All right, it’s time to set something straight about the quarterbacks the Browns did and did not select in the last college football draft.
They had three selections in the third round. With the third pick, they grabbed Cody Kessler, a solid performer from Southern California. Experts said he was a reach. That he would have been there in the fifth round.
Dak Prescott was also there in round three. The Browns said no, they liked Kessler better. A round later, the Dallas Cowboys fell in love (forgive the hyperbole) with the Mississippi State quarterback and grabbed him as a compensatory selection shortly before the Browns took tight end Seth DeValve.
An injury to the starting quarterback in the exhibition season suddenly elevated the fourth-round rookie into the starting spotlight with the Cowboys and his dazzling performance – his team is 7-1 – is causing all kinds of concern in Big D now that the starter is healthy again.
In Cleveland, meanwhile, the third-round rookie started as the third quarterback, but was forced into the starting role by injuries by game three. He was not nearly as dazzling – in fact he wasn’t dazzling at all – as his winless team fell into a hole and had trouble climbing out.
The two quarterbacks met for the first time Sunday in Cleveland and the fourth-rounder bested the third-rounder rather handily, leading his team to a resounding 35-10 victory. He threw three touchdown passes and looked like a seasoned veteran.
All this prompted the second guessers – media and fans alike – to surface and question the Browns’ player personnel judgment with regard to the quarterback of the future.
“Should have drafted Dak Prescott,” say some. “Look at what he has done in Dallas. If the Browns had drafted him, they wouldn’t be 0-9. What were those guys thinking?”
Let us, for the sake of argument, say the Browns did, indeed, make Prescott a third-round pick. And let us run him through the same scenario Kessler has experienced.
Before you start poking holes in what I’m about to type before I type it, stop. The following is strictly a hypothesis engendered by nonsensical thinking on the part of the fans and media.
Prescott would have made no difference in the Browns’ record. Compare the talent around him now with the talent that would have surrounded him in Cleveland. The Browns would still be 0-9 at this point and Prescott would be hobbling around, like Kessler, after taking a severe beating.
In Cleveland, he would have operated behind one of the worst offensive lines in the National Football League. In Cleveland, he would have handed off the ball on running plays to a pair of running backs who have problems running behind that line. And he would have been throwing to a mediocre-at-best wide receivers corps.
He has the ideal situation with the Cowboys. He operates behind arguably the best offensive line in the NFL. He hands the ball off to a sensational rookie running back and a backup who at one time was one of the league’s best runners.
As for the receivers, he has a future Hall of Famer in his tight end and a corps of playmakers who actually make plays for him. If he was with the Browns, he would have none of those luxuries. As it turned out, the perfect team drafted him. It has been a perfect fit.
So I don’t want to hear that Prescott would have been a better fit for the Browns. No he wouldn’t have. The Cowboys, on the other hand, would not be 7-1 without him. That’s because he is good for them and they are good for him.
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Browns inside linebacker Christian Kirksey, who has played like a demon lately, said something interesting following the Dallas loss Sunday after apparently being asked about the possibility of a winless season.
“We are not going to go oh and 16,” he declared defiantly. “That’s for a fact. We’re not going to do that. Things are going to get on a roll. We’ve got to keep fighting.”
If some of his defensive mates play like Kirksey does, there is no question the Browns won’t join the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only NFL teams to go through an entire season without a victory. But the road ahead the next two months is daunting.
Up next, a Thursday night trip to Baltimore, where the Browns have won only four times in 17 attempts since 1999. Last season, however, they registered one of their three victories there with a 33-30 overtime win on a Travis Coons field goal.
In the second game this season in Cleveland, the Ravens spotted the Browns a 20-0 lead in the first quarter, then won the rest of the game, 25-0, in a reversal that sort of set the tone for the rest of the season.
After the Ravens come consecutive home games against Pittsburgh, the New York Giants and Cincinnati with a bye slipped in between the latter two games.
