One of the most disjointed and disappointing seasons in Browns’ history continues, as the Browns suffered yet another dispiriting loss. Standing a wobbly 3-7, the Browns are now two Sundays away from Deshaun Watson’s debut - an event that will feature staggering expectations for a troubled franchise.
Watson’s debut can either signal an affirmation for Andrew Berry and Kevin Stefanski’s future or just serve as a distraction for the dismal on-field product the Browns have become. Yet, in the meantime, the voices of distraught Browns are growing louder.
Perhaps the most telling comments came from defacto defensive leader, Myles Garrett.
“We gotta make sure we don’t waste the talent that we have in its prime right now. We gotta do our best with it.”
If you look at the further context of the quote, Garrett goes on to speak about the faint possibility of playoffs - a feat that would be miraculous at this point. But if you extrapolate a deeper meaning (which is what I tend to do), Garrett is making a profound point.
Thanks to Berry’s drafting guardrails, the Browns feature the league’s youngest roster. In a league that has dramatically shifted younger in recent years, Berry’s strategy is sound. However, the team’s continued on-field struggles hints at a need to add veteran leadership.
Regarding Garrett, his comments hint at a very non-analytical, human sentiment: talented players like Garrett, Denzel Ward, Nick Chubb, Joel Bitonio, and Amari Cooper among others are having their efforts wasted. The physical toll of playing high-level NFL football is brutal. These players are taking games off of their careers (and likely years off of their lives) on a floundering, soulless team.
In terms of the Browns’ future - the one that envisions Watson and Stefanski evolving the offense - Garrett will be entering his seventh season, while Ward and Chubb are hitting their sixth. Similarly, Bitonio will be playing his tenth season. That’s a lot of mileage on the Browns’ core players.
Grinding through another seven ultimately meaningless games to finish the season only adds stress to these players’ bodies. Emotionally, knowing the team’s personnel and coaching limitations and propensity for awful fourth quarters makes these tasks more difficult. Unless Watson is the savior most media and fans have pegged him as, finding motivation to finish the season will prove challenging.
Garrett - and I would greatly assume Bitonio - both know these miles add up. Certainly, Bitonio saw former teammates Alex Mack and Joe Thomas suffer through similar lost seasons. Garrett and Chubb’s Browns careers are following a similar trajectory as Thomas (minus the surprise 2020 playoff win).
Given that the offseason will likely produce coaching and personnel turnover, these same prime players will be counted on to bolster their respective position groups. Of course, as we’ve seen time and again with the Browns, whatever perceived preseason strength usually turns into a major liability.
We’re currently seeing a decline in the Browns’ offensive line - at least over the past two weeks. Jack Conklin and Jed Wills have struggled, while Wyatt Teller has also been disappointing. To assume this unit is once again a strength in 2023 is faulty logic - similar to how the 2022 defense was supposed to carry the team through Watson’s suspension. Wasting more prime snaps over the next two months certainly won’t help the veteran core of the unit.
ODDS and ENDS
1. I laid out an interesting (to me) hypothesis last week regarding the Browns’ bad luck with opening coin tosses. Against Buffalo, a familiar sequence occurred. The Browns again fielded the opening kickoff and scored on their opening drive. The Bills later scored to close out the second half, then received the second half kickoff - completely flipping the game.
These events also occurred in the Miami game. The Browns’ lone win over the past two months featured the opposite events. Against the Bengals, the Browns kicked off to start the game, held the Bengals late in the first half, then scored to begin the third quarter.
This end of half/beginning of half flip appears to be the Browns’ only chance to win. This was the model for their 2020 success, as the formula led to fourth quarters of Chubb and Kareem Hunt salting away games.
Yet again - the irony is just too much. A team steeped in analytics has to rely on a 50/50 coin flip to succeed.
2. I know bashing the special teams has been covered extensively on Browns’ Twitter, but Mike Priefer’s squad has devolved into a disaster. In a league where kickoff returns have essentially been neutered (except for New England and Cordarrelle Patterson), the Browns are now allowing opposing returners extra yards.
Kicking field goals only leads to breakdowns, as the Browns’ interior line can’t block defenders and Cade York’s brain is broken. Similarly, yet another promising Browns’ punter is struggling badly.
However, the crowning touch has to be a holding penalty called on a punt return that Donovan Peoples-Jones fair caught at his own 20. DPJ has been installed as punt returner, simply because the Browns cannot literally put anyone else into the spot. He rarely returns punts and is there simply to not drop the ball.
In the spirit of this dysfunction, such a penalty deserves an award. We’ll call it The Briean Boddy-Calhoun LVP Award.
3. To end on a positive note, it’s worth saying that Jerome Ford shows some promise as a kick returner. He is a smooth, decisive runner who deserves a late-season peek at running back. With the futures of Hunt and D’Ernest Johnson unsettled, it’s possible Ford becomes Chubb’s primary backup in 2023. Similarly, cornerback Martin Emerson continues to impress. It will be intriguing to see how he progresses in what should be a new defensive system next year.
As for those third and fourth round defensive tackles currently clogging the roster, I think we’ve seen enough. Yet, if Baker Mayfield continues to earn starting reps in Carolina, Berry could have another fourth-round pick to again throw at the draft dartboard.
Dave Kolonich has written for Fox Sports Ohio, The Orange and Brown Report and created Cleveland Reboot.