Browns Preview: Game 3 (@ Colts)

Opponent Preview

In any given year, only 30% of the head coaches in the NFL will be people I’d consider hiring. They range from Bill Belicheat and Mike Tomlin (clearly proven they know what they’re doing) to Marvin Lewis and Andy Reid (visible limits on their ability, but teams could do worse).

The largest slice (about 50%) are people I’m not sure about. Dan Quinn took over an Atlanta team I thought was being mismanaged. The front office also brought in a ton of talent at the same point it changed coaches. He’s gone 21-13, and could have won a title. Maybe he’s a great coach. But Atlanta folded under pressure… and I don’t know how much of the improvement is him.

I’m not impressed with Ben McAdoo; Adam Gase seems very overrated. I know their records look impressive… but Todd Bowles went 10-6 his first year and now looks hopeless.

John Fox has been a very solid coach for a long time. But he’s now 9-25 in Chicago. Has he lost it– he’s in his 60’s and seems to have lost something. But his GM hasn’t made his life easy.

About 20% are coaches I know I wouldn’t hire. Mike Mullarkey has struggled with three teams; Bill O’Brien understands nothing about handling quarterbacks.

Then there are people like Chuck Pagano, the Colts coach. I have no idea how he got hired, much less how he keeps his job:

1. Nothing in his resume suggests that he can coach. He spent 20 seasons coaching defensive backs (including four years with the Browns under Butch Davis) and only three seasons as a coordinator (UNLV in 1991, North Carolina in 2007 and the Ravens in 2011).

2. He had immense luck. Indianapolis went 10-6 in 2010– then lost Peyton Manning for the entire 2011 season. They went 2-14, got the #1 pick, hired Pagano… and the #1 pick in the 2012 draft turned out to be Andrew Luck, a gifted quarterback almost identical in style to Manning.

A year earlier, the #1 pick was Cam Newton. He’s a find player, but he had growing pains– and wouldn’t have fit the system at all. A year later, the draft was historically weak, and the best quarterback was E.J. Manuel.

3. 20% of his wins belong to someone else. He’s credited at 49-33, but he missed 12 games in his first season due to cancer, and Bruce Arians went 9-3 as an interim coach.

4. His win total is inflated by his schedule. The AFC South is, by any standard, the NFL’s weakest division by far. The Colts have gone 22-8 against their division rivals:

  • 10-0 against Tennessee, scoring 289 points and allowing 204.
  • 6-4 against Jacksonville, scoring 250 and allowing 178.
  • 6-4 against Houston, winning by a combined 224-194 margin

The Colts are 4-7 against the AFC East, 4-4 against the AFC North (with two wins coming against the Browns), 6-5 against the West and 12-8 against the NFC.

5. I don’t see any area of strength. With a good coach, you see areas of strength. With Pagano, it’s been fairly random. The defense– supposedly his area of expertise– has been bad.

W-L
Offense
Defense
2012
11-5 18 21
2013
11-5 14 9
2014
11-5 6 19
2015
8-8 24 25
2016
8-8 8 22

Remember, in five seasons, the only good quarterback any divisional opponent has offered is Marcus Mariota.

A list of the Pro Bowl players by year is also enlightening. Other than Luck and receiver T.Y. Hilton, they’ve all been players he inherited, free agents signed or kicking teams players:

  • Three Selections: QB Andrew Luck (2012-14); WR T.Y. Hilton (2014-16)
  • Two Selections: DE-LB Robert Mathis (2012-13); SS Mike Adams (2014-15), CB Vonta Davis (2014-15), P Pat McAfee (2014, 2016)
  • One Selection: WR Reggie Wayne (2012), LS (long snapper) Matt Overton (2013), LB D’Qwell Jackson (2014), K Adam Viniateri (2014)

Yes, that’s Mike Adams the former Brown. Pagano hasn’t developed anyone to take up the slack for Mathis and Dwight Freeney. Every so often, a player has a career year (last year, 31-year-old Erik Walden had 11 sacks), but basically the defense has been very ordinary. It hopes Luck has a big game, and that it can hang on.

In five years, Pagano hasn’t found any offensive linemen to protect Luck. That’s why he has taken 156 sacks, missed 10 games in 2015-16 and been out for the first two games on 2017. There’s no young running back to diversify the attack (they’re using 34-year-old ex-49er Frank Gore) and no weapon other than Hilton (last year it was Gore, TEs Jack Doyle and Dwayne Allen).

If you like Pagano, you can say the problem is GM Ryan Grigson. I wouldn’t argue– he did trade a #1 pick for Trent Richardson in 2013. Owner Jim Irsay apparently thought Grigson was the weakest link– Irsay fired him and brought in Chris Ballard from the Chiefs.

Ballard, like Grigson, is a first-time GM. He signed DE-LB Jabaal Sheard to bolster the defense, and drafted defenders in each of the first four rounds. They’re starting. Whether they’re doing well is debatable.

The offense got dicey enough that Ballard traded WR Philip Dorsett (a former #1 pick in 2015, with 51 catches in 98 throws) to New England for QB Jacoby Brissett on September 2. After saying he wouldn’t rush Brissett, Pagano started Brissett against Arizona last week.

That’s a crisis that could have been avoided had Pagano simply done what he said he would. It illustrates why I dislike him.

Browns Preview

The reaction to Sunday’s 24-10 loss to Baltimore– a game that many people had thought the Browns could win– was predictable.

  • Now that WR Corey “Hands” Coleman is out for the year with a broken hand, coach Hue Jackson (who wanted to keep Terrelle Pryor) is screaming at Kenny Britt that he needs to do better. Terry Pluto blasted Britt as well, meaning that either the coach or front office has the knives out for him.
  • RB Isaiah Crowell, (26 carries for 70 yards– 2.6 per touch) has told the media that he needs more carries and his #1 concern about the season is getting an extension. The way this front office reacts to criticism, that’s a good way to prevent one.
  • The Marx Brothers simultaneously claim that (a) they knew all about QB DeShone Kizer‘s migraines and (b) it never caused him to miss a practice or a game at Notre Dame. If he never missed time, how did they know? Players rarely volunteer than sort of issue.
  • LB Jamie Collins (who got barbecued by 37-year-old Ben Watson) has a concussion. I don’t think he’s faking, but it just adds to the chaos.

This, of course, is the problem with dumping all the veterans and bringing in people from all over the league. Nobody knows anyone, so nobody looks up to anyone– which means nobody can rally the troops. The other day I read a story that said “Browns secondary surprised that Jason McCourty can play pretty well.”

He actually isn’t that good– he just hasn’t been targeted when there are so many other options, But of course the players think that– how would they know?

Game Preview

It’s difficult to tell how bad the Colts really are, after two games.My guess is that:

They’re not nearly as bad as they looked against the Rams in game one. Los Angeles won 46-9 because they  (a) added receiver Sammy Watkins (who can play), (b) subtracted Jeff Fisher and his incompetent coordinator Rob Boras and (c) added QB coach Matt LeFleur (who worked for the Shanahans) as their coordinator. They scored 20 points against Washington and 41 against San Francisco, so the beating looks more respectable.

