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10 things to watch in the Browns’ Week 1 match-up and the NFL

We look at the the Browns’ new secondary logo, Kevin Stefanski calling plays this year, where former Cleveland players ended up, and more.

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Welcome to Week 1 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 1 - Browns and the NFL

1. A New Secondary Logo: When the Browns tweeted out some pictures of the Browns players getting ready to depart to Baltimore, people couldn’t help but notice a new logo on their clothing (hat tip to Ben Axelrod for pointing it out and doing some more digging). You can see some more of the logo here.

The designer of the logo, Michael Irwin, posted back in June that he was developing a mockup logo for the Browns, to be the team’s secondary logo. Mark Podolak, Art Director of the Cleveland Browns, confirmed on Saturday that it is the team’s secondary logo for 2020:

Yes, that’s a new secondary logo for this season. It was created by NFL in conjunction with the release of our new uniforms. It’s simple, yet our stripes are one way we are unique.

You can also see in the picture to the right above how the new logo was sent to season ticket holders on merchandise. I like it! Very brandable and nice looking.

2. Kevin Stefanski Will Call Plays in 2020: Ever since he was hired, head coach Kevin Stefanski was repeatedly asked who would call plays between he and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt. Stefanski promised he would decide and announce it before the first regular season game, and on Friday, he confirmed that he will call plays this season for the offense. Stefanski is often very vague with his explanations — I think you’ll come to find that with his press conferences if you haven’t listened to them already.

I know that playcalling duties didn’t work too well for the Browns’ past two head coaches (Hue Jackson and Freddie Kitchens), but I’m in favor of Stefanski having the duties because of his effectiveness last year. According to Pro Football Focus, using their play-by-play coaching metric, Stefanski was the 4th best play-caller in the NFL in 2019, and ran one of the more unique schemes in the NFL. Stefanski improved Minnesota’s offense in every area, and I expect the same in his transition to the Browns — even if it’s not evident early in the season, due to the shortened offseason.

3. Where Did Former Browns End Up? Between the 53-man roster and the 16-man practice squad, the Browns were able to retain a large majority of their players from camp in some capacity. However, there were a few names who landed elsewhere, or remain unsigned:

  • WR Damion Ratley is on the Giants’ roster.
  • TE Pharaoh Brown is on the Texans’ practice squad.
  • OL Willie Wright is on the Falcons’ practice squad.
  • DT Eli Ankou is on the Colts’ roster.
  • DT Daniel Ekuale is on the Jaguars’ practice squad.
  • DE Chad Thomas, CB Donnie Lewis Jr, and CB Donovan Olumba remain unsigned.

4. Approach With Team Captains: Previous Browns head coaches have had team captains, but Stefanski is going with one game captain for each week of the season. It sounds like we won’t know who that is until game time:

“What we are going to do this year is we are going to have 16 game captains. It will be one player per game. To your point, we do have a leadership committee and we do have a social justice committee. My message to the players is you do not need a C on your chest to be a great leader.”

5. Betting Big on the Browns: Depending on what sportsbook you’re looking at, the Browns are about 35/1 or 40/1 odds at winning the Super Bowl this season. Something that I thought was fascinating was that earlier this week, someone placed a $10,000 bet at the Bellagio on the Browns to win the Super Bowl at 35/1 odds. If Cleveland wins, the bettor would collect a cool $350,000. Someone else got the Browns at 50/1 odds for $10,000, which would irritate me a bit if I had just placed the same bet at 35/1.

6. RB Utilization & TE Depth Chart: When offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt talked to the media this week, he revealed a few things about the running back and tight end utilization. First, let’s look at the tight end position. You may recall that the “unofficial” depth chart showed Harrison Bryant ahead of David Njoku on the depth chart. Was it just a clerical thing? Apparently not, as Van Pelt specifically made reference to Bryant being elevated ahead of Njoku at this point:

“We will have packages for each guy. I think David was hampered by a little limitation of injury early on that kind of set him back, and then (TE) Harrison’s (Bryant) performance kind of elevated him above him at this point. We are a team that is going to be multiple and versatile so having three tight ends on the field is something you will see from us. We will use all of our personnel, and David will be a big part of that.”

Van Pelt also made it clear that Nick Chubb is the starting running back, and that Kareem Hunt would spell him, as well as being utilized in other packages:

“Kareem is going to spell (RB) Nick (Chubb) when Nick needs a spell at the running back position. There will be other opportunities for him in different spots, as well. Extremely excited to have him signed with his extension. He deserves it. He has been nothing but a great teammate for the group so far and expect nothing less. Very excited to have him on long term now.”

