Monday, September 25, 2017

Monday leftovers

Give him credit, although he probably would much rather win a football game than utter the words after yet another frustrating loss Sunday in Indianapolis.

Browns coach Hue Jackson is trying to keep things positive in the world of the Cleveland Browns. That’s hard to do when he has coached this team in 19 games and had reason to smile after only one.

Losing as often as the Browns do makes it that much more difficult to keep spirits up in the locker room even though the National Football League season is only three weeks old. Losing constantly grows wearisome. It takes a toll.

Jackson kept it positive, though, following the 31-28 loss to the Colts. “I’m not discouraged,” he told the assembled media. “I’m not disappointed . . . I see signs, but it’s just not happening fast enough.”

He appeared to be talking about his rookie quarterback, who on several occasions against the Colts was anywhere from a beat to a beat-and-a-half late with many of  his passes.

As has been mentioned here and elsewhere, offense is all about rhythm. It does not take much to throw off that rhythm. It does not take much to turn a potentially good play into one that mystifies an old hand like Jackson.

DeShone Kizer possesses all of the physical attributes to make a successful transition from college to the NFL. He has a terrific arm, is very athletic, takes the game seriously and approaches his job from a studious standpoint.

It’s all about applying those wonderful attributes on the field. It’s one thing to watch and study film and see where the mistakes fall. It’s quite another to actually be on the field and attempt to correct those mistakes.

Right now, the game seems to be too fast, too quick for Kizer, notwithstanding his boast during the exhibition season that it was slowing down for him. By now, he no doubt has discovered the speed and quickness of the game in exhibitions are quite different than when the money games begin.

Kizer is processing at a speed nowhere near concurrent with what is actually happening. Solid evidence is his annoying habits of either holding on to the ball too long to waiting too long for his receivers to come open. He threw behind targets at least six times against the Colts. Rhythm.

He needs to be quicker with his decisions. On passing plays, the football needs to be out of his hands in three seconds or less. And it remains obvious the Cleveland ground game is awful at best.

The Browns have run only 67 plays infantry style from scrimmage and accumulated a measly 261 yards, 111 of them against the Colts. That’s only 3.9 yards a pop. That’s only part of the story.

The three running backs – Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson Jr. and Matthew Dayes – account for just 165 of those yards on 48 carries. Let that sink in. Only 48 attempts in three games. That’s 3.5 yards a carry. Crowell, the alpha male in the room, has 39 of them and gained just 114 yards (38 a game).

“Nothing magical is going to happen,” Jackson said. “We have to get better. . .. We’re doing everything we can to win. . . It’s just not happening as good as it needs to . . . It’s just where we are right now.”

“Nobody’s down, nobody’s throwing in the towel. If anything, I’m pissed off. . . We have to make plays . . . That’s what pro teams do and we have to get better at it.” That might what pro teams do. Not this one.

And what about the eight dropped passes on the afternoon? “I wish I could explain the drops,” the coach said. “I can’t.” I can. Sloppy football. Total lack of concentration.

Kenny Britt, who scored a touchdown but also dropped a couple of those passes, is wildly optimistic about what the future holds for the young wide receivers corps. “We can be elite,” he said with a straight face. “I don’t believe any defense in the NFL can stop us. These young wide receivers are going to get better and better.”

If that was designed to win points with the coach, rack him up.
*       *       *
Normally, the Duke Johnson Jr. touch watch arrives much later in these leftover notes. Not today. The watch moves up. Here is why. Jackson is playing the wrong man as his No. 1 back.

After three games, Crowell has touched the ball 43 times, 39 as a runner, and accumulated 157 yards. That’s 3.65 yards a touch, hardly the kind of figures you expect from your top running back.

Now let’s look at Johnson’s numbers. He has touched the football only 17 times in those three games, 11 as a receiver either out of the backfield or lined up in the slot, and totaled 204 yards. That’s 12 yards a touch.

Why in the world isn’t Johnson more involved – no, make that much more involved – in the offense? He is clearly the better producer and isn’t producing what this game is all about?

Is Jackson wearing blinders? What more does Johnson have to do to warrant more playing time? He is a playmaker on a team starving for playmakers, especially on the offensive side of the football.

