So who starts at quarterback for the Browns when they wind up the first half of the season Sunday in London against the Minnesota Vikings?
Round and round spins the quarterbacks carousel and where it stops, only Hue Jackson knows.
Based on what the quarterbacks room looks like now, it appears to be a lose-lose situation for Jackson whomever he chooses. The pickings are slimmer than slim. Sort of like choosing the best of the worst trio of quarterbacks in the National Football League.
Does he pluck Kevin Hogan off from the spinning carousel again as he did for the 33-17 disaster in Houston? Or does DeShone Kizer deserve yet another chance despite leading the NFL in intercepted passes?
Then again, there’s Cody Kessler, the quarterback who began training camp back in July as the starter before fading into quarterbacks hell as Kizer, Hogan and Brock Osweiler (remember him?) moved into and out of Jackson’s revolving doghouse.
Add up all their accomplishments in the NFL with regard to their record, sans Osweiler, who is now much more comfortable and undoubtedly much happier in Denver, they are 0-15 as starting quarterbacks. That is what Jackson has to choose from.
Until Sunday’s’12-9 home loss to Tennessee, Kessler was an afterthought. He did not suit up for the first six games of the season.
The only reason he was elevated to backing up Kizer, who started the Titans’ loss after his one-game “reset” period, was because Hogan’s ribs were bruised. Health, it would appear, was the deciding factor,
Kessler was healthy and he knows Jackson’s offense. Only problem there was he was supposed to be strictly a backup in the event Kizer went down. Didn’t quite turn out that way, Jackson yanking the rookie for ineffective quarterbacking one series into the second half.
Kessler wasn’t exactly lights out and caught the Kizer interception bug once, but the offense did look more under control, comparatively speaking, when he had the huddle.
So who (whom?) does Jackson choose? Who becomes the next beneficiary of one of his predictable and stodgy game plans? Who will have the opportunity to show Londoners what bad football really looks like? (Ooops. Too late. They already saw that a few days ago when the Los Angeles Rams shut out the Arizona Cardinals.)
It is very possible Jackson might require a coin to make this important decision. Chances are good that no matter who gets the nod, it will not come as a surprise to anyone who follows this team.
It has become abundantly clear Kizer is on a leash that stretches between the sideline and huddle and probably feels like a bungee cord to him. The kid has to be so confused now, he has no idea what to expect from his coach with nine games left in the season.
It is time to put down the quarterbacks yo-yo, unplug the quarterbacks carousel and decide once and for all who the starting quarterback will be for those nine games. Then play him for the remainder of the season no matter how poorly he performs or until he gets hurt.
Playing dartboard quarterbacks is harmful to the well being, such as it is, of the offense. It makes absolutely no sense.
Kizer, of course, has the most experience this season. But after time and again committing grievous errors that put his offense back on the bench, does he have the trust of the other members of that offense?
Football is played as much from the neck up as it is from the neck down. If the other 10 members in the huddle have no faith in whoever commands it, it breeds a defeatist attitude. Sort of gives birth to a what’s-going-to-go-wrong-next approach.
A lack of confidence in the most important player on the offense, if not the team, rarely leads to success. That needs to be corrected. But how?
The offense needs to hear another voice, another set of eyes. And I’m not talking quarterbacks here. I’m talking coaching. Someone who sees things differently other than the one in charge of that side of the ball now because this offense is flat out not working.
Jackson has to set aside his massive ego, emerge from his state of denial and realize his job is on the line. One of the main reasons is his refusal to acknowledge failure. If he doesn’t, he will have no one to blame but his stubborn self when he continues his career elsewhere next season.
* * *
If the dysfunctional front office decides to make a coaching change during the bye week, and that is well within the realm of possibility, the most obvious choice to move up is Gregg Williams.
The high-energy defensive coordinator was the main man in Buffalo for three seasons (2001-03), during which he compiled a 17-31 record before heading back to the world of coordinating defenses.
His no-nonsense approach to coaching, as opposed to Jackson’s calmer demeanor, is reaping mostly positive results this season. With the exception of massive brain farts in a couple of earlier games, the Cleveland defense has played solid, aggressive football.
