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10 things to watch in the Browns’ Week 3 match-up and the NFL

We look at the Browns returning to Sunday Night Football for the first time since 2008, the fines that DE Myles Garrett received, K Austin Seibert’s kickoffs, Cleveland’s uniform selection, and more.

Erik Drost on Flickr

Welcome to Week 3 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 3 - Browns and the NFL

1. Roughing the Passer Penalties: For awhile, it seemed like the NFL was going to pass on fining DE Myles Garrett for his two roughing the passer penalties last week. However, the announcement came out Saturday afternoon that Garrett was fined a total of $42,112 for the pair of hits. Sometimes, fines get brushed off, but even for a first overall pick like Garrett, that is a huge chunk of change being taken out of his pocket.

If hearing it from coaches wasn’t enough, then those fines might be enough to make Garrett think twice about what he does when he closes in on a quarterback. I know these guys are playing with instinct and have a split second to make a decision, but the key should be that if Garrett sees the quarterback release the ball, he needs to pull up. Heck, you can still bear hug the quarterback — just stop then and keep him upright to slow your momentum down without driving the quarterback into the ground.

It is a fine line between wanting Garrett to have that killer instinct, while also being smart for both the team and himself. For all the good Garrett has done, one can argue that his 15-yard penalties were responsible for seven points for the Titans in Week 1, and three points for the Jets in Week 2.

2. Offensive Line Production: Without a subscription, it is getting harder and harder to dig up some of Pro Football Focus’ grades like we used to get. However, CLEology on Twitter was nice enough to provide them for Cleveland’s starting offensive line through two weeks:

For all the talk about right guard in camp, Eric Kush has more than held his own through two games. Joel Bitonio is playing at an All-Pro level right out of the gate, and JC Tretter might be the most underappreciated player on the team with the level of consistency he has brought to the center position. Chris Hubbard is the team’s lowest-graded player, so perhaps an injury and change to Justin McCray this Sunday can lead to a good thing.

3. Injured Reserve Situation: One second, you are thinking to yourself, “Maybe Drew Forbes can come back from IR later this season.” Then, the next second, you are thinking about two of your big-name players in TE David Njoku and LB Christian Kirksey being used as the two players who can return from injured reserve this year. The earliest they can return is Week 12 against the Miami Dolphins, which means they could still contribute for those last six games.

Njoku is the player who will definitely have the designation used on him. He will be coming off of a broken wrist, which he is not having surgery on. He’ll be able to stay in shape from a conditioning standpoint while he is away too. Kirksey has a chest injury, and whether he will physically be able to return this year remains a little unclear. If he is able to, then as a defensive captain, the team should no doubt bring him back. The Browns did draft two linebackers this year, and added Willie Harvey from the practice squad — so those guys will get the chance to see if they can play up to (or beyond) Kirksey’s level of play.

4. Uniform Confirmation: Week-to-week for years, some Browns fans have been curious about any hints during the week regarding what uniforms the team will be wearing for that game. This week, the team decided to announce what uniforms they’ll be wearing for each game this season; the graphic below shows the jersey color that will be worn, while the link here also lists what pant combination will be worn. This week against the Rams, they are wearing their color rush uniforms.

5. Austin Seibert’s Kickoff Success: It might be a little hard to understand what Pro Football Focus is saying below about Austin Seibert’s kickoffs, especially when you read that his distance on kickoffs ranks 30th in the NFL. That is not a bad thing — what they are saying is that Seibert is strategically getting great hangtime on his kickoffs, and those kickoffs are falling at a spot that almost forces returners to attempt a return. Cleveland’s coverage units are right there waiting for them, leading to an average starting field position of the 18.8 yard line — the best mark in the NFL.

Jamie Gillan has also been killing it on punts. This week, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer talked about the team’s gunners doing a great job too:

“(CB) Tavierre Thomas is the one gunner and (WR) KhaDarel Hodge, which has been a huge sign. Our personnel people did a great job getting a hold of him, and I can’t believe the Rams let him go. He is so talented. Both of those guys did a really good job the other night of finding the ball, beating their man off the ball – the corner over the safety and corner depending on if it was a vice – winning that battle, finding that ball, finding the returner, finding the ball and making the decision, which we coach over and over and over again. Because Jamie did such a good job for the most part directionally, it makes their job a little bit easier. Our protection did a good job for the most, We had one that was too close that we have to correct, and we have to make sure that does not happen. Our guys protected well. Jamie got the ball of quick and did a good job for the most part with his directional punts. It makes the job for the gunners easier. We have good gunners. We have guys that believe in what we are doing, and they understand that going back to the original question about limiting the opponent’s punt returner and the opportunities that they have, hopefully, it is going to be higher and a little bit shorter than some teams punt it. I do not want it 35 yards but 50 yards, 5.0 [hang time] or 48 yards, 4.8 [hang time], somewhere along those lines. A good hang-distance ratio, that helps our gunners and that helps everybody.”

