’ wide receivers caught passes, and in many cases, showed phenomenal ability on many plays.
The first four weeks of the season saw the Browns’ wideouts drop pass after pass and wound DeShone Kizer’s completion percentage. Missing Kenny Britt on Sunday, the receiving corps made a big difference.
Kasen Williams, Bryce Treggs, Ricardo Louis, and David Njoku showcased brilliant ability, each making a phenomenal catch on Sunday. With the exception of Njoku, a first round pick, the motley crew came from low draft picks and practice squads.
Making his Browns debut, Treggs quickly became Kizer’s favorite target. Treggs did not catch every pass, but hauled in passes of 9 and 18 yards to help the team’s cause. Williams hauled in some impressive catches, especially near the sidelines, showcasing his underrated potential. Williams will not get credit for his heroic effort on a catch near the sidelines, since a Jets challenge wiped it out, but his body control and vertical leap shows his immense talent. Louis also contributed on a few passes, including a 21-yard grab.
Njoku, as mentioned above, made several great catches, including the one-handed touchdown catch. The rookie has extraordinary potential if used correctly. Njoku should be a focal point of the passing game, with plays designed to get him the ball. Plus, Njoku can block downfield for other receivers and showcased some solid blocking skills on run plays.
6. The Curse of the Red Zone: The Browns’ loss today can be chalked up to one thing – failure to score in the red zone.
The Browns made four trips to the red zone today and notched only 7 points. That’s inexcusable.
As the broadcasts noted frequently, the Browns had not possessed a lead entering today’s game. The Browns seemed destined to never take the lead after two missed field goals by Zane Gonzalez, from 52 and 39 yards.
An option play to Isaiah Crowell led to a crucial fumble, disabling the Browns’ chances of scoring early on. This play deserves further dissection.
First off, what possessed Hue Jackson to call an option play in the red zone? The Browns did not, to my knowledge, run an option play in the first four games of the season. Why start today, especially in the red zone?
Secondly, Crowell needs to catch that toss from Kizer. Crowell bobbled the ball and watched as it tumbled into the waiting arms of the Jets’ defense. Crowell appeared to look upfield first before bringing the ball in. A cardinal sin, as any Browns fan knows well.
Crowell shoulders some of the blame, but the coach deserves much of the criticism for calling a risky play in the red zone. Stick with sure plays and get the ball to your playmakers with simple handoffs or easy throws. For example Vince Lombardi and the Packers ran the Power Sweep when they needed yards. When in doubt, the Chiefs loved 65 Toss Power Trap. You run your bread and butter in the red zone, not fancy plays.
Speaking of turnovers, Kizer drew fire for throwing an interception with 3:13 in the half. Looking for Seth DeValve, Kizer threw into the teeth of the Jets’ defense off a rollout, never a good idea. Nothing wrong with the coaching here, just a rookie mistake.
To miss out on three scoring chances inside the red zone is a recipe for failure. You can’t win that way.
7. Almost there: The Browns’ 0-5 record indicates a stagnancy and a continuing of last season. That’s not the case.
The Browns are showing improvement, and the team’s draft picks are beginning to play well. Garrett, Njoku, and others are showing flashes of brilliance. The run game is beginning to take shape. The front seven is improving greatly in run defense, and only allowed 34 rushing yards today. Even the woebegone receivers are starting to shape up.
This team isn’t far away from a win or two. If the Browns can avoid mistakes in the red zone and kick field goals, this team could win some games. The team’s young players have potential. The wins will come soon.
The Browns lost today, 17-14. That sucks. But these are not the 1999 Browns or even the 2015 Browns. This squad has young talent ready to burst forth and produce consistently.
The question is this: Can Hue Jackson manage the quarterback situation and continue to develop his youngsters? We’ll see.