Congratulations, gentlemen. You lost 33-16 to a team that went 8-8 last year. The team was playing its third-string quarterback (Case Keenum) and didn’t have its #1 back (Dalvin Cook). Its #2 receiver (Stefon Diggs) had missed several games with a a groin pull, and didn’t go long even once (he was 4-6 for 27 yards).
But Minnesota ran 77 plays, gained 375 yards, and held the ball for 37:52. They gave up only one sack and had only one turnover.
The Browns can say “Well, we stuffed nine runs– and we knocked down 10 passes!” But the fact remains– they stuffed Latavius Murray (available in free agency last off-season; he cost $15 million for three years) and Jerick McKinnon, not Dalvin Cook. Case Keenum cost the Vikings only $2 million for a year because his career stats were:
- 9-15 in 24 games started.
- 78.4 rating (80 is the minimum to be acceptable),
- 6.7 yards per pass (7.25 is average)
- 24-20 TD-INT ratio (40-20 or 24-12 would be acceptable)
Keenum had a rating of 88.3 Sunday; he went 27-43 for 288 yards (6.7 per pass) and threw an interception. He did throw two TDs– but in both cases, he hit a receiver more or less unguarded in the end zone.
Admittedly, the Viking offense (and the Cleveland defense) knew that almost any amount of scoring would be sufficient. The Browns went into the game averaging 14.7 points a game. It exceeded that amount only because the Vikings gave them the ball inside their own 40 twice:
- Carl Nassib tipped a pass that Joe Schobert pulled down and returned to the 37
- Matt Dayes returned a kick 72 yards to the 31.
The Browns managed to get only six points out of those two possessions because Zane Gonzalez missed an extra point and a 35-yard field goal. (In the game preview, I said he had fought through his slump; obviously I was mistaken.)
The Browns managed to score a touchdown after an 8-play, 82-yard drive. Its next longest drive was 37 yards.
One may claim (not credibly, but it can be said) that the defense allowed 33 points because its lone pass rusher Myles Garrett and its best corner (30-year-old Jason McCourty) missed the game, and tackles Larry Ogunjobi and Trevon Coley were inactive. (Jabrill Peppers didn’t play, but Ibraheim Campbell stepped in and made the same mistakes Peppers has been making.)
But what is the excuse for the offense? Sure Joe Thomas missed the game, but the offense hadn’t been any better with him. In fact (as Thomas noted on Twitter) it performed better without him. Knowing that Spencer Drango would be overmatched, coach Hue Jackson didn’t call his customary game plan with 25 deep throws to journeymen. Instead, he called for short, quick passes to people capable of catching them.
Corey “Hands” Coleman was out– but what does that matter? Before he got hurt, he’d caught only 6 of the 13 balls thrown to him, averaging 10.3 yards a catch. That’s the same performance he had as a rookie– that every Baylor receiver (other than Puff Gordon) has had once they reach a league that requires them to run patterns while guarded.
You can argue that Coleman’s absence was keenly felt, because every other receiver on the team is even worse. But the number of people missing was nothing compared to the Vikings issues– they were also missing LG Nick Eaton and they lost RT Mike Remmers to a concussion during the game.
The problem is that the offense is terrible– that, other than the patchwork of highly-paid journeymen on the line, the Browns are incompetent everywhere on the unit.
How much would Terrelle Pryor help?
Probably not a lot. For one thing, last season’s team went 1-15 with him, scoring 16.5 points. For another, his production has plummeted. He had 77 catches last year; after 7 games, he has only 18.
Pryor says he isn’t being used properly
Of course he does. He probably believes it too.The problem with that statement is that there is no data suggesting that the offense is being mishandled. Washington is 12th in points per game. Kirk Cousins is having a great year (103.3 rating, 8.0 yards per pass, 13 TDs and 4 INTs). More to the point, several receivers are outperforming Pryor. There are:
- Four receivers with more catches,
- Three who have more total yards,
- Four with more yards per catch,
- Four have more touchdowns, and
- Five players (omitting four guys with five throws or less, all of whom are better) are catching a higher percentage of balls
Pryor’s playing time is a little bit down from last year (87.4% of the plays for Jackson, 70.2% for Jay Gruden). The difference is that he got 8.75 targets per game last year. Cleveland threw 62.5% of the time and he was one of four people worth targeting. Washington throws 57.6% and has half a dozen guys. He’s down to 4.75 throws per game this year.
