Monday, September 19, 2016

Monday leftovers

Will lightning strike the Browns’ quarterbacks corps a third time in three weeks? That’s what Cody Kessler must be wondering today.

The rookie third-round pick in the last college football draft is your new starting quarterback when the Browns travel down to Miami to take on the Dolphins Sunday afternoon.

That’s right . . . three games, three different starters at the most important position on the team.  Down goes Robert Griffin III in the season opener in Philadelphia. Down goes Josh McCown in the home opener against Baltimore. Each with left shoulder issues.

The Third won’t be back for at least two more months. The situation with McCown is a little more vague after he underwent tests Monday.

The veteran quarterback, who absorbed a frightful beating in the Baltimore loss Sunday, is listed as week to week, which could mean anything from just the Miami game to sitting out as long as The Third.

Kessler, the wet-behind-the-ear kid from USC, is about to find out what it’s like to play a National Football League regular-season game where the speed and quickness is totally different than in exhibition games and training camp.

Kessler, you’ll recall, is also the kid about whom coach Hue Jackson all but said, “Trust me on this guy,” when there were more highly ranked quarterbacks on the board. Well, it’s time to play “Who Do You Trust?”

Kessler’s promotion means Kevin Hogan, another quarterback with damp ears, probably moves up from the practice squad, giving the Browns two quarterbacks with arms that can generously be labeled as adequate.

The Browns thus enter the Dolphins game with a pair of Pac-12 quarterbacks who played in pro-style systems in college (Hogan at Stanford) and were eminently successful. But all that means nothing at this level.

It also most likely triggers a serious return to the waiver wire by the Cleveland front office to check out which street free agents would be available and willing to come to Cleveland.

That list includes such luminaries as Michael Vick, Matt Flynn, Charlie Whitehurst, Tarvaris Jackson, Josh Freeman, Jason Campbell, Jimmy Clausen, Ryan Lindley, T. J. Yates and Drew Henson. Then again, there’s the trade route for some current backup, which is a more distinct possibility.

Whoever gets the call – and there is no guarantee the Browns will make any roster moves for the position this week – will serve more as a warm body initially because bringing in someone new requires time for him to learn a brand new system.

Because the new starter is a rookie, look for Jackson to dumb down the playbook, simplifying the play calls and pass protections for Kessler. Unless he believes the kid is bright enough to take on the kind of load McCown was given, the coach is smart enough to give his new quarterback something he can handle.

Kessler probably will spend the vast portion of this week getting down his timing down with a set of receivers he rarely threw to during training camp and the exhibitions.

Another imperative is making certain the offensive line protects Kessler as though he were the next Tom Brady. Considering the way they protected The Third and McCown, that could be asking a little too much with this group. The antidote is a series of quick developing passes.

Hopefully by this time next week, we won’t be writing about starting Browns quarterback Kevin Hogan.
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It took only one game for McCown to realize his new favorite target among the new wide receivers this season was Corey Coleman. Eight targets, five catches, 104 yards and a pair of touchdowns for the Browns’ top draft choice against Baltimore.

The Third targeted him five times against the Eagles and connected twice for 69 yards, including a 58-yard bomb. He also had a 47-yard reception against the Ravens.

It would appear, at least on the basis of his first two games as a professional, that Coleman so far fulfills what the club envisioned when they dropped down twice in the lottery to select him. They wanted speed, the ability to stretch the field and production and he has delivered so far.

Now he is working with his third quarterback in three games (only in Cleveland) and the timing process begins all over again. With Kessler’s inability to stretch the field with his arm, Coleman will have to run short- to intermediate-type routes in order to become available.

One of the knocks on him coming out of college was his unfamiliarity with running the route tree at run-happy Baylor. With Kessler as his new quarterback, he should get plenty of opportunities to sharpen those skills.
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Joe Haden seems to be fully recovered from injuries that robbed him of most of last season. And after a slow start in Philadelphia, he looked more like the old Joe Haden against the Ravens.

Yes, he was burned on the first of Mike Wallace’s two touchdowns, but generally played a strong game with a pair of interceptions (one set up the third touchdown) and nearly a third. He was also strong in the run game, often coming up and taking on blockers on sweeps.

Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco picked on him all afternoon, but outside of that one Wallace slip, Haden sent notice around the NFL that the 2016 model is much improved over last season’s.
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It took one full season and two games, but Danny Shelton finally showed up against the Ravens. The burly nose tackle was mainly responsible for limiting Baltimore’s ground game to only 80 yards on 26 carries. For the Browns, that’s a remarkable figure.

Shelton was credited with eight tackles (two solo) and constantly bottled up the middle whenever the Ravens tried to run between the tackles. The Ravens’ two longest runs from scrimmage were 11 and nine yards.  

He did not get much penetration on passing plays, but tied up a couple of offensive linemen often enough in the first quarter, enabling other pass rushers to get close enough to Flacco to throw off his timing. Unfortunately, the pass rush tailed off in the final three quarters, but it wasn’t Shelton’s fault.
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Isaiah Crowell’s 85-yard touchdown run on the Browns’ second possession of the game was the second-longest such run from scrimmage in club history. Only Bobby Mitchell’s 90-yarder in 1959 was longer.

Mitchell was traded to the Washington Redskins as part of the deal that enabled the Browns to sign Ernie Davis out of Syracuse in 1962. Davis, who was supposed to pair with Jim Brown in the Cleveland backfield, died of leukemia in 1963. Mitchell went on to become a Hall of Fame wide receiver with Washington.
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Have you noticed how much better the Browns have become at executing screen passes? For the last several years, correctly running screen plays was a mystery. Now with the elusive Duke Johnson Jr. in the backfield, screens have returned. Jackson also threw in a couple of screens for Crowell and they worked.
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And finally . . . Kudos to fullback Malcolm Johnson on Crowell’s long run. Without his crunching block on Baltimore strong safety Eric Weddle, who had cheated up into the box, Crowell’s journey would have been a lot shorter. Once he got past that block, the Cleveland running back found another gear and burst between a cornerback and the free safety and was gone. . . . Duke Johnson Jr. touched the ball only seven times and gained 56 yards. Gotta be more touches. . . . Inside linebacker Demario Davis had another strong game with nine tackles, four solo. . . . Starting strong safety Ibraheim Campbell better watch out. Rookie Derrick Kindred is outplaying him and getting more reps. . . . The Browns fumbled three times against the Ravens and recovered all three. . .. All three Ravens’ sacks on McCown were by defensive linemen. . . . The Cleveland quarterback was also decked eight times after delivering a pass and hurried on 12 other dropbacks. . . . Didn’t often hear the names of rookie outside linebackers Emmanuel Ogbah and Joe Schobert. Second-game blues? Also rookie defensive end Carl Nassib, who was injured in the second quarter and did not make the score sheet. . . . Second-game blues, too, for Terrelle Pryor, who was targeted 10 times by McCown and came away with just three receptions for 32 yards.

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