The Colts also started Scott Tolzein at quarterback in that game. Tolzein is 30, is with his fourth organization and had thrown only 128 passes before this season. His career rating was 66.7; he had 2 TDs and 7 INTs and had taken 7 sacks.

He was sacked four times, threw two picks , fumbled once (recovered) and a ball that Hilton caught but fumbled. He ensured they wouldn’t score, putting unneeded extra pressure on the defense.

The Cardinals game was misleading. Arizona’s offense has gone into the toilet– at 38, Carson Palmer has looked washed up for more than a year. The Cards also lost their franchise RB David Johnson in game one, putting former #7 pick Kerwynn Williams into that role.

On the other hand, Arizona still has a world-class defense. Even last year, when it was on the field most of the game, it was only 14th in points.

Which means that losing 16-13 in overtime isn’t the worst offensive showing ever… but the defense ought to hang its head.

Brissett played nine snaps in relief against the Rams and looked decent. Arizona gave him fits– four sacks, a fumble and a pick. They held Gore to 46 yards on 14 carries– and rookie Marlon Moore (a #4 pick) to -3 yards on six carries.

But, of course, the Browns do not play defense nearly as well as the Cardinals.

Another factor clouding the issue: Indianapolis has many starters injured. Most won’t play– if they do, the probably won’t play well.


Can they beat the Browns? The opportunities will be there.

Cleveland has done a hideous job against backs and tight ends– now Collins is out. Davis, Gore and Mack should be open all day. Brissett isn’t a high-percentage passer– but if he calms down, he’ll be able to complete balls.

The Browns haven’t played good run defense. Gore doesn’t seem to have much left (his contract expires at year’s end, and he’s been telling writers he’s probably done). That said, he still knows how to follow blockers– and Mack does have a burst.

Kizer is starting and there is no reason to think he’ll be any better about avoiding the sack. Sheard, as you might remember, has a nice strip sack move. That could produce a fumble or two.

The Colts haven’t played good pass defense, but they spent a #1 on S Malik Hooker and a #2 on CB Quincy Wilson. Most young players get better over time. Plus, the Browns have a bunch of receivers (other than TE Seth Devalve) who can run fast but struggle to catch the ball.

The game could boil down to “Who makes the last mistake?” or “Who makes the most egregious error?” That could be the Browns– or it might be the Colts.

This would be a good spot for Jabril Peppers– and one of the backs– to show up.

If I liked Pagano better, I’d expect him to be able to rally the troops. It’s a home game against a bad team, Luck will be back soon. But his team often underperforms.

On the other hand, Hue Jackson hasn’t been able to get anyone playing for him either, and they’ve been rotating receivers in and out, seemingly at random. The Browns aren’t on the same page at all.

The Colts are playing at home; they have better kicking teams. This might make the difference

Game Prediction: Colts 13, Browns 10

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Browns Preview: Game 2 (@Baltimore)

I have the season preview done, but experience shows that if I spend 5
hours trying to make it format correctly in WordPress, I’ll blow my chance
to preview game two. so…

Opponent Preview

This will be the fifth season since Baltimore won its Super Bowl against the 49ers. They haven’t been good years. The Ravens (who’d been taking on payroll to try to win it all) dumped a ton of it and slipped to 8-8 in 2013. They managed to go 10-6 the following year– but when several players got hurt, they finished 5-11. Last year they were 8-8, which makes them 31-33.

The Ravens have had slow periods before–  they went 24-24 from 2005-07, with two losing seasons. But that could be traced to Brian Billick’s inability to identify a quarterback. Owner Steve Bisciotti and GM Ozzie Newsome got tired of trying to build a quarterback out of bungie cords and coathangers every year. They hired John Harbaugh, drafted Joe Flacco and went 54-26 over the next five years.

Five playoff trips, culminating in a Super Bowl.

But it’s been downhill ever since, and I can’t help thinking the problem lies elsewhere.

2000 Championship: The Ravens 2000 roster had regulars (which I define as players who started 10 or more games) at 19 of the 22 spots (not counting kicking or return men). 12 of the 19 were players drafted by Baltimore (or Cleveland) or signed as undrafted free agents.

The Ravens had seven veterans (TE Shannon Sharpe, WR Quadry Ismail, T Harry Swayne, DE Mike McCrary, DT Tony Siragusa and FS Rod Woodson were all over 30), but most were people they’d signed or traded as long-term solutions. McCrary was in his fourth season in Baltimore, and would go on to play two more years

2012 Championship: This roster was even more home-grown. Baltimore had 16 regulars– plus a veteran (Terrell Suggs) who missed eight games with an injury, and a rookie (Courtney Upshaw) who played all 16 games, but started only
nine.

11 were drafted by Baltimore (two others were undrafted signees). The five free agents were two veteran stars (WR Anquon Boldin and C Matt Birk) brought in for a ring, and three veterans who’d completed their rookie contracts with the team who drafted them and then joined the Ravens to do better.

Newsome entered the NFL in 1978– he played against the last Steeler team to win a Super Bowl as a rookie. Chuck Noll believed in growing your own players– as did Bill Walsh and Joe Gibbs in the 1980’s and Jimmy Johnson with the Cowboys.

That’s the best way to do it. But to do it, you have to be able to get production out of your draft.

That isn’t happening any longer.


Here’s the roster of the 2016 team. They went 8-8. If you want to look on the bright side, you can say that they had 19 spots filled by regulars.

If you don’t, you can look at one of two things:

  • Only 12 of the 19 were draftees or non-drafted signees
  • 9 of the 19 regulars were over 30
  • Only five of those 30+ players were developed by the Ravens,

It’s a good thing, intangibly speaking, to have players like QB Joe Flacco or TE Dennis Pitta there to provide stability. LB Albert McClellan can tell stories about Ray Lewis; FS Lardarius Webb can say “Ed Reed did it this way.” And, like Joe Thomas, Terrell Suggs is one of those players you value for what he can say– and what he still can do.

At 34, coming back from an injury where he missed 15 games in 2015, he still had 8 sacks. And he had two sacks in game one.

It’s not such a great thing to have Mike Wallace hanging around. He did catch 72 of his 116 balls, gain over 1,000 yards and score four times. But an 8-8 team doesn’t need a 30-year-old on his fourth team– still yapping about his role– taking opportunities that need to go to your former #1 pick Breshad Perriman (who came back from his knee issues to go 33-66 for 499 yards and 3 scores).

SS Eric Weddle (who’s 31) went to the Pro Bowl. So did C Jeremy Zuttah (30). They provide value and still have time left. An 8-8 team– which is coming off a 5-11 season– has no business playing 37-year-old Steve Smith.

I don’t see the young players, taken in rounds 3-5 (the time when great teams are made), developing. Yes, LB C.J Mosley went to his second Pro Bowl; rookie LT Ronnie Stanley looked very promising. But they were the 14th and sixth players taken in their respective drafts. You used to just assume those picks would become stars.

