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. Respect Around the NFL: The Browns getting that first win last week over the Jets was a big step forward. No longer does that lingering thought exist in other teams’ minds that “we can’t be the team that loses to the Browns.” Cleveland shot up in the power rankings. Pro Football Focus predicted the Browns to win in nearly a clean sweep among their analysts:
It feels fantastic. We have suffered through plenty of miserable seasons, but in particular, the first two years under Hue Jackson’s watch tested our patience more than ever before. An awesome comeback by Baker Mayfield was all I needed last week to believe in this team again. Even if Mayfield ends up having some rookie woes, he can stay in games with this defense the Browns have — can you believe the most points they’ve allowed in a single game is 21 points?
2. Color Rush Uniforms: Who else thought the color rush uniforms the Browns debuted in Week 3 against the Jets were awesome? It really makes me look forward to 2020, when the team revamps the current uniforms yet again. As far as wearing the color rush uniforms again, you won’t have to wait long for them again. According to Daryl Ruiter of 92.3 the Fan, Cleveland will wear them two more times in 2018: in Week 5 against the Baltimore Ravens at home, and then one more time later in the season.
3. Oakland’s Pass Rush is Non-Existent: Imagine if the Browns, a few years from now, just said, “Sure, we will trade Myles Garrett away,” while having no one even close on the roster to replace him. That’s what the Raiders did with Khalil Mack, and their pass rush has suffered across the board.
- Oakland’s defense has 3 sacks, an NFL-low. Oakland only generates a sack on 3.26% of pass attempts, also an NFL-low. To compare, the Browns generate a sack on 8.41% of pass attempts.
- Per PFF data compiled by the Buffalo News, Oakland has generated pressure on 19 of 98 dropbacks in 2018 (19.4%), a mark that is the worst in the NFL. To compare, the Browns generate pressure 28.8% of the time.
DE Bruce Irvin was once a decent pass-rushing threat with the Seahawks. He talked about the team’s current struggles in that department, but fans have questioned the lack of effort he gives on gameday:
Here's Bruce Irvin on the #Raiders pass rush: "We're struggling right now but we have to keep fighting. It's frustrating ... But we're going to do what we have to do to get it done."— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) September 27, 2018
4. Haley & Hue - Trick Play Discrepancy: I’m not trying to make something out of nothing here — I just find this amusing, that is all. In Hue Jackson’s post-game press conference right after beating the Jets, he was asked about Cleveland’s successful two-point conversion looking similar to the Eagles’ “Philly Special.” Here was his response:
“We did not steal that from them. Please. I know everybody wants to think that. We have had that in our back pocket for a while. Go check my tricks from before, and go check (offensive coordinator) Todd’s (Haley) tricks from before. We all have them. It is just when you pull them out and use them. That is what that is.”
And then here is what offensive coordinator Todd Haley said this week, when asked if the play was borrowed from the Eagles:
“Absolutely, I have no shame (laughter). If plays look good… Hey, Kenny Zampese has a library of plays I have never even believe could exist. I do not know how he watches enough tape of other people to have it stored up, but a great resource. Like I said, I have no shame if something looks good. I think the way it actually went is I was down in our coaches’ locker room, and we have a TV in there and they were replaying the Super Bowl. I knew it was coming up on that part, and Kenny kind of runs our two-point plays, comes up with the ideas and builds the library. That is why he is always searching for plays around the league, and I waited to see the play run on the TV in the locker room and I went up immediately and I am like ‘We need to start working on that Philly Special. That is the whole league, though. I think you need to have your eyes open and no different going back. I do not think I ever answered college and pro meshing question, but as coaches, I think you have to keep an open mind and look for things that you think have a chance to work and fit what you are doing.”
5. Lots of Chances: Browns fans are stoked about the win over the Jets, but this team must continue making progress. The grind doesn’t stop here. Just think about some of the breaks that Cleveland had go their way against the Jets. Cleveland’s first two-point try failed before the aforementioned “Cleveland Special.” The league reportedly apologized to the Jets for the bad call.
