Time to address one of the Browns’ biggest problems on offense. . . . third down. They have faced 24 of them in the first two games and converted a measly five. That’s barely 21%, second worst in the National Football League
A key contributor to the lifeblood of any offense is the ability to convert third downs, which not only prolongs drives, it improves time of possession and, most important, keeps the defense rested on the bench.
The average distance to go in those 24 instances is a little more than 10 yards, which basically shouts to opposing defenses that a pass is coming up. On only six occasions has the distance to go been less than seven yards. In other words, the offense has struggled to get close to the so-called makeable third-and-short.
It all begins with succeeding on first down and staying away from second-and-long situations. Winning first down seems like such a simple approach to playing at least competitive football
Only one problem there. This offense has failed abysmally at winning arguably the most important down in the game. They have managed 10 or more yards on first downs only 11 times in 44 opportunities covering 23 possessions. That increases the pressure to succeed on ensuing downs.
If that doesn’t change, if that doesn’t improve, if the importance of winning that down does not penetrate the minds of those in charge of the Cleveland offense, get used to the same results on a weekly basis.
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The next three games on the schedule for the Browns are against Indianapolis, Cincinnati and the New York Jets, teams with a combined victory total of zero after two weeks.
So if they emerge from the Jets game still looking for their first victory of the season, batten down the hatches. Last season’s 1-15 record might look like a walk in the park by comparison.
They catch a break heading into Sunday’s game in Indianapolis with news that Colts quarterback Andrew Luck still isn’t ready to make his 2017 debut because of shoulder issues related to off-season surgery,.
The Bengals, meanwhile, have not scored a touchdown. And the Jets’ front office conducted an off-season roster purge that all but guaranteed nailing one of the top two picks in next year’s college draft.
That is what the Browns, starving for a victory any way they can get one, face as they attempt to blunt talk of repeating last season’s monstrosity of a season.
Get ready for some bad football for the next three weekends. The bar is so low, fans wont be able to really get a good feel as to whether the Browns, depending on how well they play, are improving or just playing down to the level of the opposition.
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Danny Shelton played 35 of the defense’s 68 snaps against the Baltimore Ravens Sunday. I know he played. His No. 55 shone brightly on the television screen. So why was a the team’s top draft pick a couple of years ago a no-show on the final stats sheet?
The big defensive tackle appears to have recovered from a knee injury early in the exhibition season. Maybe. The explosion that was there in his first two seasons, when he played nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme, is not there anymore.
Could it be the new 4-3 look of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is not suitable for his talents? Instead of playing nose up on the center, he is responsible now for only one gap.
So why nothing on the stats sheet against the Ravens? At least an assist or two on a tackle. He had one solo tackle in the season-opening loss to Pittsburgh, so there’s something there. It has to be a great mystery to the coaching staff.
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Another defensive lineman, Emmanuel Ogbah, is also underperforming. The defensive end made the Ravens game stats sheet only because of one pass defensed. Otherwise, zeroes across the board on 54 snaps. He had one solo tackle and a pass defensed on 42 snaps in the Pittsburgh game.
That’s the total contribution the club’s second-round draft selection a year ago has delivered. What was expected of Ogbah this season was a strong pass rush based on 5½ sacks in his rookie season, but even that aspect of his game seems to be missing.
Right now, the Browns do not have what even charitably could be called a decent pass rush. Unless, of course, you consider getting close to the opposing quarterback sufficient. In that case, never mind.
What this pass rush needs is Myles Garrett, who has missed the first two games with a high ankle sprain that could sideline him for as long as half the season depending on the severity. A healthy Garrett would add a much-needed spark.
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Whatever happened to the defensive plans to rely heavily on a 4-2-5 look on a majority of the snaps this season? With the NFL becoming a pass-heavy league, it made sense to play a lot of nickel.
So why then has Joe Schobert played every one of Cleveland’s defensive 128 snaps this season? The middle linebacker was thought to be the one who would leave for the nickelback.
Schobert has been a wonderful surprise at his new position in the middle with 14 tackles (seven solo) and does not come out in obvious passing situations, a nod from the coaching staff with regard to his ability to defend against the pass.
Unless Williams changes his mind, which is entirely possible for the mercurial coordinator, the 4-3 look appears to be a staple now for at least for the first couple of downs on each series.
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Why does it seem as though Browns quarterbacks line up in shotgun formation a whole lot more than they do in a pro set? It’s because they do and in large numbers.
In the first two games, the Browns have run 128 plays on offense. Of those 128, only 22 (17%) were executed with either DeShone Kizer or Kevin Hogan under center. Everything else was out of the shotgun.
Maybe those numbers are skewed in favor of the shotgun because Kizer played nothing but shotgun throughout his entire high school and college career and is more comfortable lined anywhere from five to seven yards behind center JC Tretter.
Quarterbacking in the pro set requires a totally different kind of rhythm, a rhythm that apparently Kizer has yet to master. After 15 snaps under center in the Pittsburgh game, coach Hue Jackson reduced the number to just seven in the Baltimore loss. Hogan ran four of them.
When Kizer returned to play most of the second half after his migraine subsided, the Browns ran 27 plays. All were from the shotgun. Jackson apparently considers him a work in progress. Barring a sudden epiphany for the pro set, Kizer’s problem could linger the entire season.
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And finally . . . Fullback Danny Vitale was on the field for only six of Cleveland’s 66 plays on offense against the Ravens. Let’s try this one more time: Why is he on the roster? . . . Pre-snap penalties continue to hurt the Browns’ offense. They are tied with three other teams for the league lead with eight in two games. Inexcusable. . . . Overall, they have been flagged 15 times for 126 yards. The Steelers are the runaway leaders with 216 yards. . . . Is it time yet to label wide receiver Corey Coleman as injury prone? The club’s top draft choice last season will miss two months to mend a broken right hand, the same injury that caused him to miss six games in his rookie season. . . . How long will it be before the Browns promote wideout Jordan Leslie from the practice squad to the varsity? He led all the wide receivers in the exhibition season with nine catches and two touchdowns. He certainly can’t be any worse than what they are trotting out there now (with the exception of Rashard Higgins).