7. Adding a Backup Kicker: Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer was asked about the addition of K Cody Parkey to the practice squad this week, and he acknowledged that it is probably a pandemic-related move. It’s similar to the reason why I think Cleveland is keeping a backup fullback who doubles as a long snapper on the practice squad. Although the COVID-19 tests are thankfully very low in the NFL right now, you never know when a positive test can strike a player, and at what position. This year, more than ever, team need to be ready for last-minute adjustments, and the NFL’s practice squad rules this year allows for that without worrying about roster moves.

On if the Browns signed K Cody Parkey to the practice squad due to the pandemic or to add competition for K Austin Seibert:

“Probably the pandemic. The COVID rules now, if something happened to Austin or if he came back positive, we do not have a chance to bring in a guy and not even work him out but if that happened on a Saturday, we can’t just sign a guy on a Saturday and play on Sunday with the testing rules and all the different protocols. What we did is obviously (Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager) Andrew (Berry), (Head Coach) Kevin (Stefanski), our personnel department and coaching department, we made the decision that the best thing for us was to bring in a guy that could go out and help us score points if we needed to and we could bring him up Sunday morning if we needed to if something happened to Austin. Competition, it obviously makes everybody better. It makes coaches better. It makes players better. It can’t hurt that Cody is a very good kicker, as well, that he will push Austin a little bit, but Austin is our guy. He is the guy we believe in. He is the guy that is going to help us win games this year. We firmly believe that.”

8. Notes from Pro Football Focus: One of big keys that Pro Football Focus sees this week is whether the Browns’ offensive line can stand up to the Ravens’ heavy blitzing attack:

Ravens’ blitz vs. Browns’ offensive line: There is a strong case to be made that no team improved its offensive line as much as the Browns did this offseason, adding Jack Conklin and Jedrick Wills to replace Greg Robinson and Chris Hubbard at tackle. Both are players who profile better as run blockers than they do as pass blockers, but it’s hard to imagine Cleveland gets worse in pass protection at those spots, even with Wills swapping sides from right tackle to left tackle. They’ll face a tough Week 1 test against Baltimore, which blitzed at by far the highest rate in the NFL last season (55.5%) while trusting its talented secondary to hold up on the back end.

PFF also picked one breakout player for every team in 2020. That player for the Browns was pegged as LB Sione Takitaki, which I can definitely see if given the opportunity. I thought Takitaki looked like a very good player in closing to the ball in the limited action I saw from training camp:

Takitaki was a run-stuffer at BYU, and it looked as if nothing had changed on his limited work last year, as he produced a 75.1 grade and eight run stops across 62 run-defense snaps. We still need to see a lot more from him in coverage, but Takitaki, who is set to take over a starting job this year, is bound to help Cleveland stop the run.

9. NFL Week 1 Picks: This year, my weekly picks (along with the rest of the staff) can be found in a dedicated thread. Here are a few notes I’m thinking about for Week 1:

  • If you haven’t already, predict the first play, tackle, and touchdown for the Browns.
  • My game of the week is the Buccaneers vs. Saints. How can you not be curious at how Tom Brady is going to perform with another team? Will Tampa Bay look like instant Super Bowl contenders? Or will the fall flat on their face?
  • My upset of the week is the Bengals over the Chargers. Both teams have new quarterbacks, and while I don’t think Cincinnati is anything to write home about this year, I like them catching the Chargers by surprise.
  • I don’t have a good pulse on the Steelers right now, and I’m interested to see how Ben Roethlisberger plays after being removed from action for so long. I think Pittsburgh will be good, but we’ll see. The Giants are still too weak at the receiver position and the Steelers’ defense will be ready to exploit them.
  • Seeing the Rams’ new stadium will be a spectacle! It looked really nice in the previews thus far. Around the league, I wonder how the variation of number of fans will impact the games. It seemed not too bad with how many fans were allowed in Kansas City (17,000). But many teams, including Baltimore, are not allowing any fans to start things off. But then on Thursday, Cleveland will host about 6,000 fans.

10. Predicting the Browns’ Week 1 Inactives: There are changes to the inactive rules for 2020:

  • In the past, teams had a 53-man roster every week, with 46 active players.
  • That mean that each week, there would be 7 inactives.
  • This year, rosters can be 53, 54, or 55 players. Teams can promote 1 or 2 players from the practice squad, like Cleveland just did with CB Robert Jackson, for an emergency roster spot. Then, after the game, Jackson will revert back to the practice squad without having to go through waivers. The Browns can do this twice with Jackson, but on the third time, he would have to clear through waivers first.
  • Also, this year, 48 players will be active on gameday. Cleveland will have 54 players this week. That means they will need to name six inactive players. Here are my projected inactives:

Projected Inactives: OT Chris Hubbard, DE Joe Jackson, LB Mack Wilson, CB Greedy Williams, CB Kevin Johnson, CB M.J. Stewart.

Thanks for reading, and let’s go Browns! Apologies in advance if you find a bunch of weird typos in this; my wireless keyboard needs new batteries in the morning and kept missing keystrokes!