With kickoff between the Minnesota Vikings and the Cleveland Browns being less than 24 hours away, it’s time to get a little more intel on the Vikings’ opponent for this week. Chris Pokorny, the long-time lead blogger of SB Nation’s site for the Browns, Dawgs by Nature, sat down to answer some questions about his team going into this weekend’s game. I answered some questions from him as well, and you can see those in this post here from DBN. (I’m also commandeering his format for the post and throwing in some pictures rather than just the standard “wall of text” that these posts usually take.) So, here are the questions that I sent his way for this week.
1) After an overtime loss last week, the Browns are now 0-7 and have a record of 1-22 in the Hue Jackson era. If the Vikings win on Sunday, do you think that Jackson survives the bye week as the Browns' head coach?
Hue Jackson has been very disappointing as a head coach, with more and more questionable strategic decisions coming up each week. For example, last week, the Titans were in field goal range (would've been a 48-yarder) facing a 3rd-and-1. Tennessee's deep pass fell incomplete, but they were flagged for an offensive face mask. Rather than accepting the penalty and making it 3rd-and-16 (and taking the Titans out of field goal range), Jackson declined, making it 4th-and-1. His reason was that he thought Tennessee would just kick the field goal. Instead, they went for it on 4th-and-1 and converted.
I do have some sympathy for Jackson, because he really has been stuck with a crappy quarterback situation for two years. Even with that, though, going 1-22 with the Browns is beyond terrible; even bad teams should manage a couple of wins, and I've seen worse rosters in Cleveland than this. I do think that team owner Jimmy Haslam has mentally committed to a three-year plan, which will buy Jackson another season to prove himself and see this thing to completion.
2) Going into this one, the Browns are without (arguably) their best player on each side of the ball, as offensive tackle Joe Thomas is gone for the season with a triceps injury and rookie defensive end Myles Garrett didn't even make the trip to London after entering the league's concussion protocol. What will the Browns do to attempt to counter those losses?
At left tackle, the Browns will start second-year man Spencer Drango. He started about half the season at guard last year due to multiple injuries at the position and was what I'd call average. No one has high hopes for him at left tackle, though. Cleveland has had a luxury of not having to worry about a backup left tackle for ten years, and why would they when the team has always had so many other holes to address? The Browns did promote a blocking tight end from the practice squad this week, and the assumption is that he'll be used to create a double team of blockers on the left side to help try to contain the likes of Everson Griffen.
Myles Garrett has brought a nice pass rush over the past three weeks that he's been active, so it hurts to have that sucked away again. Honestly, Cleveland doesn't have anyone else who is real expected to step up and replace his production. Second-year man Carl Nassib will probably see an uptick of reps again, but he is more of a high-motor guy who doesn't have enough of an arsenal to get by offensive linemen. Gregg Williams has blitzed more than any other team in the NFL all season to try to manufacture pressure, but often times, Cleveland can't hit home and that leaves the defensive backs vulnerable to being in coverage on an island more times than I'm sure they're comfortable with, and tight ends are often left uncovered in missed assignments.
3) Looking at the Browns quarterback situation, rookie DeShone Kizer has had a rough go of it and has been sort of yanked around by the coaching staff. Has Kizer given you any indication that he's the long-term answer at quarterback, or will the Browns be looking to go a different direction this off-season?
Kizer has been very frustrating to watch, and it's led me to be pretty confident the team will look in a different direction this offseason. I don't fault the Browns for taking Kizer in the second round -- he was only selected because the front office thought he dropped so far that it was a good value pick. Him being drafted was never meant to convey that he was the quarterback of the future. I like his size, mobility, and arm strength, but he has been terrible when it comes to how long it takes him to make a decision. He's also thrown way too many passes behind receivers or over their heads, leading to crippling interceptions. Whether it be free agency or the draft, Cleveland's opening day starter in 2018 is not currently on the roster.
4) Cleveland's run defense has been solid so far this season, only allowing teams to rush for about three yards/carry. Who are some of the players on that side of the ball that the Vikings are going to have to watch out for on Sunday?
One player I'd normally point out is rookie DT Larry Ogunjobi, but he only played three snaps last week and is now doubtful for this week's game due to injury. Collectively, it's just been an element that has clicked for Cleveland, regardless of injuries. At their best, the team is nine players strong on the defensive line, with DT Danny Shelton, DT Jamie Meder, DT Trevon Coley, DE Emmanuel Ogbah, and DE Nate Orchard defending the run well inside and always doing a good job setting the edge. Penetration in the backfield by someone winning a one-on-one match-up has been a regularity. I think their solid run defense will continue again this week.
5) The Browns had a bit of a wild offseason, whether it was the Brock Osweiler saga or accumulating a ton of draft picks for seasons down the road during this year's draft. With the Browns' new regime apparently doing things from a different perspective, have they given any sort of indicator of what the long-term plan is in Cleveland? How secure do you think the current front office is?
As I indicated earlier in the question about head coach Hue Jackson, I believe team owner Jimmy Haslam will stick to the plan of giving the front office a third year (in 2018) to prove themselves. After that, all bets are off. Why not act sooner? In Haslam's first couple of years as owner, he was heavily criticized for making rash changes at head coach or the front office too quickly. When he settled on the current regime, the big message conveyed by everyone was, "we know this is going to be painful, but we believe that if we stay patient and see this entire thing through, we can turn this organization around." 1-22 over the past two seasons can tempt a change, but we're already this far into it, so why not see if the third year brings some good fortunes? I firmly believe this team is being built quite well at a number of spots. Quarterback and wide receiver are the massive and glaring holes, but if quarterback is addressed in 2018, maybe Cleveland can restore faith.
Big thanks to Chris for taking an opportunity to answer our questions about the Browns. Here’s hoping for a good game on Sunday. . .one that the Vikings win, of course. . .and a game where everyone comes out relatively unscathed.