Beating Pittsburgh anywhere is difficult for any Browns team since 1999, let alone this underachieving bunch, with only six victories in 35 meetings. Four were registered at home.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has lost only twice to the Browns in 21 games. Both were in Cleveland. So maybe they have a chance on Nov. 20, especially against a Steelers team struggling to play .500 ball this season.
The hot and cold Giants could be the game that keeps the Browns out of the record books. Sports Illustrated predicted the Browns’ lone victory of the season would be against the Giants. Everyone laughed back then. They aren’t laughing now.
The Bengals, believe it or not, offer the best chance for a victory between now and New Year’s Day in Pittsburgh even though they have demolished the Browns, 67-3, in their last two visits to Cleveland. Hue Jackson would like nothing better than to gain revenge against his old team for the 31-17 pounding in Cincinnati Oct. 23.
The Browns finish the season in Buffalo, the home finale against San Diego and the dreaded journey to Pittsburgh. The Bills are 3-2 against the Browns at home since 1999. Mark this one down as yet another possible victory because of the uncertain weather in Buffalo on Dec. 18.
Unless Cleveland is hit with a heat wave on Christmas Eve, put the Chargers game in the possibility column. A warm-weather team usually does not do well in wintery conditions. As for the second Steelers game, forget it. Not gonna happen.
So while Kirksey might sound like someone whistling past a graveyard, he most likely will be right. The 2008 Lions will remain alone in their infamy. The question is who will be the team embarrassed by losing to the Browns?
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Most fans probably noticed how easily the Dallas receivers made themselves available for Prescott’s passes Sunday. All three of his touchdown passes were delivered to receivers so wide open, they all but waltzed into the end zone.
Jason Witten took advantage of a coverage breakdown by linebacker Jamie Collins in the first quarter on his 26-yard scoring catch. When he turned after making the catch, the big tight end hesitated slightly before realizing there was no one between him and the goal line.
On Cole Beasley’s six-yard TD, he and Dez Bryant lined up in a short stack against Cleveland cornerbacks Joe Haden and Tramon Williams. At the snap, Haden and Williams appeared confused as to who had what responsibility and Beasley came wide open in the left corner. All Prescott had to do was flip the ball to him.
Tight end Gavin Escobar merely sneaked out into the left flat after blocking down on a second-and-goal at the Cleveland 2 with nary a Cleveland defender within five yards of him. He easily made the catch, his first of the season.
It added up to a total breakdown on all three scores. And it is not going to get any better with some pretty good quarterbacks and receivers coming up.
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The seat Jackson sits on gets hotter by the game. Every loss boosts that heat as his team sets a record for futility on a weekly basis. The fans want some answers. So apparently does he.
It starts with me,” he said matter-of-factly after the Dallas loss. “We have to coach better and get them to play better, put them in better situations.” That came right out of the coaching manual with regard to explaining losses to the media.
Then: “There are things I know we can do better and will do better, but there are things rearing their ugly heads.” As for the dwindling number of fans at home games, he added, “We have to give them something to keep coming for.” And that’s the biggest challenge as the season continues to careen out of control.
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One quick rhetorical question: How in the world did the Browns’ defense permit the Dallas offense to hog the football for the last seven minutes and 48 seconds of Sunday’s game?
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And finally . . . Collins played well considering he has been with the club for just a few days. He had eight tackles, five solo, and provided the only hit on Prescott. . . . How bad is the Cleveland offense? It scores just 18.6 points a game, a figure bettered only by the Los Angeles Rams’ 16.25 and Chicago’s 16.4. . . . And how bad is the defense? It has allowed 30.3 points a game. Only San Francisco’s 32.5 points a game is worse. . . . In other words, the Browns own the worst offense and worst defense in the AFC. . . . Of the five Browns penalties called, three were for being lined up in the neutral zone. Maybe someone should teach the defensive linemen where the ball is located. . . . Another bad day at the office for the Cleveland running game: 13 attempts netted 45 yards. . . . Why was tight end Gary Barnidge targeted only three times against the Cowboys? He caught all three for 23 yards. . . . Duke Johnson Jr. watch: Five rushes for 30 yards; two receptions (in two targets) for 16 yards. Seven touches, 46 yards.