This team needs a personality change, especially on offense, which is not responding at all this season. It’s almost as though that side of the ball is in desperation gear all the time.
It is said sometimes that a team is a reflection of its head coach. His personality trickles down to the players. It sure didn’t work in Buffalo for Williams. If the front office decides to give him a second opportunity, if only on an interim basis, it has nothing to lose. Losing is what occupants in the current Ivory Tower are used to.
* * *
Now that offensive tackle Joe Thomas is unable to play any more this season because of a triceps muscle tear, the offensive line is in big trouble. All of which means the offense, which has underperformed all season, is in bigger trouble.
It will be interesting to see what the coaches decide to do this week for the Vikings game on Sunday. So many possibilities exist, including moving players from their natural position.
Spencer Drango, who is listed on the depth chart as a backup at guard, replaced Thomas in the Titans’ loss Sunday. He played well enough to practically insure someone else will be at left offensive tackle against the Vikings.
The coaches could flip flop left guard Joel Bitonio, who played tackle in college, and Drango, who is more effective inside. Or they could move right tackle Shon Coleman to the left side and bring 6-9, 360-pound rookie Zach Banner off the bench. Or they could activate 6-9 Zach Sterup from the practice squad and plug him in somewhere.
Whichever way they go, it will not be the same without Thomas. What once was expected to be the strength of the offense has now become arguably the weakest part.
* * *
One of the changes Jackson has to make for the Vikings game is installing Duke Johnson Jr. as his main running back. Isaiah Crowell has proven time and again this season he does not deserve to be the main guy behind or beside the quarterback..
Johnson is a playmaker. Almost every time he touches the ball, he makes things happen. Often times, he makes something out of nothing. His instincts and vision enable him to turn negatives into positives.
Crowell is by far the lesser talent and yet Jackson leans on him more than Johnson in hopes of popping a big gainer. He has turned into nothing more than a good short-yardage runner. When a tough yard or two is needed, give him the ball.
For once I’d like to see Johnson touch the ball 20 or more times in a game and see what it adds up to. His career averages for the last two-and-a-half seasons back up the contention he is being misused badly and should be the No. 1 running back.
In 39 games career games, Johnson has touched the football 351 times (205 as a runner) and accumulated 2,242 yards (880 as a runner), an average of 6.39 yards a touch. Extrapolate that for 20 touches a game and you come out with nearly 128 yards a game. Even analytics nerds know that’s not bad.
Now let’s compare that with Crowell’s numbers. He has touched the football 703 times in three-and-a-half seasons (622 as a runner) and accumulated 3,248 yards (2,552 as a runner), an average of 4.62 yards a touch. Extrapolate that for 20 touches a game and you come out with 92.4 yards a game, a difference of nearly 36 yards a game.
The only outlier: Crowell has scored 20 touchdowns, 19 on the ground. Johnson has scored only six, three on the ground. That’s because Crowell receives every opportunity to score the closer the Browns get to the opposition’s goal line. If Johnson had those chances, too, his scoring numbers probably would be higher.
Case closed? You be the judge.
* * *
Finally . . . It seemed as though Christian Kirksey was everywhere in the Titans loss. If the outside linebacker wasn’t covering a tight end or running back out of the backfield, he was sticking his nose in a run play. He accumulated 17 tackles, eight of them by himself. That means he made a play on 23.6% of Tennessee’s 72 snaps . . Middle linebacker Joe Schobert was also busy with nine tackles, five solo. . . . Rookie defensive end Myles Garrett was in on 52 snaps and acquitted himself well against Titans offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, registering one of the Browns’ two sacks and four tackles, three solo. . . . The Cleveland offense was just 3-of-13 on third down; the Titans were just as bad at 5-of-17. . . . It can now be stated unequivocally the Cleveland run defense is the best it has been in years. It shut down a Tennessee run game that had been averaging around 140 yards a game to just 72, not counting an eight-yard scramble by quarterback Marcus Mariota. Accomplishing that is what kept the game close for so long. . . . The Browns’ pass-run figures against the Titans: 42 dropbacks, 25 designed runs. That’s a 62.7%-37.3% ratio. So much for the excuse of abandoning the run after falling too far behind to run in a 12-9 game decided in overtime. Try another excuse.