Something is wrong in Baltimore. Their current depth chart has eight starters– and 13 backups– obtained from other organizations.

This certainly could change. Harbaugh never just hands a high pick a starting spot. By game 14, #3 pick Chris Wormley and #5 pick Tim Williams might be starting on the defensive line, with #2 pick Tyus Bowser at LB and #1 pick Marlon Humphrey at corner.

But that’s always the case at the start of the season. The problem for Baltimore is that their draft choices are often still subs at the end of the season.

Browns Preview

Dear lord do I hate listening to idiots screaming “Hoodley-ooooooooooo!!!!!!”
and “OOOOOOKIE-WAH!!!!!!” It’s a reason the game review stayed undone.

Without giving away the Game 1 review, Pittsburgh (thanks to holdouts and keeping its key players out of pre-season) wasn’t remotely ready to play. Their 13 penalties for 143 yards demonstrates just how sloppy they were

The Browns came out in a defense that nobody had ever seen before. It used a quarterback no one had seen– and it gave him a very rookie-friendly game plan (20 called runs, 30 passes– nine to backs).

The Steelers still gained 290 yards– 55 more than Cleveland– and led for 43:07 of the game. For the other 16:53, the score was tied.

The Browns handed the Steelers the lead– then let Pittsburgh retake on the last drive of the half. When Cleveland got within four points (in the middle of the third quarter), the defense set up the go-ahead touchdown with a 41-yard penalty.

The Steelers sat on the lead, allowing only a “Shurmur Time” score (a TD after the game is out of reach) to screw up bookies, and boost DeShone Kizer‘s passer rating from 65.5 (as of the start of the drive) to a respectable 85.7 mark.

The Steelers took the kickoff, gained 61 yards on three plays– and when they hit two minutes with the ball on the Cleveland 29, lost eight yards on three kneels to end the game.

“Hoodley-Dooooooooooo!!!!!!” Analytics rules! “OOOOOOKIE-WAH!!!!!!” The Browns are headed to the playoffs.

This is even being said on Lou Groza Boulevard. The mind reels.

Game Preview

I don’t have a clue what the Browns will do. If they use the same sort of game plan on offense– run nearly as much as they throw, concentrate on high-percentage plays– they stand a better chance than they do with anything else. The Ravens (who don’t have the talent to play man-to-man) played zone all day. If Jackson sends TE Seth Devalve and RBs Duke JohnsonIsaiah Crowell and
Matt Dayes into the seams, Kizer could roll up completions.

Those four guys caught 10 of the 14 balls thrown to them, for 104 yards (7.4 per pass).

If the bulk of the remaining plays go to Crowell and Dayes (who only got 17 and 3)– the Browns will be able to set up the Ravens for play-action passes deep. If Kizer throws only 2-3 long balls per quarter, he’ll probably complete 50% of them, and wind up with another 120-150.

If that going to happen? It didn’t happen at any point in 2016. If the Browns decide it’s time to unleash Corey Coleman, Kenny Britt, Ricardo Sammie Coates, Kasen Williams, et al,  the Ravens (who had five sacks last week) might hit double-digits this week.

During the Steelers broadcast, Trent Green kept expressing disbelief at the defensive alignment the Browns were using (7-8 guys on the line, with two safeties 10-20 yards deep). Green, a former QB in the “Greatest Show On Turf” offense kept saying it should be easy to pick the defense apart– saying “A few weeks from now, either the Browns will quit doing this– or a lot of teams will start doing it.”

The notion that Williams might simply have used that scheme for that game never crossed Green’s mind. The Steelers had only one receiver anyone needs to fear– so why pull people out of the box to cover them?

Williams was right, by the way. The Steelers went elsewhere in the red zone, but Antonio Brown was 70% of the offense.

He could try to use the same defense– Danny Woodhead went on IR with an injury, so the #1 receivers are Wallace, Perriman and Jeremy Maclin (whose last good season was 2015). Or he could try a more traditional scheme– or bring not only the house, but the garage and tool shed. QB Joe Flacco has always relied on Dennis Pitta, who now isn’t there (Smith was also put out to pasture).

There is a possibility that RB Terrance West (744 yards last year, good game one) has put things together– that he and Javorus “Buck” Allen (who collected 157 yards on 42 carries against a much tougher defense) can chew the Browns up. There is an equally good chance they will not.

Flacco had a wretched game; I would come after him. But that might not work. Williams might try something different. That might not work.

I’m going to assume the probabilities– what has happened before– rule. Which means an erratic game from Flacco– with a few deep balls– and the Cleveland defense messing up some run plays.

If the Browns’ offense is its own worst enemy, it could get ugly. Crowell did get 133 yards on 18 carries 364 days ago, but that was in Cleveland, The Ravens normally had no trouble with him at home (26-78).

This definitely won’t be pretty. And, unlike Game #1, it isn’t likely to be fun.

Prediction: Ravens 24, Browns 13

Browns Preview: Game 1 (Pittsburgh)

Opponent Preview

Well, I’m close to finishing my team profile, but I had a 14-hour detour in an effort to make money, so it might show up Tuesday. But I can’t preview a game on Tuesday, so…

The good news is that it never takes much time to profile the Steelers. They don’t sign marquee free agents; they don’t give eye-popping money to retain players who are competent but not outstanding. They expect the players they draft high to perform; if not, they don’t get a second contract. Jarvis Jones was the 13th pick of the 2013 draft, but he played only 50 of 64 games, started only 35. He made only 119 tackles; neither his sacks (6.0), fumbles forced (4) fumbles recovered (3) and or interceptions (2) made much of a ripple.

So he has departed and the Steelers used the 30th pick on LB T.J. Watt (yes, he’s J.J.’s younger brother). They’re reaching for him– he played only two years and started only one year– but the Steelers don’t care what anyone else thinks.

Part of the Steelers’ success, frankly, is luck. Ben Roethlisberger has missed 21 games in 13 years. He often hasn’t played well when he’s hurt, but he almost always plays. Unlike Brett Favre (to name one), Roethlisberger understands what he can’t do when he’s (say) 70% healthy, and he plays within himself.

Antonio Brown, who is 5’10” and 180 pounds,  has missed four games in the last six years, even though he’s been targeted more than 100 times (over 180 twice) and has 100+ receptions in his last four (leading the league twice). Pittsburgh cut James Harrison, but then brought him back as a situational rusher– he’s worked his way back as a starter at age 39.

You can’t scout for that stuff– you just get lucky, Roethlisberger was drafted after Eli Manning and Phillip Rivers in 2004 (and, let us note, Kellen Winslow Jr.) and he’s been better than both of them. Brown was a sixth-round pick; Harrison a free agent (from, let us note, Kent State).

