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10 things to watch in the Browns’ Week 4 match-up and the NFL

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We look at the Browns’ red zone issues, Larry Ogunjobi continuing to produce, some more film room problems, and more.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Week 4 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 4 - Browns and the NFL

1. Categorical Struggles for the Browns’ Defense: I talked about this in my film review earlier this week, but the Browns’ defense has had one big problem that has flown under-the-radar through three games: they have been terrible in red zone defense and goal-to-go situations. Below is a comparison of the Browns and Bengals.

Defensive Rankings

Team Total Yds Pass Yds Rush Yds 3rd Down Red Zone Goal Line Points
Team Total Yds Pass Yds Rush Yds 3rd Down Red Zone Goal Line Points
Browns 12th (321) 20th (233) 14th (88) 21st (41%) 31st (80%) 30th (100%) 26th (25.3)
Bengals 7th (293) 4th (163) 25th (130) 17th (39%) 9th (44%) 8th (57%) 9th (20.0)

In Week 1, the Steelers were 2-for-2 in the red zone. In Week 2, the Ravens were 3-of-4 in the red zone. In Week 3, the Colts were also 3-of-4. For those who aren’t aware, that means in 10 red zone defensive attempts this season, the Browns have allowed 8 touchdowns (the other two possessions represent anything else — i.e. a field goal or turnover).

The Browns were awful in these areas last year, but that was under Ray Horton. I was hoping for better results this year, but that hasn’t been the case through three games. Even if the Browns turned one more touchdown into a field goal in their first three games, it would’ve made a big difference on the team not falling behind so much. The biggest detriment has been their lack of a pass rush.

2. Larry Ogunjobi Continues to Receive Praise: This week on ESPN Insider, Pro Football Focus decided to pluck a secret data point for each of the 32 teams in the NFL. For the Bengals, they featured rookie DE Carl Lawson, who has the 6th best pass-rushing grade in the NFL heading into Week 3. The Browns’ secret weapon? A rookie of their own, but from a run defense perspective: DT Larry Ogunjobi:

The Browns have added several pieces to their defensive front in recent years, but it's rookie third-round pick Ogunjobi who is off to the best start. Ogunjobi has excelled against the run, ranking 10th in the NFL with an 83.4 grade after ranking third in FBS with a run-stopping grade of 90.8 last season at Charlotte. The rest of Cleveland's defensive line has struggled -- No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett hasn't played yet -- but the Browns might've found a long-term cog in Ogunjobi.

PFF also ranked the Top 10 rookie of the year candidates. To no one’s surprise, none of the Browns players are in it, and the early runaway favorite figures to be RB Kareem Hunt. But Ogunjobi was one of the 11 players who was included in the “on the bubble” group. Lawson, for comparison, is ranked 5th. Here’s a clip of Ogunjobi doing work against the Colts again last week:

3. Josh Gordon’s on Snapchat: In case you don’t follow social media, Browns WR Josh Gordon is out of rehab. No word or further rumors have come down about his status with the NFL. He’s already perturbed some Browns fans, though, by posting this on Snapchat:

It shows Gordon on the right and former Browns WR Greg Little on the left. In plain English, Gordon appears to be saying, “Greg Little is taking mid day car ride naps!! (And this is how he feels about the your teams starting WRs compared to us,” along with some crying of laughter emojis.

My reaction? Hey, as long as he’s still under contract with the Browns and that slim chance exists he can contribute, I don’t give a [bleep] what he says. Plus, while everyone assumes “your teams” meant the Browns, it’s possible it could’ve just been a general statement — i.e. the two of us are better than any teams’ wide receivers.

4. Highlighting Zane Gonzalez: Through two games, we've only seen Zane Gonzalez attempt two field goals, the longest of which was from 38 yards. Add in the six extra points, and he's basically been a perfect 8-of-8 on kicks from extra point distance. But here are a couple of under-the-radar things that PFF pointed out with him.

Mainly, they point out that only 8.3% of his kickoffs have had a return attempted, which is first in the NFL. What does that boil down to? He’s has 12 kickoffs. 2 of them were onside kicks from last week, which skew his average distance. The only one with an actual “return” came in Week 1, when there was a 15-yard penalty after the Corey Coleman touchdown and he purposely pooched it short. So in reality, we haven’t seen Cleveland’s kickoff coverage once this year.

