The Washington Boehners are a team that divides people about more than their name.
After eight games in 2015, they were 3-5, and ranked 28th in points (19.8) and 17th in points allowed (24.4)– looking decidedly stinky.
But they went 2-2 in the next four games– winning against New Orleans, losing against Carolina, winning against Dallas and then losing to the Giants. Now they were up to 21st in points (21.4), while staying at 17th in points allowed (23.8).
Then they won the last four games to make the playoffs (Chicago, Buffalo, Philly and Dallas), winding up at 10th in offense (24.3) and still 17th in defense (23.7).
Then they lost the Wild Card game 35-18 to Green Bay.
You could claim the 2015 season is the story of a young team banding together under its maturing coach (Jay Gruden) and coming into its own.
Or you could claim that the Boehners weren’t a lot better than the 4-12 team they were in 2014– they just quit playing Robert Griffin at quarterback and played the AFC East and NFC South, instead of (as in 2014), the AFC South and NFC West.
The 2016 team isn’t providing any clues. They’re 1-2, with the (respectively) a 38-16 loss to the Steelers, a 27-23 loss to Dallas and a 29-27 win against the the Giants.
Since we all know that wins and losses by seven points or less are entirely a matter of luck (you do remember that– I mean, I’ve covered this often enough, right?) Washington could be 2-1 or 0-3.
About all we know is what the scores of the games tell us– the offense isn’t bad (22.7 points per game, ranked 18th), and the defense (30.7 points allowed) has been horrific (29th).
The defense hasn’t been injured– 9 of the 11 Game 1 starters have played all three games, and the other two starters played the first two before they jacked themselves up. Unless you see undrafted free agent CB Dashaun Phillips and #6 pick DT Kedric Golston as the keys to Washington’s defense, they’re not hurting. They just haven’t been any good.
You could claim the defense has had bad luck– it has forced five fumbles, but recovered only two. But it has only seven sacks and three interceptions. Corner Josh Norman has seven knockdowns, Bashaud Breeland has three (and a pick) and LB Su’a Cravens (their #2 pick this year) has two knockdowns and an interception. Norman and DE Trent Murphy (three sacks, two forced fumbles) have played impressively. Nobody else has. That’s why Washington is allowing 9.0 yards per pass attempt.
The offense is second in the NFL in field goals (11) and and 27th in touchdowns (5), which probably tells you everything you need to know. I’ll list the players who’ve scored:
- WR Jamison Crowder (drafted in the second round last year despite being 5’8″) has two scores. He’s also a big problem on punt returns.
- RBs Matt Jones (4.1 per carry) and Chris Thompson (3.9) have one each. They’re trying to take over for the departed Alfred Morris (who is declining even further)
- 30-year-old WR DeSean Jackson (behaving so far) has one
QB Kirk Cousins has completed 63.4% of his passes, taken only four sacks and has a fairly impressive 8.0 yards per pass. But he’s thrown only 3 TD passes– and been picked off three times. 30-year-old WR Pierre Garcon seems to be heading for the last roundup… His yards per catch has declined for the fourth straight year and is not at 10.4.
Saying that the Browns are banged up is being kind. Not counting the people who will miss the game because they are criminals (Puff and Armonty Bryant) or too stupid to protect themselves (Josh McCown), five players are listed as “Out” (if they play, the NFL: investigates) for Sunday:
- WR Corey Coleman (7 catches on 13 tries, 173 yards, 2 TDs)
- C Cam Erving (leading the NFL in bad snaps)
- DE Carl Nassib (1 sack, one pass knockdown)
- TE Seth DeValve (11 snaps on offense, 13 on kicking teams)
- LB Nate Orchard (2 tackles, 2 assists on 100 snaps)
Other than Coleman and Nassib (who has 33% of their sacks), the Browns won’t miss much. Things were less chaotic at center with John Greco; if they were getting any help from #3 pick Shon Coleman, they’d be better off.
There’s a 75% chance that CB Tramon Williams won’t play– that won’t be a loss.
Three Browns are listed as “questionable”, which means they’re a 50-50 bet: SS Ibraheim Campbell, CB Joe Haden and RB Duke Johnson. The one they will miss most is Johnson. He can catch– and they have a rookie Qb. Last week, he also ran.
Haden looked exceptional in game two and ordinary in game one. It’s hard to call it a loss, because it’s getting to be the default. he missed 11 games last year, a game in both 2013 and 2014– and he always seems to be battling a nagging something. If he could play every week and play like he did in game two (when he was exceptional) rather than game one (ordinary(, it would be a big loss. Now, not so much.
Campbell started the first two games, but missed last week. He was going to be phased out anyway. He’s a strong safety who hits can’t cover; the Marx Brothers took Derrick Kindred in the fourth round to replace him.
Both RB Isaiah Crowell and QB Cody “Trust Me” Kessler. That poses a big problem. The Browns don’t have any running backs beside Crowell and Johnson; Kessler needs a ground game. Plus, his arm is weak enough without being ailing.
We also don’t know how K Cody Parkey will react to last week’s three misses. Or to playing in Cleveland, not Miami.
It’s pretty clear that Washington will score points– they have 11 field goals and 5 touchdowns in three games. We don’t know if they will be able to turn some of those 11 stalled drives into scores against Ray Horton’s defense. But even if they don’t, we can expect them to score roughly 24 points.
Pittsburgh held them to 16, but the Steelers also held the Bengals to 16. Until they imploded against Philly (34-3), they looked vastly better.
Can the Browns match or exceed those 24 points? They got 24 last week– and obviously could have had more. But that total is misleading, since 7 points came on a pick-six– and two other drives (both of which ended with missed field goals) began deep in Miami territory after turnovers.
That wont happen Sunday. Washington has only four turnovers– three interceptions and one fumble. They’ve got the offensive line stabilized to the point where Cousins is throwing 41.3 times a game– but sacked only 1.3 times game. The Browns have only three sacks in three games– and they won’t have Nassib, their best pass rusher.
The Boehners shouldn’t be able to run. but Miami shouldn’t have been able to run last week, and they had 115 yards on 25 carries. Jones and Thompson are better than anyone the Dolphins had.
Then you have Kessler– with both his running backs listed as injured. With a chaotic right side of the line– and last week’s tape showing opponents how bad things can get. LB Ryan Kerrigan has only one sack this year… but he had 9.5 last year and 13.5 the year before. He and Murphy might have fun.
Plus, last week, nobody knew that the game plan would involve Terrelle Pryor. This week, everyone will expect it. And if the offense isn’t scoring, there will probably be calls for a lot more than the handfull of snaps he played last week.
I can see how the Browns win. But I can also see how they can lose, too. And a lot of what we saw last week was Cleveland surprising a bad team and its bad coaches.
Washington is mediocre. This will be a much tougher job. And it will take place in less favorable weather.
Both offenses get their average point totals. For Washington, that means 23; for Cleveland, 15. And I’m guessing that’s two TDs and a two-point conversion, as the field goal unit blows up– get your Parkey jerseys before halftime. Washington 23-15.