The Steelers have also mastered the black art of drafting 3-4 defensive linemen. Virtually no college plays the 3-4, so teams have to project. The Steelers do it very well– Cameron Herwayd and Stephon Tuitt have been very impressive. Tuitt was drafted in 2014– the very year that Brett Keisel finally wore out after nine seasons. Last year, rookie Javon Hargrave took over at NT. The road, as they say, goes ever on,

The Steelers have also gotten much better at retaining players. You can almost always tell when a player has impressed them, because they extend him the next off-season. They used to play musical chairs with their line– their starters would get signed by other teams and they’d try to fill the hole. They just extended LT Allajandro Villanueva (an undrafted free agent), he joins LG Ramon Foster (also a UFA), RG David DeCastro (a former #1 pick) and RT Marcus Gilbert (a #2)– and, when he can stay healthy, C Maurkice Pouncey— to give them an amazingly solid line.

The two problems they’ve had are running back and corner. The Steelers often haven’t run the ball well (some arguably due to the line issues) and they can be beaten deep. RB Le’Veon Bell only reported to camp when he absolutely had to; he signed a franchise tender. He’ll be out of shape.

Bell demanded substantially ridiculous pay for a guy who’s missed 17 games in four years (some of it due to drugs) and has only two seasons of 1,200 yards or more. Of course, as Bell sees it, he’s had 900 carries (fumbling only five times), averaged 4.7 yards or better for the last three years, and also caught 227 passes. I wouldn’t pay him $17 million a year… but the Steelers don’t have anyone else to run the ball… at least not yet.

The problems at corner were such that the Steelers grabbed Joe Haden when the Browns made him available. and traded for safety J.J. Wilcox (signed by Tampa from Dallas, who played himself off the team). They drafted corner Artie Burns and safety Sean Davis high in 2016,– they both started as rookies, but the jury is still out on them. When Mike Mitchell is a valued piece of the puzzle you know the situation is in flux.

But that’s the admirable thing about Pittsburgh. They draft people and play the people they draft. If the draft picks don’t work, they depart– and so do some of the scouts who chose them.

Pittsburgh reached the AFC Championship last year; it reached the Super Bowl in 2010. It has won 10 games or move five of the seven years in this decade. In the previous decade, it won two Super Bowls, lost the AFC championship twice and had six seasons of 10+ wins,

They have been, by far, the most successful franchise in my lifetime– and they haven’t done with with one or two masterminds, but with an organization. They’ve had three coaches since 1969 and 5-6 GMs (their GMs never run the show– it’s always 3-4 people– so some of them leave). Their commitment to following a roadmap is remarkable, and it is good to see a team succeed.

Browns Preview

Pittsburgh’s opponents, on the other hand, are the NFL’s worst franchise– have been one Marty Schottenheimer away from being the worst in my lifetime– follow no roadmap (not that I would have wanted them to adhere to the vision of Carmern Policy or Eric Mangenius) and have not a clue as to what they are doing.

This season’s isn’t any different– Gregg Williams is merely the defensive incarnation of Norv Turner or Mike Holmgren. He’s more proven than Romeo Crennel (whose best seasons have all come as an assistant to a guy named Bill) or Rob Ryan, but he isn’t a guy who changes the fortunes of a team.

Now, thanks to injuries to Myles Garrett and Danny Shelton, fans don’t get to drink the Kool-Aid at full strength. With Joel Bitonio unable to practice at full strength, they can’t even say “Golly, gosh is our new line awesome.”

The problem with the Browns is simple: there’s nothing one can count on. They have a rookie quarterback behind a sketchy line. The receiving corps has been a track team that, except for the veteran, struggles to catch balle. The backs are unproven– erratic, if you’d prefer– and there might be better tight ends in Arenaball.

The defense has a bunch of high draft picks– none of whom are proven. Emmanuel Ogbah is a one-dimensional player who got twothirds of his sacks against one team. Jamie Collins is a Kyrie Irving type– here for the money and a chance to look good on a team worse than the one he left.

The head coach of the team doesn’t know or care about his defense or kicking teams. Hue Jackson makes impulsive decisions (he just demoted Cody “Trust Me” Kessler to third string) and has trouble keeping control of his emotions and
sticking to a plan.

Game Preview

The Browns’ chances to win rest on a few things. First, everyone knows what the Steelers will do. Second, they rely on three skill position players. Because Roethlisberger is old and Brown absorbs mo much punishment, Roethlisberger threw only 9 passes in pre-season and Brown was targeted only twice. Bell, who didn’t want to be franchised, stayed out of camp until league rules required him to report.

Pittsburgh’s #2 receiver, Martavis Bryant (who’d been suspended) was allowed to practice, but didn’t expect to be cleared to start game one. So he loafed his way through the pre-season. Pittsburgh also changed out two of their three tight ends (and Jesse James isn’t that good).

The Steelers scored only 73 points in the pre-season, and probably will be rusty and sloppy. If Bell isn’t in shape, they’ll have to go with Terrell Watson (undrafted free agent who kicked around the league– but gained 173 yards on 37 carries in pre-season) or #3 pick James Conner (24 carries for 124 yards).

Exhibition stats don”t mean much– but doing well (a) makes both players feel optimistic and (b) gives their teammates some confidence.

Isaiah Crowell, by comparison, gained 55 yards on 17 carries; no scores and his longest carry was eight yards. He’s not a perennial Pro Bowl
player, so you can’t assume this is meaningless. New guard Kevin Zeitler is from Cincinnati, so he knows what Crowell can do. New center J.C. Tretter
and new receiver Kenny Britt  were in the NFC; right tackle Shon
Coleman
was rehabbing an injury. Maybe they believe in him; maybe
they don’t.

Williams is an excellent motivator and his defense is fun to play. Players should be excited.

If Hue Jackson picks the six routes that DeShone Kizer likes to throw most and stays with those… he stands a better chance to execute. Especially since Haden will be trying to make spectacular plays– and either commit penalties or take foolish chances and fall on his face.

If the Browns let Crowell and Duke Johnson get half the plays– it would require 20 carries for Crowell and 10 for Johnson– they can keep Pittsburgh off the rookie quarterback and ensure the defense doesn’t get worn out.

If the Browns don’t let the Steelers march down the field, they can force kicks– which give Jabril Peppers a chance to return kicks.

The chances decline a lot without Garrett and Shelton. But being smart and managing the game would give the Browns a shot.


The problem, of course, is that the Browns tend not to be smart. Let’s start with a simple issue: both Jackson and Williams have usually run units that produced a higher-that-normal number of penalties.

Last season the Browns had exactly one game– the win against the Chargers– where they ran the ball as often as they passed (29 runs to 28 passes). In the two overtime losses, they ran on 46% (Miami) and 45% (Pittsburgh). Needless to say, those were games decided by one score.

In six other games, they threw between 41.1 and 44.7% of the time, losing by 5, 11, 14, 20, 13 and 19 points.