If the Browns had him instead of Britt–
OK, let’s go through this once and for all. The Browns gave Britt $32 million for four years, but only $17 million is guaranteed. They can cut him at the end of the year and owe only $9 million.
Had the signed Pryor, they would be paying him $12 million for one season.
Pryor didn’t want to sign a multi-year deal. Drew Rosenhaus (his agent) convinced Pryor that his best option was to sign a one-year contract, have an even better year (figuring Pryor would have more experience and a better quarterback) and then hit the market again. They expected him to get a multi-year deal averaging $13-16 million.
I’d say it was improbable, but that’s what the best receivers get paid.
That’s why Pryor turned down multi-year offers valued at $10 or 11 million per year.
As for Britt, it’s hard for him to justify his contract when the team isn’t playing him. He’s played only five of the eight games and started only four. Not surprising– Jackson is angry with him.
Remember, Jackson loves Pryor– Oakland blew a #3 pick to get him in the supplemental draft when he was coaching Oakland. Almost every story about Pryor getting a tryout said he was working out for the Bengals. Guess who was coaching there.
The coach is angry that the front office didn’t sign a player he likes– and stuck him with a player he doesn’t. He barely played Britt in pre-season (67 snaps, 6 throws); when Britt played badly in game one, that’s pretty much been it.
How much would Pryor help the offense?
Not as much as you think.
One of the biggest red flags on DeShone Kizer in college was “stares at his primary receiver from the moment the ball is snapped”, making it very easy for the defense. If the Browns had Pryor, Jackson would be calling his number 8-10 plays per game.Kizer (who’s still leading the NFL in picks) would have even more interceptions and passes knocked down.
If you want to play this game, you should be asking how much the Browns miss Andrew Hawkins or Gary Barnidge.
Neither of them are in the league anymore
I know. Hawkins hurt himself during offseason workouts and decided to retire. Barnidge has played eight years. Since the minimum salary is now based on service time, any team that signed him would be required to pay him at least $900,000 a year.
My point is that last season, Barnidge caught 67.1% of the balls thrown to him (fourth among Browns with ten catches). Hawkins (61.1%) was fifth.
On this roster, they’d be third and fourth, behind The Duck (75.0%) and The Crow (68.0%). The next-best player (David Njoku) had 56.3% (since he went 2-7 yesterday, that’s gonna drop).
Having reliable targets would help Kizer a great deal. They don’t have any. The Marx Brothers blew five picks on receivers in the 2016 draft. They took receivers in the first (Coleman), fourth (Rocardo Louis and Seth Devalve) and fifth (Jordan Payton, Rashard Higgins).None of them can do the position’s primary job: receive.
- Devalve (17-32; 53.1%) is the best of the lot this year. That’s way down from his 10-12 last year (83.3%), where he looked like he might be a valuable possession receiver.
- Louis (23-45; 51.1%) is the only other one over 50%. Since he was 18-35 (51.4%) last year, it’s pretty likely that he will always be a “hit or miss” player (literally).
- Coleman (6-13) is 46.2%. That’s his second season below 50%– he went 33-73 (45.2%) as a rookie.
- Higgins (14-31) is 45.2%. That’s down a hair from 2016, where he went 6-12.
A lot of that is probably the quarterbacking
I love it when people who are confronted with evidence they know nothing about leap to conclusions, If that were the case, do you think I’d be citing the data?
A year ago, Browns’ QBs completed 59.6% of their throws. Pryor caught 77 of 140 balls– 55.0%.
This year he has Kirk Cousins (completing 67.9% of his passes) targeting him. Pryor is 18-34, which is 52.9%
As it happens, there are three receivers on the team who played for other teams– in two cases, with outstanding quarterbacks:
- Russell Wilson targeted Kasen William only twice; he caught one of the balls. He is 9-18 this year.
- Sammie Coates caught 22 of the 51 balls (43.1%) Ben Roethlisberger threw him in Pittsburgh, He is 3-8 here, or 37.5%.
- Britt caught 309 of 566 (54.5%) with Tennessee and the Rams. He is 10-28 (35.7%) here.
Catch percentage isn’t a perfect measure for three reasons. First, NFL rules require there to be an “intended receiver” on every pass attempt– even when the quarterback is throwing the ball away. Some percentage of targets come on uncatchable balls.