6. The Antonio Brown Saga Continues: After one game with the Patriots, the team released him, furthering the crazy offseason he has had. What are the odds that he ends up on another NFL team — specifically, the Cleveland Browns? I am not here to advocate the move — I see the stuff he’s involved with and I want to run far, far away. I am merely pointing out a few things: prior to New England signing him the first time, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that the Browns and Seahawks were interested in Brown.

Back in January, Browns WR Jarvis Landry tried a little bit of social media recruiting with Brown and former Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell. Saturday evening, ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted that Brown’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said several teams are interested in Brown, pending information about the legal situation surrounding him.

7. Offensive System Changes: There is a great analytical piece about the Browns’ offensive playcalling over at Waiting for Next Year. In the article, John Colosimo wondered the following, much like many of you have wondered through two weeks:

The perception is the offense has looked basic, with little of the misdirection, pre-snap motion, and creativity that was their calling card in weeks 9-17 last season. But is that perception or reality?

The playcalling in the last two games of 2018 vs. the first two games of 2019 were compared. WFNY goes into more specific details, but in total, 55.5% of plays last year involved some form of misdirection, playaction, motion, or a combination of those things. Through two games in 2019, only 33.6% of plays involve those things — a staggering 21.9% dropoff that has sucked a lot of innovation out of the Browns’ offense.

It feels weird because the whole reason that I liked the idea of Freddie Kitchens being the head coach was that last year’s way of doing things (when he was offensive coordinator) hooked me. And now, it’s almost like, “Yep, we’re really not actually going to run that stuff any more.” I am hoping that some adjustments are made as the weeks go on to get the offensive creativity back to what it was a year ago.

8. First Time Since 2008: The last time the Browns played on Sunday Night Football was way back on September 14, 2008, when Pittsburgh beat Cleveland 10-6 at FirstEnergy Stadium. It was the final season that John Madden did play-by-play games, teamed up with Al Michaels.

In that game, Hines Ward caught the only touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers added a field goal to go up 10-0. Phil Dawson made his second field goal with 3:21 to play in the game, from 38 yards out. Cleveland got the ball back with 0:26 left, but Derek Anderson couldn’t make magic happen with no timeouts. I remember the game had high winds that knocked our power out just before the game started; I was in high school, so we ran to a neighbor’s house to ask if we could watch the game there.

This will be the first time that the team of Michaels and Cris Collinsworth have called the Browns on Sunday Night Football. They did call a Ravens vs. Browns game in 2016 on Thursday Night Football.

9. NFL Week 3 Picks: Here are my Week 3 picks, along with a few notes.

  • I was 12-4 in Week 2, improving my season record to 24-7-1.
  • This is one of the heaviest home team pickings I’ve ever made in a single week. I have 13 of the home teams winning, compared to just 3 road teams. Sadly, one of those road teams is the Rams in Cleveland.
  • Any new QB situation, I am staying away from it. That includes the Panthers, Giants, Steelers, and Saints. Technically, it also includes the Dolphins and Jets, but I wasn’t going to consider those teams anyway.
  • It’s hard to imagine the Bills being 3-0 to start the season, but it’s about to happen.
  • My mini-upsets of the week could be viewed as the Colts winning at home. I’m still firm that they have a good and well-coached team, despite their quarterback situation.

10. Predicting the Browns’ Week 3 Inactives: I predict the following players will be inactive for Sunday’s game against the Rams:

Projected Inactives: WR Taywan Taylor, OL Kendall Lamm, OL Chris Hubbard, LB Adarius Taylor, S Sheldrick Redwine, S Damarious Randall, and S Morgan Burnett.

This week will be a crazy list. The only players confirmed out are Lamm and Randall, so I have five more to go. Hubbard and Burnett are most likely the next ones out, since they didn’t practice all week. Now I’m down to three players. With WR Rashard Higgins coming back, the team won’t need the extra receiver in Taylor. That puts it down to two. I picked A. Taylor at linebacker, since he only had one limited practice as he tries to return from an ankle injury. The last one is Redwine, who came down with a hamstring injury late in the week.

In this scenario, there is no choice but to have DE Genard Avery active, due to injuries. Also, even if CB Denzel Ward and/or CB Greedy Williams can’t play, we could have some “did not plays” on the 46-man active roster — because you can only make so many players inactive. It could be a case where they are both available too for emergency purposes.