In the seven other games, they threw at least 60% of the time. In four of them, over 70%:

  • They lost 28-7 to Baltimore, with Josh McCown and Cody Kessler throwing 31 times and the backs getting 13 carries.
  • They lost 28-26 to Tennessee, with Kessler (41) and Terrelle Pryor (1) throwing 42 times and the backs running 15 times.
  • They lost 31-28 to the Jets, with McCown throwing 49 times and Kevin Hogan throwing twice. There were only 18 carries– three by McCown.
  • The 24-9 loss to Pittsburgh featured 41 throws (27 McCown, 41 Kessler) and 13 runs (three by the quarterbacks).

Jackson let Charlie Whitehurst— a 34-year-old incompetent whose long hair and beard, coupled with his inability to crack the starting lineup have saddled him with a highly unflattering nickname– throw 24 times against New England. Who in his right mind tries to have a shootout between Tom Brady and “Clipboard Jesus”?

Williams has a tendency to put too much of a load on his cornerbacks. This time he’ll be putting the pressure on Jamar Taylor, Jason McCourty and Briean
Boddy-Calhoun
. One of his safeties (Derrick Kindred) is a second-year player with no coverage ability; the other (Peppers) is a rookie who has ability, but hasn’t played against NFL teams before.

Oh, and while I don’t disagree with the decision to cut Cody Parkey, Zane Gonzalez is a rookieone who missed a field goal (excusable– over 50 yards) and an extra point (never OK)– kicking in a place that is a challenge for veterans.

I can see scenarios where the Browns win, but they mostly involve one of the Steeler linemen missing a block and a Cleveland defender earning his bounty. Against Landry Jones, they got a shot.

Otherwise, I’ll guess the Steeler offense gets two big plays and the Steeler defense gets one. The Browns– who scored even fewer points in pre-season (68– of which 24 came in the fourth quarter) might get two nice ones.

Prediction: Steelers 27, Browns 12

RIP, Joe Haden (Part 2)

Leave it to Mary Kay Greenhouse (good place to plant things) to write an article blasting the trade, and omitting the most important reason that you don’t do stuff like this.

Which, if you didn’t read my piece on the cut, is that giving veterans big contracts– then dumping them partway through– makes it substantially less likely that free agents (including your own) will sign with you.

Let me give you an example. Danny Shelton’s contract is up at the end of the 2018 season. Assuming he has a good season (likely, for the pass rush tackle in a Gregg Williams defense) he’ll be in the same position next year that Haden was in 2014: “My contract is up– do I want to re-sign with the Browns?”

Does seeing the front office cut Haden– after he signed a long-term deal that was back-loaded (meaning the big money comes in the final years)– make Shelton more likely to re-sign? Or does it send the message “You if you want to play out the contract, you should probably sign with another team”?

Walk through the decision with me. If Shelton stays in Cleveland, he won’t have a winning season. (The Browns won’t have one this year or next.) He’s played in three different defensive schemes in three years– and if Hue Jackson and Gregg Williams get fired, he might have to learn a fourth.

Shelton is from Washington– born there, attended college there. The NFL team in his home state (the Seahawks) goes to the playoffs every year, uses a 4-3 and is ideal for his skills.

Or should be opt to stay in Cleveland– and maybe end up playing nose tackle again? He’ll also know that if he gets hurt, the team will demand he give back money (as it did with Desmond Bryant and tried to do with Haden)– and cut him if he won’t do it (and maybe even if he does).

That seems a tad more important than “How can we stand to lose both him and Demario Davis?” (Reason #3)


There’s an interesting comment buried in this. This piece was clearly planted with Greenhouse by Hue Jackson. She quotes him in reason #4– and then says:

“The coaches had a cornerback they could count on to handle the likes of Antonio Brown, A.J. Green and everyone’s best receiver. Now, that task will fall to Taylor.”

How does she know that the coaches felt they could count on Haden to handle those players– unless the coaches told her?

One of the things about Greenhouse: she is never subtle about who she is in the tank for. Last Sunday, she printed the following lunacy:

Hey, Mary Kay: When Cody Kessler was drafted, didn’t Coach Hue Jackson “trust me on this one” or something to that effect? Now it’s DeShone Kizer fitting the coach’s prototype QB. What happened in the interim?  — Howard Butensky, Monroe, N.J.

Hey, Howard: I’ve written this a few times before, but I’ll answer it again for the folks who may have missed it. It’s my understanding that when Jackson said “trust me on this one” in regards to Cody Kessler, he was basically for taking one for the team. The front office was taking heat for overdrafting Kessler, whom many believed would be a sixth- to seventh-round pick, or undrafted free agent.

In a show of solidarity, Jackson said “trust me” to take some of the pressure off the new front office. The fact is, Kessler never fit Jackson’s profile of a tall, mobile quarterback with a big arm. 

Yes, I’m sure that is exactly what happened. Hue Jackson (who fought an ongoing war with the Oakland front office, constantly criticizing moves (or failure to make moves) that he felt made his job harder) decided to put his credibility on the line– in the area he considers his specialty– to bail out three bean counters, two of whom had never worked in personnel.

What happened is that Jackson fell in love with Kessler, pushed for him to be drafted sooner than he was destined to go– then defended his decision when he caught hell for it.

“It is my understanding” means “this is what he told me.” Well, Jackson has a lengthy history of lying. I’ve seen worse (all I have to do is turn on CNN), but not many.

But here’s the thing that interests me– from reason #1:

“The Browns relied too heavily on the rankings of profootballfocus.com, which didn’t take into account Haden (No. 88) playing with two groin injuries. “

Is this true? Inquiring minds really want to know.

I’d guess there is a good chance this is just Jackson’s blustering. When he got hired, a reporter from the Bay Area told me “Don’t pay too much attention to what Hue says when he gets up a head of steam. He had the Germans bombing Pearl Harbor (0:18 of this clip— the language is NSFW) about every other week” Like a certain president, he’ll say whatever he thinks will move his audience.

What probably happened is that Gregg Williams and his staff came in, ran the tape of the season and graded all the players themselves. Haden didn’t grade well (he had a bad year) and Williams told the front office (when they asked him) “If you want to ditch Haden, we can do without him.” 

Yes, that is how it would have gone if this happened. Jackson stopped being the head coach the day after the 2016 season ended. The front office told offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton (who had inquiries from Jim Harbaugh at Michigan) that he should take the job,

Since nobody was going to offer Horton any jobs (not after his fourth straight season in the bottom ten in points allowed— and a below-average rank in all six seasons as coordinator), the front office simply fired him.

They not only didn’t ask Jackson– they told him they were going to hire either Williams or Wade Phillips (who were both on the market). He could pick the guy he preferred, but that would be the limit of his input.

Williams’s contract gives him full control over the defense– only Sasho Marx gets to overrule him. His duties include final say (subject to Sasho’s approval) on which defenders get signed and cut. He did the coaches’ ranking on prospects, not Jackson. (Why wouldn’t he– Jackson coached one year on defense and doesn’t have any interest in that side of the ball?)


Or at least I hope that is what happened. The problem is that I am not positive.

