The losing continues.
The Cleveland Browns fell to the Jacksonville Jaguars, 16-7, in an defensive struggle in the cold and pelting snow at FirstEnergy Stadium.
The Browns fall to 0-10, but the defense played quite well in the loss, surrendering just 10 points to a strong offense.
In case you missed today’s ugly showcase, here’s what you missed.
1. Early woes: After losing the coin toss to the Jaguars, the Browns received the ball first. Even after a nice special teams play, the Browns stumbled out of the gate.
The opening kickoff saw Matthew Dayes dash down the field to the Jacksonville 48-yard, granting the Browns wonderful field position. Before we start into the Browns’ woes, let’s give Dayes his due. The rookie has impressed on special teams this season.
The first three plays of the day for the Browns resulted in a paltry 3 yards. Isaiah Crowell gained 6 yards on the first couple plays, but Kizer took too long in the pocket on third down, drawing a sack.
You absolutely cannot waste field position that perfect, especially early on in a game. The Browns should have at least got into field goal range. Especially against such a strong defense, you cannot give away great field position.
Despite the missed opportunity, the Browns held on the opposite side of the ball. The Jaguars stalled, and with an awful punt, granted the Browns great field position again. In typical fashion, the Browns squandered the chance.
DeShone Kizer threw into double coverage, locking into his wideout. The ill-advised, forced pass would be costly for the Browns. The ensuing drive resulted in a Jacksonville touchdown. The Jaguars marched down the short field, scoring on a Mercedes Lewis touchdown pass. Derrick Kindred’s coverage was awful on what was an easy score.
At some point, we need to Kindred’s effort must be questioned. As someone who has never played professional football, I’m hesitant to question effort. However, if you go back and look at the highlight of Theo Riddick’s touchdown run from last week, you’ll see that Kindred stands in the end zone as Riddick rushes, showing zero interest in providing run support. Today, on the touchdown pass, Kindred did not show hustle in getting back to cover Lewis. Kindred did have a couple nice plays in the run game, but his off plays are concerning. Perhaps he’s injured, but Kindred is someone to keep an eye on the rest of the year.
As a team, the Browns’ start was horrid. Spencer Drango missed blocks at left tackle, Ricardo Louis dropped a wide-open pass on 2nd and 6, and the Browns’ defense lost contain on Jacksonville’s rushes. The Browns started awfully, unlike last week’s fun-to-watch opening.
2. Return of the Coleman: Corey Coleman returned for the Browns, and wowed fans on multiple occasions. The wideout was dearly missed.
Coleman hauled in back-to-back catches in the second quarter, beating top corner Jalen Ramsey both times. Coleman took a couple pops, but stayed resilient, catching two beautiful passes from Kizer.
Coleman gives the Browns a top option at receiver. Coleman is a consistent receiver who rarely drops a pass. The second-year receiver runs crisp routes, such as the hitch in the second quarter that resulted in a solid gain on first down. Compared to the team’s other receivers, Coleman is a godsend.
Coleman finished the day with 6 catches for 80 yards to lead the team. Keep feeding this man the ball.
Speaking of Colemans, Shon Coleman also enjoyed a great day. The second-year lineman is blossoming into a reliable right tackle. Coleman opened the running lane on a Kizer option run in the first half. Coleman also impressed on passing plays, turning away the Jaguars’ talented edge rushers.
It’s still early, but Coleman could be a very solid starter for the Browns at right tackle for the foreseeable future.
3. Better Browns bookends: The Browns’ defensive linemen just keep improving over the course of the season. Emmanuel Ogbah and Myles Garrett excelled today for the Browns, continuing to show their immense talent.
Say what you will about the Browns and their 0-10 record, but the Browns’ defensive ends are no joke. Ogbah and Garrett have bright futures. Playing against a strong, built Jacksonville offensive line, the duo bookended the Browns defense with style.