#Jets fans will love to hear this: NFL informally/privately apologized to NYJ for this Mo Claiborne holding call on #Browns failed 2-point conversion, I’m told.— Manish Mehta (@MMehtaNYDN) September 25, 2018
Offsetting penalties set up the Philly Special knockoff on next play that tied game at 14-14 late in the 3rd quarter. pic.twitter.com/RaFS0b8LPI
Cleveland also had the Jets drop a would-be interception on Baker Mayfield’s first drive and recovered a fumble by Mayfield; not turning it over either time resulted in 3 points. In the fourth quarter, Duke Johnson’s fumble was somehow recovered by Rashard Higgins, but that could’ve left the Browns’ comeback just short if the Jets had recovered it.
One big step toward becoming a winning team, though, is that you do prevail despite these types of things. Whether things go your way or not, you still play your game and finish in the best way possible.
6. The Browns Have Avoided Penalties: The talk of the NFL these first three weeks has been the awful roughing the passer penalties that have been called. Through three weeks, though, the Browns have actually been pretty good in that department, as defensive coordinator Gregg Williams points out:
“We have avoided them, right? The only one that we got, they said that, ‘We are sorry. We were wrong.’ What we do is the same way that I have always coached is we try to get the quarterback down, we try to do things right with the receivers, we try to do things right with how we go about tackling and we minimize risk because we do not want penalties that reset the downs. Our guys are very conscious of that. The technique is sound around that. I have been very pleased with how they have gone about doing it.”
Through three weeks, the Browns have had 20 penalties total called on them, which is below the league average. They have been especially better the past two weeks, where they only have 9 total penalties. 2 of those were on offense, 3 on defense, and 4 on special teams.
7. Draw Play Dave Adds Baker Mayfield: Shout out to Draw Play Dave, who always does great NFL illustrations and just came out with one that adds QB Baker Mayfield to the long list of Browns quarterbacks since 1999:
8. Kicker Concerns: One big factor to think about with Cleveland is that kicker Greg Joseph is still very much an uncertain. Here is what special teams coordinator Amos Jones said about him this week:
On K Greg Joseph’s performance in his first game:
“It was not the prettiest of some as obvious by the first kick, but hey, the bottom line is the kid put it through the goal posts. He kind of gradually got better. I think that the last two kicks were indicative of who he really should be. That last extra point, which was a big, big point swing for us just to get it to four points. Now, it changes the dynamics of what situational football will be for them on offense driving on the last drive. That last extra point and then that kickoff, that is who we need him to be each week and to be consistent with it.”
On the Browns tryouts with Ks and if it comes down to who performs best that day or if there are other evaluation tools, particularly with veterans:
“I think that it is a feeling out process. We worked out Joseph before so we knew a little bit about him from the previous workout. Obviously, the other three guys had an NFL résumé of more than just a preseason game. You do not want to be a guy who is just going to judge it based on a workout. Now, that day we did have a particular situation where we brought it a snapper and a holder so we got to see them all do and handle a live ball situation, not just kicking off of a stick which is usually a traditional type of workout where you just kind of just bring them in and let them kick. They usually do it off a stick like a pregame routine or something like that. The evaluation process can be better for you when you truly are having to make a decision based on short week and based on just getting ready to make a change.”
On signing Joseph, despite not having stellar college statistics:
“Everything always goes back for a kicker with length strength. I think he has that. He hit a clean ball coming off the ground, which means he has good height. The ball stayed through to its track in terms of being a vertical ball, which means it is going to carry and give yourself a chance to make the kick – kind of like I alluded to with the last extra point because that is kind of how you judge, it as well. Really, having two workouts with him as opposed to just one was kind of beneficial for us to really kind of see that he really had some talent there, and he had a few kicks in Miami so you can see him in game action.”
9. NFL Week 4 Picks: I went 10-6 in Week 3, improving to 29-17-2 on the season. Here are my Week 4 picks.
10. Predicting the Browns’ Week 4 Inactives: I predict the following players will be inactive for Sunday’s game against the Raiders:
Projected Inactives: QB Tyrod Taylor, WR Rod Streater, TE Seth DeValve, DE Devaroe Lawrence, LB James Burgess, LB D’Juan Hines, and CB Tavierre Thomas.
I think Taylor will be inactive because of his back issues. Streater is still the newest receiver; he won’t be needed on gameday when Damion Ratley and Derrick Willies can already play. I’d like to see DeValve active over Orson Charles, but don’t know if he’s healthy enough yet. Burgess is out, and Hines was just signed as insurance.