When Paul DePodesta was working for the A’s, he caused an enormous amount of friction, because he used metrics and rating systems that other people felt were wildly inappropriate for the tasks he put them to.

The fact of the matter is that when DePodesta was overseeing the drafting, the A’s performed dreadfully. They made an enormous number of blunders, taking players who weren’t even remotely qualified. In 2002, Oakland had seven first-round picks. The scouts and the analytics people agreed on the first two (Nick Swisher and Joe Blanton, who both succeeded), but DePodesta drove the train on the choices of Jophn McCurdy, Ben Fritz, Jeremy Brown, Steve Obenchain and Mark Teahen. The A’s missed on three stars taken within the next 30 picks.

I would like to believe DePodesta isn’t really using grades by PFF. I don’t have a high confidence in that assumption.

I’ve disparaged the grading system that Pro Football Focus uses repeatedly. They are subjective grades (if that has changed, I haven’t heard about it). PFF’s grades do not correlate with total points (either scored or allowed), or the margin of error. It’s possible for a team that wins in overtime to get substantially more rating points than one that wins by two touchdowns,

In professional sports, statistics are supposed to be a zero-sum game– every point scored or yard gained for the offense is simultaneously allowed by the defense. But it is not unusual for PFF to give a defensive player +3 for a sack and the blocker -2 for allowing it. On another sack, the defender gets a +2 and the blocker 0. How is one sack worth five points, but another two?

Some analysts consistently graded their teams higher than others. It got bad enough that PFF stopped listing the analyst, because people were calculating “analyst edge.”

Finally,  as Jackson’s allegations say, if a player is hurt– and his team plays him anyway, because the coaches feel he is the best they have– they make no adjustments and he often gets a bad grade.

A substitute who plays a few dozen snaps in the same game– but makes one good play– can grade higher. Often he does.

As a result, it is very common for PFF ratings to be totally off the wall. One year it graded a nickel back who played less than 30% of Cleveland’s snaps in the top 25– and both starters substantially lower  Situational pass rushers who don’t play on running downs grade higher than three-down players.

PFF is fairly reliable when it calculates statistics based on tangible data. Its grades are subjective– they are not.

I’m fairly sure this is just Jackson ranting. But based on some of the personnel decisions this front office has made, it is impossible to be entirely sure.

Browns Review: Preseason Game 2 (NY Giants)

Opening Statement

If this game had been played during a December blizzard, there would be some excuse for what transpired. In August, it’s an embarrassment. To put it into a few bullets:

  • The Browns and Giants each had 10 possessions. Of those 20 drives, 17 were failures on some level:
    • Six ended with a turnover (three fumbles, two interceptions, lost on
      downs).
    • Seven produced no first downs.
    • Four more produced only one.
  • The only touchdown occurred when the Giants fumbled the ball on their own 28
  • Neither team gained 250 yards or gained more than 4.0 per play (New York 212 and 3.7; Cleveland 242 and 3.9)
  • Only three possessions gained more more than 50 yards– and they resulted in one field goal.
  • Only three plays gained 20 yards– none leading to a score:
    • A 21-yard pass from Eli Manning to Eric Engram
    • A 20-yard pass from DeShone Kizer to Corey Coleman
    • A five yard pass by Geno Smith– that gained 20 after Ken Schult hit him late for a 15-yard penalty

I wish I could call this a battle between two great defensive teams. But neither the Giants (19.4 points a  game last year; 26th out of 32 teams) nor Browns (16.5 points; 31st) could score points a year ago. The teams played last year and the Giants won 27-13 a year ago,. In that game 13 points came off Browns fumbles (one returned for a TD; one that gave them the ball on the Cleveland 31).

Both teams, pretty clearly, have not solved their offensive issues.

The good news for the Browns:

1. The Giants were trying much harder than New Orleans. They didn’t hold out a single first-string player– only three of the eight players who missed were even second-string. Since New York lost its first pre-season game 20-12 to Pittsburgh (not scoring a touchdown in that game either) and this was nationally-televised, they were trying hard to have a good showing.

2. New York kept their starters in longer. Their first team offense played until 3:37 of the second quarter; the #1 defense was in until 7:09 of the second.

The defense got to leave early because the Giants were ahead 3-0 and it had already played 30 snaps. The offense had run only 17 plays anmd gained 61 yards. The coaches understandably felt they needed more work.

The Giants’ second team also played almost all of the rest of the game– the scrubs saw less than a dozen snaps. The Browns got an unusually close approximation of a real opponent

3. The defense is taking to the Gregg Williams scheme. No surprise there– it’s simpler than the Zone Blitz 3-4 that Mike Pettine and Ray Horton used. It also lets players do the thing they like most– go after the quarterback.

The Browns didn’t get a good pass rush (two sacks, four stuffs, three hits), but they didn’t make any glaring mistakes– and Danny Shelton and Nate
Orchard
didn’t play.

The downside to the game:

4. The Browns don’t have a single NFL-caliber quarterback on the roster. The best of the bunch is DeShone Kizer, who had to line up in the shotgun, for the second game in a row, on two thirds of his snaps.(On the ten plays he started behind center, they passed four times and ran six.)

Kizer looked confused on half a dozen plays. A couple resulted in sacks; other times he scrambled. But he at least looked like he might be able to play in the NFL someday.

Brock Osweiler had another awful performance– 25 yards on 8 dinks. His longest throw was an 8-yarder to Kenny Britt, and he was wide and high almost all night (the one time he wasn’t, the ball got tipped and intercepted). He’s now 12-22 for 67 yards– with an interception– in two games.

The Browns imagine they can trade him. They’re dreaming. The way he’s playing, they’d have to pick up 100% of his $16 million salary— and a draft pick– to get him off the roster. They’ll probably just have to cut cut him– it would make more sense to have Kevin Hogan, who might develop.

As for Cody “Trust Me” Kessler, I was talking with someone employed by the team (I now have two friends) and he said “We were expecting him to start. But it’s like he totally lost his confidence.”

Yes, that’s what happens when a player sees a team trade for a veteran with a big contract– then draft a quarterback in the second round. (This after Kessler had less than 200 pass attempts– and a QB rating of 92.3– last year.) He knows he isn’t in your long-term plans and he assumes the guy making the money will start.

Kessler didn’t try a single pass longer than ten yards either; he was checking down almost immediately after the snap. He looks like a player whose agent has said “If you want to build a career, it’ll have to be on another team. Try to stay healthy until they cut you.”

5. They’ve got problems nearly as bad everywhere else on the offense. The good news is that David Njoku played and he showed some raw athletic ability. He looks like he won’t be able to do anything except catch an occasional bomb for a couple of years.

Maybe it’s just Osweiler throwing to him, but Britt doesn’t look like he’s mentally prepared to be the #1 guy. Unlike Terrelle Pryor last year, he doesn’t seem to want the ball thrown to him on every play. Corey Coleman seems to want balls thrown to him on the deep sideline, but nowhere else. The other guys drafted last year look like practice squad players.

