After what unfolded in Sunday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, it is now obvious Cody Kessler is not the quarterback of the future for the Browns. And he shouldn’t be the quarterback of the present, either.
The rookie quarterback was exposed by a Steelers defense that had not performed well at all this season and looked a lot better than it probably is.
Kessler has played enough games in the National Football League and seen enough to be declassified as a raw rookie just finding his way. After eight games, he is not improving in any way shape or form.
He still has a below-average throwing arm. Unless he somehow discovers a formula that turns his right arm into a bazooka, opposing defenses will continue to crowd the line of scrimmage and dare him to beat them deep. He cannot.
Granted he plays behind an offensive line that affords him less-than-adequate protection and isn’t any better at opening holes in the run game, but he does not help with what appears to be lack of recognition.
By now, one would think he would recognize defenses to the point where he could change his protection calls before the snap. Several times against the Steelers, he had little or no time to throw because he failed to call the right protection.
Add to that his inability to find open receivers – there is almost always a checkdown receiver open on most plays – in order to avoid a negative play. If you own limited physical talents, at least play with some degree of intelligence.
In the beating he absorbed against the Steelers, Kessler showed none of the above and paid a dear price when Pittsburgh linebacker Lawrence Timmons literally knocked him out of the game with a concussion at the end of the third quarter after he completed a jump-ball pass to Corey Coleman.
Up to that point, the Cleveland offense staggered aimlessly except for one third-quarter drive that produced a Cody Parkey 24-yard field goal after reaching the Pittsburgh 1-yard line. And then it was backward march.
First and goal at the 1 turned into fourth and goal at the 6 and three points after Isaiah Crowell was rudely thrown for a two-yard loss, Kessler was sacked for the fourth time of the afternoon and then forced to scramble for a two-yard gain.
The kid apparently hasn’t learned to throw the ball away when trouble lurks. For whatever reason, he holds firm in the belief he can always make a play. And much more often than not, he can’t and makes the wrong decision.
If he had a big arm and a quicker release, these would be problems that could be overcome with experience. It’s that aspect of his game that will shorten his professional football career as a starter.
Coach Hue Jackson saw something in Kessler’s game that encouraged him to strongly suggest choosing the kid from Southern Cal in the third round on the last college draft with other harder throwing quarterbacks still on the board. Maybe it was his ability to complete nearly two of every three passes he threw in college.
Accuracy is one of the most important attributes coaches look for in a quarterback. But unless you have a strong arm that can back it up, teams in the NFL will find out quickly enough and expose you.
Consider Kessler exposed.
Unless the Browns make any drastic moves with their quarterbacking next season (Josh McCown, who will start Sunday against the New York Giants, almost certainly will not be back), Kessler will return. If he is the starter, look for more of what you are seeing this miserable season.
He has already suffered two concussions in his eight-game career. At USC, that number was zero. The jump to the NFL from college is huge even for the quarterback of a perennial power.
Kessler has been sacked 19 times in eight games for a reason. The offensive line cannot assume full responsibility for that statistic. Kessler’s inability to overcome an obvious weakness is a contributing factor.
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While the defense has taken its share of the blame for what has transpired this season, the offense recently has joined that parade. In a word, what the Browns do with the football when they own it is embarrassing.
And while Jackson and the front office are reluctant to admit it, there is a serious lack of talent on both sides of the football with this roster. The defense, however, showed up Sunday against the Steelers, allowing just 17 points and ratcheting up when they neared the red zone.
The offense the last three games has been worse than abysmal, producing just 26 points. The running game is stuck; the passing game is almost amateurish. There seems to be no rhyme or reason for what Jackson seeks with his play calling.
Here are some statistics in those three games that should embarrass the offensive coaching staff:
The Browns have racked up three touchdowns (one in each loss); 41 first downs (five of those in the last drive Sunday when the Steelers played soft on defense); run 133 plays (17 on that last drive); gained 575 total yards; ran for 111 yards; and thrown for 464 yards. Those should be two-game totals, not three.
Of those 133 plays, 39 have been called runs, or 29.3%. All of which means Jackson has called pass plays more than 70% of the time. An incredible 16 of those called passes have wound up as sacks. That’s right, 16 sacks in the last three games after allowing 22 in the first eight games. Yikes!!
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Remember way back at the beginning of this season when Jackson promised a more balanced attack? You know the kind where you run the ball almost as much as you throw it? That was when he thought he had some talent with which to work. That went out the window about five or six games ago.
Unless he’s into delusional thinking, Jackson now knows three months and 11 games later that he has a much bigger problem than he initially thought at a time where 0-0 allowed one to be much more positive. Oh and 11 delivers a rude jolt of reality. Maybe next year.
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More telling stats: The offense has owned the ball for just 27 minutes a game this season and scored only 20 touchdowns with a turnover ratio of minus-7. While the offensive line has sieve-like in protecting the quarterback, the defense has delivered only 16 putdowns of opposing quarterbacks.
The offense, at one time this season in the top two in NFL rushing (that seems like such a long time ago), barely cracked the 1,000-yard mark in the Pittsburgh loss and now stands at 1,023 yards. That’s 93 yards a game (37 in the last three games). At one point, it was well over 140 yards a game.
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If you’re looking for something positive to glom onto, try this: The Cleveland offense was perfect on five fourth downs against the Steelers after converting only four of 15 third downs. Four were on the final drive. On second thought, consider that a false positive because it reflects the frustration and desperation of the head coach.
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And finally . . . It seems a little unfair that Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had a rather pedestrian game Sunday and still won. The big guy was 23-of-36 for only 167 yards and did not throw a touchdown pass as he raised his record against the Browns to 21-2. . . . That’s because Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell had his best game of the season. He touched the ball 36 times (28 rushes) out of 64 plays – that’s 56% of the time – and compiled 201 of the club’s 313 yards, scoring the Steelers’ lone touchdown of the game. . . . Steelers inside linebackers Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier combined for 15 tackles. Timmons was especially effective with eight tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss, three quarterback hits and general mayhem. No one on the Browns’ defense came close to numbers like that. . . . The Pittsburgh defense, treating Cleveland quarterbacks as if they were piñatas, had 10 tackles for loss and 14 quarterback hits in addition to the eight sacks, which totaled 70 yards. All the Cleveland defense could produce was four quarterback hits. . . . McCown was the Browns’ leading rusher with 11 scrambling yards on two carries. . . . Believe it or not, the 24 Pittsburgh points represents a season low for the Browns in that department. . . . Coleman was targeted 12 times and caught just four balls for 39 yards. . . . Duke Johnson Jr. watch: Never mind. Jackson underuses him. We’re done. Again, maybe next year.