Garrett showed his talent on the pass rush, hurrying Blake Bortles on numerous occasions. Garret is not a one-dimensional player, however. As Garrett receives more snaps, he’s playing on more run plays. Garrett has a knack for shedding the outside block and getting to the edge. Garrett made a big play on one outside Leonard Fournette run, setting the young back several yards.
Ogbah has received a reputation as a run stuffer, something he lived up to today. Just like Garrett, though, Ogbah showed that he’s not a one-trick pony. The young end deflected a Bortles pass and pushed his opposing lineman back into the pocket.
Ogbah departed with a foot injury and did not return – hopefully he will be back soon, though a broken foot could sideline him for some time.
4. Back to square one: Following his best game of the season against the Lions, DeShone Kizer was dealt a big setback by the Jags’ defense today.
Kizer finished the day 16-of-32 passing for 179 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions, and 2 fumbles lost. Not the best of days for the rookie.
Kizer did not seem to like the cold. The young signalcaller showed signs of chilliness, which was understandable considering the cold, wind, and hail at FirstEnergy Stadium. The wind especially seemed to play a factor in limiting Kizer.
Not of all of Kizer’s woes can be attributed directly to him. Coleman, Duke Johnson, and Ricardo Louis all dropped passes. The team’s wideouts certainly did not aid Kizer much.
However, Kizer deserves plenty of blame. The youngster was erratic on a majority of his throws. There was nothing wrong with Kizer’s zip on throws. A few of Kizer’s throws were wobbly, but most of them were solid throws in terms of speed.
Kizer’s problems came down to accuracy. A majority of his attempts were erratic, either behind the receiver or too high. Yes, his receivers dropped passes, but Kizer did not make things easier on his wideouts. Kizer must improve at the throwing the ball in front of his receivers so they can catch the ball in stride.
Even on short throws, Kizer looked inconsistent and inaccurate. Perhaps it was the cold or maybe a strong Jaguars pass rush, but Kizer did not set his feet effectively on many throws, which led to many of the incompletions. Kizer also locked onto a receiver on a number of throws when he likely should have been rolling through his progressions.
At the same time, Kizer does deserve some kudos for the touchdown drive. Kizer completed 3-of-3 passes on the drive, including a wonderful pass that threaded the needle to Duke Johnson for a touchdown.
At the end of the day, Kizer did a few good things, but committed a ton of mistakes and turnovers. The rookie still deserves to start, but he needs lots of practice reps before next weekend, including some in the cold.
5. Playing possessed: The Browns struggled to possess the ball today, leading to the defense staying on the field for long stretches. Credit the Browns’ defense with a great day despite a large challenge.
The Browns struggled to establish the run today. Head coach Hue Jackson tried to get his offense going with a solid ground game. The gameplan did not work. By the early stages of the fourth quarter, the Browns offense had 6 three-and-outs, with just 34 yards on 14 carries. Isaiah Crowell managed just 18 yards on 10 attempts.
Without a reliable run game, Kizer struggled often. Outside of the touchdown drive, Kizer missed on all seven of his attempts in the first half.
As a result, the onus fell on the defense to keep the Browns in the game. While Jacksonville did managed some yards, the Browns’ defense held the Jags to 10 points through the first half. That’s incredible.
Consider this stat – through three quarters, the Jaguars outpossessed the Browns, 29:27-15:33. Look at it again. The Jags held the ball twice as much as the Browns in the first three quarters. The final total was 36:55-23:05 in favor of Jacksonville.
Today’s game was nearly the mirror opposite of last week. Against the Lions, the Browns ran the ball well and possessed the ball for a season-high 34 minutes. The Browns did not come even close to that today. Crowell showed poor vision in gaining just 18 yards on 11 carries. Crowell has 441 yards and 2 touchdowns this year, averaging 3.7 yards per carry.
The Browns’ defense, on the other hand, deserves a heap of credit today for keeping the Browns in this contest. The team’s linebackers enjoyed an incredible day. James Bugress, Jr., Christian Kirksey, and Joe Schobert were the team’s top three tacklers, combining for 40 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks on the afternoon.