Speaking of those onside kicks, special teams coordinator Chris Tabor talked about both of the attempts that Cleveland was unable to recover last Sunday:

“We tried a couple of things. We tried to get it wide and free up some guys. Formations, we had an extra player over to that side so you were going to get someone there, but it is the also timing and the speed of how fast is the ball going and how fast is your player going, They did a nice job of blocking. We still had a guy there, but it just didn’t time up properly.

Then we tried a different kick on the second one that we have had some success with. Those plays are so tough because I think it is a 10 percent chance that you get the ball, but I think we were one of three last year so you say, ‘Hey, we were 33 percent.’ Everyone assumes the hands team is always going to get it. We are always just trying to cause some confusion, and you kind of turned into a little bit of a melee from the standpoint of hoping that the confusion and the ball squirts through and you are there and you recover it.”

5. PFF Compares the Browns vs. Bengals, Part 1: I love the graphical previews that PFF did for this week’s game. Take a look at each of them and form your own your own judgments about favorable and unfavorable match-ups.

Browns’ Offense (12 Personnel) vs. Bengals’ Defense (Base Defense)
Browns’ Offense (11 Personnel) vs. Bengals’ Defense (Nickel Defense)

6. PFF Compares the Browns vs. Bengals, Part 2: Now, let’s flip the script and look at the Bengals’ offense against the Browns’ defense, again via PFF.

Bengals’ Offense (12 Personnel) vs. Browns’ Defense (Base Defense)
Bengals’ Offense (11 Personnel) vs. Browns’ Defense (Nickel Defense)

7. A Few Notes from Last Week’s Loss: Hat tip goes out to Jake Burns, who has been doing a ton of film room analysis related to the Browns on Twitter. We highlighted some of his clips last week, and will talk about a few more here.

  • The Bengals have been a good pass-rushing team, and last week, Cleveland had issues with the interior twisting rushes that the Colts’ linemen were doing. Here are two examples that the team will need to clean up to prevent Geno Atkins from having a big day:

And here is another issue from the first quarter with protection.

  • The fullback has not been used to Cleveland’s advantage, but Danny Vitale has good hands and could help the team pick up a first down every game...if only he were targeted. This is an example where DeShone Kizer needs to get the ball out ASAP to the guy closest to him, and let him do the rest. This would’ve been a five yard gain at a minimum, and could’ve turned up into a first down.
  • Earlier, I talked about the Browns’ poor red zone and goal-to-go defense. Two of the mis-steps against Indianapolis was highlighted in our film review, when Jacoby Brissett took it himself. MLB Joe Schobert was partially to blame on one of those plays. When RB Frank Gore scored from 4 yards out too, Schobert has to be better here in making the tackle:

But that’s not to discredit Schobert’s potential. He had great sideline-to-sideline pursuit on Gore here and here.

  • What about RB Isaiah Crowell’s pass-blocking issues from Week 1?
  • A great subtle point made about Kizer not selling his playaction fakes well enough. This isn’t fooling many defenders:

8. Making Andy Dalton Uncomfortable: You hate to sound like you know a gameplan better than an NFL coach, but I really hope the Browns go with a the Cover-2 look this week and limit their single-high safety looks. Here is an example of how Andy Dalton will take advantage of that look, and what Jamar Taylor has been burned by a few times this year:

Those are throws that Dalton can get out quickly without worrying about all his protection issues. But, if Cleveland plays more of a Cover-2 zone, Dalton isn’t trusting his offensive line at all when he holds on to the ball, and it’s caused him to not even see open receivers crossing right in front of him. Gregg Williams was asked about the Colts’ big plays last week, but he stood his ground that Indianapolis still didn’t throw the ball long, it was other issues that led to big gains:

“The big thing there was, a couple of them – again, you see how many of them were thrown past 20? Hardly any. They were runs after catches and poor angles on our part. They did a good job with that because we have done a very good job of minimizing some of those things. Max protection, we got three sacks in the game but we missed four or five more. Through executing of whatever the line – we call it a gain when it is a pass rush gain and we call it a stunt when it is a stunt versus the run – but we had a couple of things.