Jackson has given the two men just about equal time to produce. Crowell, who has yet to score, has played 135 of the 214 offensive snaps this season. Johnson, who has one touchdown, checks in with 129 snaps.

They are entirely different runners. Johnson is quick, has good vision and can change directions fluidly. He is more of a slasher looking for cutback lanes and is difficult to bring down.

Crowell is more of a mauler, a pounder who seems to have trouble recognizing holes quickly. If the hole is not there, he does not seem to have the vision to quickly look elsewhere. His longest runs last season came when he bounced busted plays outside and found room. That’s not happening this season.

The only reason I can think of Jackson’s reluctance to use his best back is the possibility of wearing him down. That didn’t seem to bother the 5-9, 205 pounder at Miami, when he ran the football 242 times in his final season for 1,652 yards and 10 touchdowns and caught 38 passes for another 421 yards and three more scores.

That kind of production is probably what caught the Browns’ eye when they selected him in the third round of the 2015 college draft. At the risk of sounding repetitious, Johnson’s best position is “get him the football.” He’ll do the rest.

He needs to be the starting running back for this team. His head coach is wasting his versatility and talent.
*       *       *
In was back in June when Jackson declared the pass/run ratio (64-36 last season) would change this season. “I’m a coach who likes to run the ball,” he declared back then after discovering the Browns called the fewest running plays (350) in the NFL last season.

He all but declared this season would be different. More running and less passing. Much more balance. Let’s take a look at where that commitment stands after three games.

The Browns have run 196 plays from scrimmage this season. Only 55 were called runs for Crowell (39), Johnson (6), Dayes (3), Kizer (5), Kevin Hogan (1) and Rashard Higgins (1). The other 141 plays were designed as pass plays for either Kizer or Hogan.

That is 28.1% run, 71.9% pass. Nearly three-quarters of the plays Jackson calls are passes. If you are the opposing defensive coordinator looking for tendencies, guess what the Browns would be doing a vast majority of the time?

So much for the commitment.

Kizer’s run total is somewhat misleading. He is listed as the club’s second-leading ground gainer with 87 yards on 17 carries. The yardage he gained on his 12 scrambles attempting to pass show up as rushing yards. The overall non-quarterback rushing attempts then fall to 55.

“We want to run the ball,” said left guard Joel Bitonio. “That’s part of our IQ. We have some big guys up front.” Tell that to your coach.
*       *       *
The happiest guy on the field Sunday in Indianapolis had to be Rob Chudzinski, the Colts’ offensive coordinator. The former Browns head coach guided the club to a 4-12 record in 2013 and was rewarded with a one-way ticket out of town.

His offense started slowly against the Browns, but heated up quickly and often, scoring four straight touchdowns, led by a quarterback who joined the team just a few weeks ago.

It took less than 11 minutes off the clock for Chud’s offense to school Gregg Williams’ defense in embarrassing fashion in the first half. One can only imagine what a really good offense – the Colts had totaled only 22 points in their first two games – will do against the young Cleveland defense.

That defense made Jacoby Brissett, who arrived in Indy as part of a trade with the New England Patriots, look like a seasoned veteran instead of a second-year pro trying to hold things together until Andrew Lucks returns.
*       *       *
Finally . . . Looking for a positive note? Here’s one for the defense. It has held the opposition to an average of just 88 yards a game on the ground. That’s nearly 45 yards a game better than the last few seasons. . . . Defensive tackle Danny Shelton appears to be just about fully recovered from his knee injury. He was in on seven tackles against the Colts, three solo. . . . Another positive: Kizer, looking a little wiser in the pocket than in his first two games, was sacked only once. A huge improvement. . . . If wide receiver Jordan Leslie does not get more looks, he was targeted only once in 21 snaps, something is terribly wrong with the game planning. The exhibition sensation made a terrific 26-yard catch between two defenders that set up the second Browns touchdown late in the second quarter.  He then was ignored. That’s got to change. . . . Is it time yet to bring free safety Jabrill Peppers closer to the line of scrimmage and be more involved in plays after whiffing on T. Y. Hilton’s 61-yard touchdown catch and run? . . . Duke Johnson Jr. touch watch: See above.

1 comment:

  1. Bottom line: Jackson is in over his head and Kizer has too many negatives to overcome.