6. Turnover turmoil: The Browns experienced an interesting relationship with turnovers today.
The first turnover occurred in the first quarter. Kizer threw a costly interception, leading to Jacksonville’s lone touchdown in the first half. Kizer nearly committed another turnover in the first half, as he was stripped on a pass before recovering his own fumble. Kizer threw a pick in the fourth quarter, sailing a pass intended for Rashard Higgins. The ball hit the ground, but somehow, the referees did not overturn the call. That play changed the game.
Kizer again saw a review go against him late in the game. Kizer fumbled as he was falling to the turf on a sack, giving the Jags the ball back with under two minutes to play. The sack was not on Kizer, but the fumble was certainly his fault. You have to hold onto the ball as you’re falling to the ground.
Kizer was stripped one more time for good measure with 1:14 left in the game, though this turnover was not his fault. Spencer Drango allowed his rusher to slide right by him, hitting Kizer from the blindside.
Jabrill Peppers muffed a punt in the third quarter, too, setting the Jags up with wonderful field position. Peppers need to be wary in the future of losing the ball on punts.
The Browns’ woes with turnovers on offense are well-documented. You’ve read plenty of complaints about the Browns’ inability to hold onto the ball.
On the flip side, you haven’t read much about the Browns’ ability to capture the ball back or force the ball out.
The Browns forced an impressive 5 fumbles today. Aided by the inclement weather, the Browns stripped the Jags of the ball with skill, surprising Jacksonville’s receivers and backs. The Browns’ linebackers, in particular, made things difficult for the Jaguars.
Unfortunately for the Browns, the Jaguars only lost one of the fumbles – a Blake Bortles strip sack. Garrett recovered the ball after a successful blitz call. The turnover did not lead to points for the Browns, but an ability to force fumbles is encouraging.
However, despite the positives, the Browns cannot be happy with the five turnovers. The defense made plenty of improvements, but turning over the ball five times is unacceptable.
7. Progressing in a loss: The Browns fall to 0-10 on the season and are one step closer to a parade in downtown Cleveland. But those calling for a total rebuild are misguided.
Yes, the Browns are 1-25 in the past two seasons. Yes, we are reportedly seeing some in fighting in Berea. Yes, it looks ugly right now.
These facts do not lead to the conclusion that the Browns are not making improvements and the idea that Jimmy Haslam should fire everyone.
Personally, I’m sick of reading about the column “It’s time for a change” and “Haslam’s hand is being forced by losing.” Haslam’s hand should not be forced. We go through this every two years. We beg for a rebuild, stay patient for a year, then complain and cry for a rebuild in the second year.
Enough. It’s time to end this vicious cycle. The Browns are making palpable improvements, particularly on defense.
The Browns are becoming one of the top teams in the league at stopping the run. Leonard Fournette gained 111 yards, but it took him 28 carries to do so. The last time Fournette received 28 carries, he gashed the Steelers for 181 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The rest of the Jaguars’ running backs combined for 16 carries for 28 yards. The 7-3 Jags have been held to 140 yards just twice in nine games this season.
And let’s not forget about Bortles’ middling day – 17of-30 passing for 154 yards. Today was his worst contest since a 30-9 Week 5 win over the Steelers in which Bortles completed 8-of-14 passes for 95 yards and an interception.
The offense sucked today, without a doubt. But we’re seeing the team’s young players start to figure it out. Coleman and Njoku made great catches. Shon Coleman blocked quite well, as did several other members of the line. The Browns have plenty of needs, but all of this losing stems from the fact that this is a complete rebuild. The Browns purposefully dispatched of many veterans, and would-be Browns vets ditched town.
Expect the calls for Jackson’s head or for Peyton Manning to “come save the day” to increase as we head into the final six games. Don’t answer the call. Losing is losing, but the point isn’t to win now. The point is to win in the future, and the Browns are progressing towards that goal. If you can’t see progress, especially on defense, in today’s loss, you’re blindly following the narrative set forth by other writers and fans.