The line? LT Rod Johnson outplayed everyone else. He had two false starts– but he also had Jason Pierre Paul playing on his nose. LG John Greco looked very old and slow. Not surprising, since he is 32. He can play both guard spots and center– and they’ll probaboly need him since LG Joel Bitonio is hurt again and C J.C. Tretter has never been able to stay healthy either. But this will be the lasts season for both him and Joe Thomas (who’s been floating retirement rumors).

Tretter looked better than Cam Erving (another guy who’s going to get cut), but he didn’t do a great job. And the Giants are a 4-3 team, so he didn’t have anyone playing up in his face. RG Kevin Zeitler got called for holding twice.

Peasant Johnson (he certainly isn’t noble– much less a duke) gained 28 yards on 9 carries and looks like he’s only going to be useful as the third receiver. It looks like #7 pick Matt Dayes will get his slot in the backfield. Other than waiver
pickup Rannell Hall, the Browns don’t look like they have any playmakers.

Are there any questions you want to ask? I’ll take one.

You sound pleased by the defense.
How good do you think they’re going to be?

Not very. I’m happy with the front seven. The secondary looks like a hot mess. Joe Haden has been playing like he has nothing left in the tank. Maybe he’s just taking it easy, but I’d bet the guys who do most of the playing will be Briean
Boddy-Calhoun
 and Jamar Taylor and (if he can stay healthy) 30-year-old Jason McCourty

Jabril Peppers and Derrick Kindred each look like the same sort of player. Yeah, they’ll knock the snot out of opponents, but safeties are supposed to play pass defense. I haven’t seen much of that– and they’ve been given chances to knock down passes and make picks. Free agent Kai Nacua has looked better. If the absence of journeyman Ed Reynolds turns out to be a key factor, this team is in real trouble.

Williams ought to be able to put a lot of pressure on opposing passers. But “Cill The Quarterback– C-I-L-L!!!!” has been tried by just about everyone over the years. Weeb Ewbank, Floyd Peters, George Allen, Buddy Ryan and Jerry Glanville (to name some of the guys who focused only on that) have won with it. But eventually people figure out how to beat you. if opponents can get the ball out of the backfield before the pocket collapses, I see a lot of deep passes being completed against a secondary that won’t be able to stop them.

Browns Review: Preseason Game 1 (New Orleans)

For my first impressions, try the Facebook post

Opening Statement

In a way, I’ll be sorry when Hue Jackson gets fired after this season. His inability to control his emotions– even in non-stress situations–make him so much easier to figure out. Normally I have to analyze to understand why a coach is doing something. With Jackson, you just need to listen.

During the broadcast, Solomon Wilcots recounted a conversation he’d had with Jackson. Last season, Jackson said, he didn’t care about the final score. But going winless in pre-season– then not winning the opener– caused a lot of stress. This year he intended to play to win in the pre-season.

And he did.

Winning pre-season games isn’t tough. When the opposing coach removes his first, second or third string players, keep your guys in longer.. Sean
Payton made it especially simple, since nine people who might have had an
impact didn’t play

  • Hall Of Fame QB Drew Brees didn’t play
  • Neither 1,000-yard running back Mark Ingram nor veteran pickup Adrian Peterson (yes, the future Hall-of-Famer) suited up
  • Their two-time Pro Bowl C Max Unger will miss all of pre-season due to a foot injury
  • Neither of the Saints’ #1 picks in 2017– CB Marshon Lattimore or T Ryan Ramczyk— saw action
  • TE Coby Fleener didn’t play
  • Pro Bowl DE Cameron Jordan wasn’t active and #3 pick Trey Hendrickson didn’t play

The starting offensive unit played only 11 snaps (two drives). It was done for the night at 8:05 of the first quarter– afterTed Ginn dropped a TD pass and they settled for a field goal.

The Saints’ #1 defense played only 12 snaps. Because the
Browns went 3-and-out on their first two drives, they played a third
series, But they left the field with 2:13 left in the first quarter.

The New Orleans second teams each played 25-30 snaps. For
the offense, that was the rest of the first half and their first drive of
the second half– the 11-play, 60-yard march that ended with the failed
end around on fourth down at the Cleveland two.

The New Orleans second-string defense got 27 snaps in the second quarter,
so they were pretty much done by the end of the first half. Because they
rotate in and out, a few defensive linemen started the third quarter. But
they were done by 9:07 (the final play fo the Browns’ first drive).


The Browns, on the other hand, had only three players skip the game: T Joe Thomas, one of their #1 picks (TE David Njoku) and (allegedly) starting FS Ed Reynolds.

I am assuming Gregg Williams isn’t serious about that. Just like Tank Carder is holding the fort at middle linebacker until Joe Schobert learns the ropes. If Carder and Reynolds are really the best players the Browns have at those spots, the team is in sad, sad shape.

Cleveland’s first-team offense played 28 snaps–more than twice as many as the Saints. They were in the game until 8:51 of the second quarter; they played 13 snaps against the Saints’ #2 defense.

If you’re not sure which series that was, here’s the drive chart for the first half– the drives where the first-team offense played are highlighted. See if you . You see if you can figure out when the Saints backups took over:Drive Chart PS Game 1

Suddenly the Browns have more plays on one drive than they had on the previous three– and Wilcots and Mike Patrick started crowing about how the offense finally seemed to be in sync. They didn’t even notice that the substitutes– for a team that allowed 28.4 points a game last year (31st in the NFL) had come in.

I mean, you would hope that Brock Osweiler, Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson, Corey Coleman and Kenny Britt– who, except for Randall Telfer (one play) and Ricardo Louis (two) were the skill position players involved on the drive– would be able to make hay against the scrubs.

But as you should notice (13 plays for 44 yards is less than 3.5 yards per play), they didn’t. Crowell had 4 carries for 9 yards Osweiler went 3-7 for 16 yards– his big contribution was a 10-yard scramble.

And isn’t that special? New season– but the quarterback is still outgaining the running backs.

The MVP of the drive was referee Jeff Triplette, who called three penalties for 17 yards– two of which gained first downs. Despite his help, the Browns still couldn’t score.

On the next possession, the Browns scored a touchdown after third-string quarterback Garrett Grayson– playing with the second team because Brees
had the night off, remember– fumbled and Cleveland got it back on the 21.

It still took them five plays to score. “Hands” Coleman — last year’s #1– was still playing and he caught a 9-yard pass. Triplette also called another penalty (pass interference in the end zone) to put the ball at the 1.

It should be really easy to win if you have a huge manpower advantage. But the Browns won by six points– and didn’t put the game away until 1:58 of the fourth quarter.

Terrific. I’ll take a few questions.

Weren’t you impressed by the defense?

No. The staring quarterback, Chase Daniel, is going into his eighth season, He’s been with three teams (Philly and Kansas City) and is 1-1 in two starts. He’s thrown 78 passes for 480 yards with one TD and one INT.