Second, a deep threat like A.J. Green (who runs tougher routes and is usually double-covered) is likely to catch a lower percentage (58.5% this year) than a running back (Cincinnati’s are a collective 33-41, or 80.5%), who gets screens or outlet throws.
Third, if the quarterback has trouble throwing certain patterns– and the receiver frequently runs them– that will drive down the catch percentage. And if the quarterback is completing 52% of his passes (as Kizer is), it is unlikely that anyone will hit 60%. (That isn’t always true.)
But thanks to rules changes and the schemes being used, completion percentages are at historic highs now. The league average was 62.7% last year. 60% is the benchmark for a receiver.
The quarterbacks have nobody reliable to throw to.
So you think they need to draft someone
Dear God, no. The Browns need receivers, but not players drafted by the Marx Brothers.
This front office drafted five players a year ago. They’re all busts. This isn’t target-shooting, where you improve with practice. If you’re not scouting properly, picking more players means you’ll keep making mistakes.
I don’t normally second-guess drafts, but there is no question that the 2016 draft was a disaster. Receivers taken shortly after almost every Browns pick have substantially outperformed them.
Coleman (pick #15; 39 catches for 475 yards): He was the first receiver drafted. They could have had anyone they wanted. Houston’s Will Fuller (60 career catches for 914 yards) or the Giants’ Sterling Shepard (87 for 946) or New Orleans’s Michael Thomas (134 for 1,617) would probably be helping them much more.
Louis (pick 114; 41-497): He was taken 26 picks before Tajae Sharpe (41-522). Sharpe has missed the entire 2017 season with a foot injury, and the Titans still have gotten as much out of the pick as the Browns.
Devalve (pick 138; 27-321): The next player at his position was taken with pick 177, so there is no good comp. I will note that none of the scouting services expected him to be drafted at all.
Payton (pick 154; 1 catch for 3 yards before being cut): 11 slots later, Kansas City took Tyreek Hill (who has 97 catches for 1,108 yards).
Higgins (pick 172; 20-227): The only receiver drafted within 32 picks (one round) even close is Cody Core of the Bengals (17-200).
The list of players outperforming the Browns’ choices will only get larger, Rookie receivers usually don’t win starting jobs– it takes them a year or two to learn the routes, beat out the veteran and begin producing. Coleman and Fuller were #1 picks who got to start as rookies. Josh Doctson of Washington and LaQuaon Treadwell of Minnesota didn’t. They’re both starting now and might move ahead by year’s end.
Based on what they’ve done, I wouldn’t consider letting the Marx Brothers use any more high pick on receivers. I’d make them sign veterans until they showed they could pick good ones.
Hasn’t the quarterback derby hurt them?
Not nearly as much as Trent Green (the former QB who raised the issue during the game) thinks. Obviously it matters– every quarterback throws differently; they all have favorite routes or receivers. But receivers who drop passes as often as these guys do (or run to the wrong spot and get bitched out by both the QB and the coaches) don’t get to grumble about how someone throws the ball.
The problem with former players becoming broadcasters is that most of them think every game revolves around their position.
But that raises another issue. The Browns wouldn’t have this chaos at quarterback– and wouldn’t have needed to take Kizer in the second round this year– if they’d chosen Dak Prescott instead of Cody “Trust Me” Kessler with their third pick in 2016. But the front office didn’t like Prescott.
They had a chance to take DeShaun Watson with the 12th pick this year– they didn’t like him either.
Now perhaps Prescott (to date, a 102.2 rating, 7.6 yards per pass and 37-8 TD-INT ratio) wouldn’t look as good with these receivers– or without “Son of Ray Rice” running the ball. Watson has a league-high 19 TD passes (plus only 8 interceptions, 8.3 yards per pass and a 103.0 rating). Maybe he’d be leading the NFL in interceptions (as Kizer is) if he were here.
Maybe Kessler and Kizer would look a lot better if they were on other teams. But so far there isn’t a single position where we can say “Boy, this front office really knows how to find talent.”
A year ago, it chose Emmanuel Ogbah with the 32nd pick, leaving TE Hunter Henry on the board (also, Shepard and Thomas at receiver, plus RB Derrick Henry).
