Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Browns-Giants leftovers

D-Day for Hue Jackson is Wednesday. At least that's what he said following the Browns’ 10-6 exhibition victory over the New York Giants Monday night.

So who will it be at quarterback in the season opener, coach, DeShone Kizer or Brock Osweiler?

It’s an interesting conundrum for the Browns head coach in that he has to choose between a young veteran in Osweiler and a raw rookie in Kizer. A distinct contrast to say the least.

Go with the quarterback who has been more productive thus far in the exhibition season or the one who seems to be easing his way toward the regular-season opener against Pittsburgh on Sept. 10? A distinct contrast indeed.

There is no question the raw rookie has been the better performer and under different circumstances would be a slam-dunk choice to open against the Steelers.

But Jackson has been around long enough to know that choosing Kizer over Osweiler is a risk that might please Browns fans clamoring for him to do so, but might be harmful in the end run.

There are few things more distasteful to a football coach than playing someone who is clearly not ready for the big time and ruining what otherwise might be a successful career.

The Browns did that back in 1999 when rookie Tim Couch, who definitely was not ready to be a starting quarterback in the National Football League, was thrust into the spotlight in game two of that first season back from a forced three-year absence.

He was so not ready, but the thinking back then was he would learn on the job. Long story short, he didn’t.

Couch was out of football after five seasons, battered, bruised and ruined (from a football standpoint) because he was hurled into the inferno way too early and suffered greatly as a result.

He was sacked 166 times in his brief NFL career during which he threw more interceptions (67) than touchdown passes (64), completed just 59.8% of his passes and won only 22 of his 59 starts.

Now Jackson knows Kizer, like Couch in 1999, is not ready to become a starting quarterback in the NFL despite his nice showing in the first two exhibitions. The regular season is an entirely different animal.

The speed and pace of the game is ratcheted up tremendously and makes the games now being played seem as though they are in slow motion. Osweiler, who has been exquisitely mediocre thus far, has been there and knows the difference.

The guess here is Osweiler will be Jackson’s unpopular (with the fans) choice to start against the Steelers, but will be attached to a very, very short leash. It will be his job to lose and if he doesn’t step up his game quickly, he will lose it.

The thinking being if the offense continues to stagger under Osweiler’s guidance when the games become meaningful, Jackson might as well punt the season and see what the rookie can do. What have they got to lose after booking 1-15 last season?

Some would argue that comparing Kizer to Couch is not fair. Couch had an average arm; Kizer’s arm is a bazooka. Couch was below average as a runner. Kizer is much more athletic and makes plays with his legs.

Kizer’s chance will come. It’s foolish and unrealistic to think Osweiler will come in right away and be so successful, the rookie will spend most of the season learning from the sideline.

All that awaits now is the ultimate decision by Jackson, whose further employment by the Browns very well might depend on what that is.
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Jackson is so madly in love with pre-snap shifts on offense, it seems as though the Browns do it on almost every play. Considering the relative lack of execution after all the shifts, maybe it’s time to at least think about dumbing down the offense.

In order to be successful with all the shifting, and the Browns certainly haven’t been thus far, perhaps it’s time to make certain the offense executes the basic fundamentals of the game first before factoring in all the sophistication.

If the whole idea of multiple shifts is to confuse opposing defenses, it doesn’t seem to be working. Didn’t work last season. In the two exhibition victories, the Browns have racked up only 554 yards of offense and just 30 points.

But it sure was nice to see Jackson follow through on his promise to balance the offense in the Giants game. Four Browns quarterbacks attempted 31 passes and handed off 31 times.
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It is very apparent defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ goal this season is to give every defender on the field at least one crack a game to blitz. It sure seemed that way when he sent linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties at the quarterback against the Giants.

He will get burned on occasion with veteran quarterbacks who recognize the blitz in advance and deliver the ball quickly to hot receivers. But more often than not, his gambles will eventually pay off in interceptions or sacks.

As a result, count on the Browns easily bettering their 26-sack total last season and winding up with more than last season’s 10 interceptions.
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Could it be the Browns have too many quality defensive linemen and are showcasing veteran Desmond Bryant? What other reason can explain why he was playing defensive tackle with the third teamers late in the Giants victory?

It was thought Bryant, the 31-year-old, eight-year veteran who missed all of last season with a torn pectoral muscle, was a strong candidate to play opposite Danny Shelton in the new 4-3 look.

But the emergence of free agent Trevon Coley and rookies Larry Ogunjobi and Caleb Brantley, along with veteran Jamie Meder, might possibly signal Bryant’s departure after four seasons with the club. If the rookies are not deemed ready yet, he probably stays. He wound up with five tackles against the Giants, three solo.

(Update: Bryant was released shortly after this was posted.)
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With Isaiah Crowell sitting out the game, with a groin problem, rookie running back Matthew Dayes logged significant playing time following Duke Johnson Jr. and had  10 touches (five pass receptions) for 44 yards.

Playing with a chip on his shoulder after being the penultimate player chosen in the college football draft, the 5-8, 205-pounder was a sure-handed receiver out of the backfield in addition to being elusive and hard to bring down.

He could factor into some passing situations when Johnson either flanks out wide or lines up in the slot and provide another possible target for the quarterback.
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Of Kizer’s 31 snaps, 12 were from under center, including the first play of each of his four series, and all resulted in positive plays, the longest of which was a 20-yard completion to wide receiver Corey Coleman.

The more he plays under center, the more comfortable he becomes. And he is athletic enough to some day line up that way and not have to think about how he moves his feet and sets up to pass.
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Loved the misdirection pass play to fullback Dan Vitale that led to the evening’s lone touchdown. It was second and seven at the New York following Jason McCourty’s strip of Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepard late in the second quarter with the Giants clinging to a 3-0 lead.

The execution was perfect as the entire flow at the snap was to the strong side of the formation. Kizer, in shotgun formation, took a few steps in that direction then pivoted back to the weak side and hit Vitale in the left flat. The fullback rambled 16 yards to the Giants 9. Three plays later, Kizer muscled into the end zone.
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Quick memo to Jackson: Duke Johnson Jr. is not a between-the-tackles runner. He is a slasher, a cutback runner. That's where he gains most of his ground yardage. Crowell is your best bet up the middle. 
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Finally . . . The Browns owned the ball for 35 minutes, mostly because the defense did not waste much time shutting down the New York offense and getting off the field. . . . Kizer led the club in rushing with 35 yards on five carries, three of which were designed. That’s flirting with danger. . . . Cody Kessler was perfect on seven throws during his three series, but botched a fourth-quarter handoff to Terrence Magee at the Cleveland 16 that resulted in a Giants recovery. One play later, the defense got it back for Kessler when linebacker Dominique Alexander recovered a Wayne Gallman fumble at the Cleveland 8. . . . Nine penalties, 70 yards. Too many. . . . Fourteen different receivers caught the Browns’ 22 completed passes – six wide receivers, four running backs and four tight ends.

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