I would expect him to be completely overwhelmed by a defense coached by the highest-paid assistant in the NFL, featuring:

  • Two Pro Bowl players: Joe Haden and Jamie Collins
  • A defensive line with three players taken in the first 32 picks– including the overall #1: Myles Garrett (pick 1), Danny Shelton (12) and Emmanuel Ogbah (32)
  • A former #3 (LB Chris Kirksey), and two #4s (safeties Ibraheim Campbell and Derrick Kindred), none of whom have more than three years experience, the oldest of whom (Campbell) turned 25 in May

But there’s more. Daniel wasn’t playing with an offense at full-strength. He was missing his starting center, right tackle and tight end. Also, Jahri Evans– who went to the Pro Bowl six times at right guard, decamped for Green Bay. They signed a free agent from the Lions to replace him and are breaking him in. .

I’m not through. Daniel’s running back (Alvin Kamara) was a rookie who never rushed for more than 698 yards in college. His #2 wide receiver (Ted Ginn) is 31 and has never caught more than 56 passes. (Ginn demonstrated why he is a journeyman received by dropping an easy touchdown pass.)

Despite all of those factors:

  • Daniel was neither sacked or intercepted. He went 4-6 for 27 yards– not great, but Ginn’s drop would have made it 5-6 for 31 yards and a TD (Ginn was also the target on his other incompletion).
  • Kamara was stopped for no yards and one yard– but he also had runs of 12 and 22 yards, making him 4-34 against the first string. Daniel Lasco, a seventh-rounder last year, gained 12 yards on two carries (a stuff and a 14-yarder).

When the Saints’ second team came in, then we saw the 6-yard sack and the two runs for three yards.

You have nothing positive to say?

Boy that Gregg Williams– wow can he coach! He made Garrett Grayson (a 26-year-old quarterback who has never thrown a pass in the regular season) look like a bum from the Mountain West Conference. That what you looking for?

Sorry, I can’t say stuff like that with a straight face.

Because the Browns have brought in so many defensive players in a very short period of time, they had enormous mismatches. Briean Boddy-Calhoun started seven games at corner for the Browns last season. He was playing against the Saints third string.

Carl Nassib was a #3 pick by this front office last year. Because they are so overloaded with defensive linemen– and because Nassib was hurt for most of last season– he is either the second or third-string defensive end. (It depends on whether you have Nate Orchard, a second round pick two years ago, at end on linebacker.)

That meant Nassib was playing in the third and fourth quarters, where he naturally played well. (Orchard also looked good– part credit on a sack and a run stuff.) Joe Schobert— a fourth-round pick a year ago, who showed some ability in the limited time (246 snaps) he played due to injury, got a sack a stuff, a QB hit and a pass knocked down– but against inferior competition.

I’m not blaming Williams, mind you. He inherited players who were high picks because Ray Farmer or Mike Pettine liked them, people who who were playing out of position (Orchard looks better because he is playing Defensive End, not linebacker) and brainstorms from the Marx Brothers front office. He’s trying to sort things out– of course some people who were high picks (Xavier Cooper was a #3 in 2015) end up playing in garbage time.

But when that happens, you don’t get excited. You say “Well, that’s nice– but he’s supposed to be able to do that. Let’s see if he can do that again, against better players.”

Tell me about DeShone Kizer

He was the 52nd pick in this year’s draft– and he was playing against people taken 150 picks later– or not taken at all. What do you think you could learn from that?

Did you see those two passes he threw?

Yes. Did you see the long passes Robert Griffin threw in every pre-season game last year? Did that matter when the season began?

Look, nobody has ever questioned Kizer’s arm. They question everything else. The game did little to quell those doubts.

1. Like Johnny Manziel, Kizer didn’t play in an NFL offense where he had to line up behind center and hand the ball off to a back. In the game, 26 of his 32 snaps were out of the shotgun,. Of those six plays where he had to line up behind center:

  • Matt Dayes ran for 6 yards
  • Rannell Hall lost -9 yards on an end around
  • Kizer threw an incomplete pass to Jordan Leslie
  • Terrence Magee ran for 3 yards
  • Kizer completed a 12-yard pass to Hall
  • Kizer knelt (losing -1 yards) to end the game

Even if we ignore the kneel, that’s 12 yards on five plays, or 2.4 yards per play. Also notice that three of the five plays where he took a snap were runs. Opponents might pick up on that.

2. Unlike Manziel, people question whether Kizer can throw any pass except a long one. He went 11-18 for 184 yards and a score. Three of his completions went for more than 20 yards– to receivers who were wide-open.

Remove the 52-yarder to Richard Mullaney, the 45-yard score to Jordan
Payton
and the 22-yard pass to Hall, and he went 8-15 for 65 yards, which is a 53.3% completion percentage and 4.3 yards per pass.

Also, one of those 15 passes was an 18-yarder to Mullaney. I don’t count a pass of less than 20 yards as a “long pass”, but it traveled 17 yards in the air, so the NFL play sheet correctly describes the route as “deep left”. If you consider it as a long pass, he’s be down to 7-14 for 47 yards. (3.3 yards).

I don’t think it is fair to say this, but TE Randall Telfer fumbled on a pass that wasn’t well thrownTelfer has trouble with all types of passes, so I wouldn’t blame
the QB, but if I had my knives out, I could.

3. People question his ability to read a defense and get rid of the ball. He was sacked three times for 22 yards and had to scramble a fourth time (he gained 7 yards). That’s 4 problem plays of 22 dropbacks.

Are you going to cut him any slack?
It was his first pro game.

I’m not ragging on him– I’m pointing out issues that everyione else seems to be deliberately obtuse about. Here’s me cutting slack:

It wasn’t a very good performance– especially since he was a possible #1 (who fell into round two) facing the ass end of a bad defense. That said, he did put up two touchdowns– twice as many as the other two players did. He has immense physical skills and throws a nice deep pass. He’s 21 years and 220 days old, and has played only two years of college ball. If he works hard and is given time to polish said skills, he could become a really good player.

But he isn’t one now. He isn’t close to being ready to start. The people who think he ought to play– even though he can’t set up behind center, drop five steps back and throw accurately– are showing they understand nothing about how to develop players.

When you take a player like Kizer– left school early, very raw– you have to be willing to develop him If he spends a year working on NFL quarterbacking– doing hours of practice every day– he could be ready in a year of two.

If he starts now, he’ll have to spend every minute trying to learn the offense and game plans– and figure out opposing defenses. He’ll never get better technically, He’ll struggle to make plays that people like Cody Kessler or Ryan Fitzpatrick can make in their sleep. He’ll make a ton of mistakes and get beat to hell by opposing defenses. He’ll end up injured and his skills will get ragged. In other words, he’ll end up a lot like Robert Griffin.

I have no idea if Kizer if willing to do the work he needs to do– I don’t know him. He might fail if he’s brought along slowly. But the “We might as well start him now” approach will guarantee that he blows up.

I’m being hard on him because it’s in his best interests. There’s no way Kizer should start.