On Sunday, Garrett missed another game. The Browns needed someone to step up. The player who did was Carl Nassib (the third-round pick in 2016). He got a sack and three tackles. He was credited with a quarterback hit; he tipped three passes– one of them going to Joe Schobert, setting up the first score.
Ogbah had no sacks, tackles or assists, and only one tipped pass. He was shut out in the Baltimore game as well– in both the Pittsburgh, Houston and Tennessee games, he had no sacks and one tackle.
Nassib, who broke his hand last year (and then rushed back from it), has played only 856 snaps. Ogbah has about 50% more. If you look at the major stats (PD is “passes defensed” AKA balls tipped), Ogbah hasn’t been 50% more productive:
The only edge for Ogbah is in assists. Since he he plays on the weak side (no tight end), he should be able to get to more plays than a guy who has to fight off two blockers.
The other issue I have with Ogbah is that much of his output (4.5 sacks, 12 tackles, 6 assists) has come in three games against the Bengals. Marvin Lewis will be lucky to go 8-8 this year; if he gets fired, Ogbah no longer has any value.
I’ve said it before: I suspect the Browns would be in better shape with Nassib starting opposite Garrett and Ogbah as the third down rusher.
The secondary has been another problem spot. Last year the front office drafted Derrick Kindred in round #4– he couldn’t beat out Ed Reynolds and is pretty terrible in coverage. This year they passed up free safety Malik Hooker at pick 12 and ended up taking whatchamacallit Jabrill Peppers (meaning “we don’t know what, if any position he plays best”) at pick 25– the way the two have played so far, that clearly looks like a mistake.
You’d need to have Grade four Stage four Lesmerises (a degenerative brain disease that produces dementia) to imagine that the Marx Brothers can fix the problems with their drafting at this point.
This is the problem with making a lawyer the GM, putting a pro personnel guy in charge of college scouting and giving some dude who worked for baseball teams input.
Why are you so het up about the draft?
I usually react to what I am seeing and hearing. It has come achingly clear to the media that the Browns will, unless they catch someone sleepwalking to the end of a lost season, go 0-16. It’s hard, at this point, to see any games they project to win:
- Detroit is 3-4 and still in the hunt for the playoffs, so they will be trying.
- Jacksonville is 4-3. Its defense is strong; its offense is coming around.
- The Bengals could be 5-5 (losing at Jacksonville, winning at Tennessee and then at home against Denver), so they should still be playing hard.
- The Chargers are likely to be 3-8 (they’re 3-5 and have Jacksonville, Buffalo and Dallas), but they have more talent and ought to want to revenge themselves for last season’s loss.
- Green Bay should be in a tailspin due to life without Aaron Rodgers, but they’re a good team..
- I’d guess Baltimore will be 6-7, and might be staggering. They have a lot of people hurt.
- Chicago’s defense is now ranked 14th, they have a good running game and Mitch Trubisky will be starting his 11th game. He looks OK now, but could regress.
- Pittsburgh will not lose to the Browns if Cleveland is 0-15. If the Steelers have their playoff slot locked up, they could (as they did last year) send out the scrubs and say “It’s on you, guys.”
There are possibilities, but nothing I’d be willing to pick.
That’s why we’re seeing more and more “The Browns are so undermanned” and “It’s tough for Hue Jackson to win when he doesn’t have the players.”
The Browns seem undermanned partly because they fill their roster with players who lack the basic requirements of the position. But they also devote roster spots to people they rarely play:
More to the point, I have no idea why Dayes and Vitale aren’t both starting.
Are you crazy?
Like a fox. It is certifiably insane to come out with one running back, one tight end and three receivers. They don’t have three receivers capable of holding down a job on an NFL team.
It would make sense to try using two receivers and two tight ends (Seth Devalve and David Njoku). Neither of them can block, however– and with Joe Thomas out, the quarterback needs blockers.
Vitale can block. He’s been targeted seven times and caught six. Is he a great player? No way. But he is a role player, whose roles (picking up blitzers and being a surehanded receiver) are exactly what the Browns need right now.
Do the math, We don’t know– he’s in the concussion protocol– if The Duck will be available in week 10. But more to the point, Hue Jackson has clearly decided that he won’t work as the #1 back. Review his career:
- As a rookie, Mike Pettine gave him 104 carries and 74 targets.
