At the risk of being wrong (to a certain extent) two weeks in a row, it sure looks as if coach Hue Jackson saw enough of Kevin Hogan last Sunday to realize he made a mistake by making him the 28th starting quarterback for the Browns since 1999.
Hogan’s abysmal performance in the loss to the Houston Texans proved beyond a doubt he is a much better relief pitcher than starter. And DeShone Kizer once again will have the huddle when the Tennessee Titans invade Sunday.
Jackson has not publicly stated that will be the case, but if he starts Hogan again this week against the Titans, more than a few seeds of doubt as to his decision-making will be planted.
No matter how poorly Kizer plays, he is the man from now until he is either (a) injured or (b) so battered but able to stand that Jackson has no choice but to mercifully save him from further punishment.
After the loss in Houston, the coach explained why he did not make a change at halftime when it was apparent Hogan was in way over his head, having thrown three interceptions in the second quarter.
“I made a decision I was playing Kevin for this game,” he said. “I didn’t think it would be fair to put DeShone into the game. I made a commitment to doing this for the week. That’s what I did whether for good or bad.” Resisting snarky remark here.
Jackson reminded the media that he told them Kizer would be strictly a spectator no matter what against the Texans. “I told you guys I wanted (Kizer) to see the game from a different lens,” he said. Regardless of whether that lens was corrected to 20/20 vision, the show was ugly.
Hogan most likely will lobby that he deserves another shot at starting. “I really trust my talent and I trust in my ability to lead this team,” he said after the Houston game. “ I know the guys trust me and I know I can make plays out there. I have so much confidence in myself, I definitely feel like I’m going to be ready to go.
“I’m not shaken from this at all. I felt like I was seeing a lot of things out there and they made a lot of great plays. Felt like they had a game plan for us. At the end of the day, it’s all about making plays.”
Of course the Texans had a game plan for the Browns’ offense and yes, they made plays all afternoon. They won so handily because they made those plays.
The Texans knew exactly what to expect from Hogan. They had three games’ worth of tendencies on tape to figure out what he liked to do and what bothered him the most. And they accomplished it without J. J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus, their two best players on that side of the ball, out with season-ending injuries.
“This was a tough first experience but definitely something to learn from and grow from and I think there are some positives to take from it,” Hogan said. He sounds like a guy who is either shell-shocked or delusional. Maybe both.
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As Jackson’s coaching record in Cleveland slips to 1-21, I can’t help but think of the late John McKay, who set the National Football League mark for coaching futility after becoming the head coach of the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976.
McKay was a great head coach in college at USC, having won four national championships, when he decided to give the NFL a try. It didn’t take long for him to be humbled by the efforts of one of the worst teams in league history; arguably the worst.
The Bucs lost every one of their 14 games in their inaugural season and the first 12 the following season. Twenty-six straight games without a victory. After one of those games in the second season, McKay was asked what he thought of his team’s execution. “I’m all for it,” he quipped.
So why think of McKay with regard to what’s going on with Jackson in Cleveland? Well, McKay went on to win his division’s championship in his fourth season and eventually advanced to the NFC title game before losing.
If Jackson can hold on and survive the current regime, it’s possible he could still be around when a newer, hopefully wiser front office takes over and finally provides him with players who can actually make him look good.
One big difference: McKay had coaching gravitas. Jackson isn’t even close.
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He has played only two games, but there is no doubt Myles Garrett is the Browns’ best draft selection since they selected Joe Thomas in the 2007 lottery. If he can stay healthy playing a game where health is not guaranteed, he is headed for the same destination as Thomas five years after he retires.
Garrett, idled the first four games with a high ankle sprain, played half of the Browns’ 66 snaps against Houston and registered five tackles (two solo), one sack, two-and-a-half tackles or loss and four quarterback hits. Quarterback hurries are not an official statistic, but he must have nearly a dozen so far.
That brings the defensive end’s two-game total to seven tackles (four solo), four-and-a-half tackles for loss, three sacks and six quarterback hits in 52 snaps, all the while playing with a sprain that has not completely healed.
It’s not difficult to imagine what Garrett can do when completely healthy and able to play every down. He is a force around whom opposing offensive coordinators will have to game plan differently. That ostensibly will create more opportunities for his fellow linemen.
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Wide receiver Kenny Britt did not suit up for the second week in a row. Groin and knee injuries, according to the club. His status for the Titans is uncertain.
Addition by subtraction says his growing legion of detractors. They point to his eight catches (on 23 targets), 121 receiving yards, one touchdown and boatload of dropped passes in four games as evidence the Browns blew it by giving him the same contract Terrelle Pryor turned down.
Jackson approaches the Britt situation in a more diplomatic manner. “We need to get the best version of Kenny Britt,” he said. “That’s what is important. If there is anything I think is not right, then obviously I would hold him.”
Unfortunately, the best version of Kenny Britt played last season with the Los Angeles Rams, for whom he caught 68 passes for 1,0002 yards and five touchdowns. It was a career season that quite probably will never be replicated.
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The big question on defense remains why rookie Jabrill Peppers is not game-planned to play closer to the line of scrimmage. He’s not playing deep, deep, deep safety as much as in earlier games, but it seems his greatest strength is making plays at or near the line of scrimmage. He is a fearless tackler when given the opportunity.
He is not used to playing in space and proved it by taking the wrong angle in the first quarter Sunday on Houston wide receiver Will Fuller, who gave him a simple juke in the open field and collaborated with Deshaun Watson on a 39-yard scoring strike for the Texans’ first touchdown of the afternoon.
All Peppers could do was futilely try to catch him, the victim of another rookie mistake. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams needs to either park his free safety closer to the line of scrimmage or play him where he really belongs – at strong safety. Otherwise, his rookie season will be a dismal failure.
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Finally . . . Jackson once again strayed from his goal of a more balanced offense against the Texans, who jumped out to a quick lead and took away the Cleveland running game. Of the 63 plays from scrimmage, 43 were designed pass plays. It took the Browns 13 possessions to accumulate those 63 plays. . . . Britton Colquitt, who punted only twice last week, booted seven times and averaged a terrific 51.1 yards. . . . The reason Colquitt was so busy – the Browns were three for 14 on third down. . . . Eleven more penalties for 72 yards. Discipline, discipline, discipline.. . . . The three Cleveland linebackers totaled 33 tackles, 14 solo against the Texans. Middle linebacker Joe Schobert had 13 overall. Peppers chipped in with six tackles, five by himself, . . . Duke Johnson Jr. touch watch: Five carries, 40 yards; three receptions, -1 yard. Oy!