We had a couple of blitzes where we had wrong gap fits. To their credit, as soon as that happens, there is not a faraway look in their eyes. They say, ‘I missed that. I missed that,’ and boom, they made the corrections right in the second half and played a lot smarter. Let me put it that way. Football intelligence is different than overall intelligence. You have to be able to play the same way you play in the driveway, the same way you play in the street, the same way you play in the backyard. If you think that Xs and Os the way you do it on a video screen or the way you do it on a playbook page is going to happen that way, it is not. How you react to things when it gets off script, we had a couple of poor reactions, and they did a great job correcting those things on the feel of the game.”

9. NFL Week 4 Picks: Last week was not my finest hour, as I went 7-9, making my record 29-19 on the year (1-2 in Browns games). Here are my Week 4 picks, along with a few notes.

  • There are a lot of tough match-ups this week, thanks to how wacky Week 3 was. There are a lot of questions on what a team’s true identity is.
  • The first game is indicative of that -- the Saints’ defense was torched for two weeks, then shut down the Panthers in a big way. I am picking them to win the London game over a Miami team that hasn’t had a lot of time with Cutler in the whole grand scheme of things.
  • The Bills were on the cusp of being in my bad teams column, but their defense played very well against the Broncos, and really have done so in all three games. But Atlanta’s offensive firepower at home still gets the nod.
  • Maybe Baltimore was a pretender after all, and Cincinnati and Cleveland just made them look really good. The Steelers bounce back this week, but the game should be tight as it always is.
  • Holy cow, who would’ve guessed the Rams would be such a high-powered offense once Jeff Fisher was kicked to the curb? Jared Goff is dealing in year number two...but perhaps against my better judgment, I’m sticking with the Cowboys at home.
  • The Titans are gaining steam, and I think Houston’s one week light-em-up against the Patriots last week will fall back to reality due to their offensive line woes.
  • Case Keenum certainly improved from Week 2 to Week 3, didn’t he? The Lions were like an inch and a few seconds away from being 3-0, though, and they’ll expose some of the Vikings’ vulnerabilities.
  • The Panthers’ offense is on shaky ground with a banged up Cam Newton and no Greg Olsen. They don’t stand a chance against an on-fire Tom Brady.
  • How the heck did the Jets look as good as they did a week ago? The same goes for the Jaguars? At least with Jacksonville, I get why their defense shows promise, and they’ll be able to attack the Jets and Josh McCown this week. They just have to hope that Blake Bortles doesn’t give the game away.
  • As much as I still like Brian Hoyer, San Francisco’s defense doesn’t have it.
  • The Chargers are winless, and Philip Rivers’ magic can’t overcome the talent gap that is forming between them and their competition. Remember — they’re the only team that Cleveland beat less than a year ago.
  • Could the Giants really fall to 0-4 too? Maybe I’m just hoping Cleveland has some company if they lose. But their team is turning into a disaster, especially with the Beckham-ownership situation.
  • I love the Raiders, but after their stunning struggles a week ago, I see Denver being the team that bounces back and puts Oakland into a two-week funk.
  • The Seahawks are missing something. Maybe the mystique about them has finally disappeared. But they should be able to dismantle the Colts the way that Cleveland really should have.
  • The game of the week is Washington vs. Kansas City on Monday Night. Both teams know how to get the ball in the hands of their playmakers and are combining it with some tough defense.

10. Predicting the Browns’ Week 4 Inactives: I predict the following players will be inactive for Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals:

Projected Inactives: QB Cody Kessler, WR Sammie Coates, OL Zach Banner, OL Marcus Martin, DE Myles Garrett, OLB Jamie Collins, and DL Caleb Brantley.

The only played ruled out is Collins. Coates is questionable with a hamstring injury, but I don’t see him playing as a guy who relies on speed. Kessler, Banner, and Martin have been inactive every week. That’s five players.

With DT T.Y. McGill not being on the injury report this week, I think he’ll make his debut over Brantley. But if there is concern over DT Danny Shelton’s calf, Shelton may be down with Brantley then up. The last one came down to Garrett or a defensive back. I was optimistic about Garrett, but I keep thinking to how confident Mary Kay Cabot seemed that he’ll sit for one more week. Dammit!