- Last season, Jackson reduced his carries to 73 and held his targets at 74.
- After 8 games, he’s on pace for 68 carries and 96 targets.
If you want to argue that The Duck should get more carries, I would support that. He’s averaging 5.2 this season and he got 4.9 last year. He hasn’t run often enough to make me think he’s really that good– that his average wouldn’t drop 2-3 yards if he got even 10 carries a game. But it’s worth experimenting
If you don’t want to run The Duck, you have to look elsewhere. And Dayes is the only other back on the roster.
You just wanna give up on The Crow?
Why not? Start with the obvious: His contract is up at the end of the year. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent; he can leave the team. The Crow thinks he’s the greatest thing since Peyton Hillis– he’ll want a premium deal. The Browns, very clearly, have no intention of giving him what he wants.
So you have him for eight games. What’s the logic behind playing out the string with him?
1. The Minnesota game was by far his best performance of the season. He made his first score of the season; he had 118 all-purpose yards. The next-best game was 73 in the Houston game.
2. A back whose big outburst is 64 yards rushing and 54 yards passing isn’t that hot.
3. Three factors offset the performance:
- He fumbled– on the first play of the second half. The Browns were leading 15-13, and had a chance to extend the lead, and put pressure on the Vikings. Instead, he handed the opponent the ball on the Cleveland 30, giving them a chip-shot field goal to take the lead back.
- 38 of his 54 receiving yards came on a shovel pass. He gets points for realizing that his quarterback was in trouble, and coming back. But the rest of his day breaks down as 3 catches on 5 throws for 16 yards.
- He got 26 of his running 64 yards on one play. On the other 10 rushes, he gained 38 yards.
The game was a microcosm of Crowell’s career. He looks terrific a couple of times, but you don’t get much else.
You’re starting Dayes based on one return?
I want to start Dayes because there are three running backs and two of them have been ruled out. But. yes, the kick return– where he followed his blocking and saw a hole– was a pretty impressive play. The week before, he gained 30 yards on one return. Not to be mean, but that’s as good or better than anything Peppers has done.
Dayes looked interesting in pre-season– like one of those “zone read” backs who spots the holes and picks his way through them. Mike Shanahan made a career out of using backs who didn’t impress anyone in college, and most of them were low picks too.
Anyway, it’s an 0-8 team. What, exactly, do you have to lose on this venture?
If you’re Hue Jackson, your job
Jackson isn’t likely to lose his job unless he melts down. If the Marx Brothers fire Jackson, everyone will pour abuse on them. No coach worth hiring will apply. Same applies if Rube Haslam cleans house. Nobody will come to the NFL’s worst franchise to work for an owner who gives his hires two years max.
Plus, Dayes would have to be historically bad to hurt Jackson. His starting back is in his fourth season and is having his worst year. Nobody questions a coach who replaces a starter averaging 3.4 yards per carry.
If Dayes plays decently, it helps Jackson keep his job. If Dayes gives the team a running threat– something they can use as the basis of long drives– Jackson looks like a genius. If the Browns run effectively enough to take pressure off the passing game, maybe they even win some games.
A losing team needs to find players. To do that, it needs to try players who look interesting– not play unhappy veterans who are ready to bug out.
Is there anything else?
Why aren’t you harder on Williams?
Because, for the 47 years I have followed this team, I have been saying six things repeatedly:
- “They can’t run the ball.”
- “They can’t stop the run.”
- “They have zero pass rush.”
- “The can’t protect the quarterback.”
- “They never get any turnovers.”
- “The kicking teams really suck.”
Five of those things are true this season. One of them– complaint #2– is not. Opponents have 761 yards rushing in eight games– only 2.9 per carry. Only two teams (Baltimore and Houston) have gained 100 yards rushing; no opposing back has 100 yards.
I know it’s mostly because he’s overloading the line– that it’s hurting the pass coverage somewhat. I am not blind to the lack of pressure on quarterbacks or the nine turnovers in eight games.
But it is something. Normally teams blast through the center of the line and scamper down the field. That isn’t happening. The number of missed tackles– and arm tackles– has plummeted. The defense isn’t biting on fakes and leaving itself wide open when the runner cuts back.
I’m not sure it will continue, but until it stops, I’ll give Williams less grief. He is playing without Garrett; his front office cut Joe Haden. His failures are things I can comprehend.