There is a very good reason DeShone Kizer looked like a National Football League quarterback in the loss to the Detroit Lions Sunday.
It’s called a running game.
The Browns compiled 201 yards on the ground against a very good Detroit run defense, gouging out a significant number of plays more than the normal two or three yards fans have witnessed most of this season.
Isaiah Crowell ran hard for 90 yards on 16 carries in easily his best showing of the season. Kizer, mostly scrambling, added 57 yards in seven attempts.
The success of the Cleveland ground game made it much easier for Kizer to throw the ball. He wasn’t placed in throw mode nearly as often because first down was won much more often than not.
Throw in Hue Jackson’s less predictable playcalling and it all adds up to what is arguably Kizer’s best afternoon as a professional quarterback. And no, let’s not prematurely jump on the Kizer bandwagon just yet.
It was still a loss, although the blame for this one could not be directed at Kizer for a change. He was helped by his coach’s playcalling until the final minutes of the game.
For the first time this season, Jackson kept his pledge for a more balanced offense. He did so until the final Cleveland possession, which featured 13 straight passes since the Browns trailed by 14 points at the time.
Of the 63 plays that preceded that drive, which came to a sudden halt with an end zone interception, Jackson had called 34 pass plays and 29 runs, a 54-46 percentage ratio. He needs to maintain that for the remaining seven games.
This was only one game, of course. It does not mean the struggling offense has been fixed. It in no way portends what lies directly ahead. A pattern is established over the course of many games, not just one.
There is no question Kizer exhibited, with one notable exception, the traits coaches like to see in their young quarterbacks. He was poised, executed plays in a confident manner and seemed to be in complete control of the situation.
On two occasions, plays arrived in his headset very late from Jackson and he had the presence of mind to call timeouts rather than take a delay-of-game penalty. Until he was hammered on a blitz at the end of the third quarter, he was in charge and looked the part.
His only screw-up, a few of his teammates acknowledged after the game, was audibling out of the called play and into a sneak from the Detroit 2 in the final 15 seconds of the first half and no timeouts.
Jackson took the blame for the call. He should have taken blame, however, for not instructing Kizer to run the play that was called. Period. A rookie quarterback should not have the latitude to audible in a situation like that.
But what if Kizer had scored? Would anyone have argued? Moot point. He didn’t score. It was a poor decision.
A stern test as to how much the offense has improved lies directly ahead when the surprising Jacksonville Jaguars bring their dynamic defense to the shores of Lake Erie Sunday.
Corey Coleman returns from injured reserve to bolster the receiving corps, a move that cant help but improve the weakest area of the offense. The former No. 1 draft choice’s goal, besides helping Kizer’s stats, is staying healthy the rest of the season.
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The New Orleans Saints are a perfect example of a team benefitting from a strong running game. At 7-2, they have already matched their victory total for each of the last three seasons and stand atop the NFC South. The reason? The ground game.
Drew Brees is still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, but he has been helped immensely this season by a ground game featuring running backs Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara, who have 11 touchdowns between them.
No longer do they have to rely on Brees’ arm to win games. His numbers are way down because the offense has produced 14 touchdowns on the ground in nine games, one more than through the air. He’s on pace to throw just 23. His touchdown total the last three seasons is 103, 34 a season.
The solid New Orleans ground attack, which averages 142 yards a game, enables the offense to sustain drives and, at the same time, keeps the defense well rested on the bench. It has paid off with four defensive touchdowns and a +3 turnover ratio.
It all starts with the ground game. At one time, it was proffered that the run game sets up the passing game. That has changed the last several seasons as the NFL turned into a quarterbacks league. The pass sets up the run now. Not with the Saints, though.
Maybe Jackson should take a cue from the Saints’ success this season and help his rookie quarterback better assimilate to the NFL by stressing the ground game a lot more than he has. It helped Kizer produce this best game of the season in Detroit.
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Myles Garrett’s return from concussion protocol was expected to produce a better pass rush against the Lions. And it did with four sacks of Matthew Stafford. But the rookie defensive end’s contribution in 38 snaps amounted to one solo tackle and a quarterback hit.
Garrett was pretty much neutralized by Lions offensive tackles Taylor Decker and Brian Mihalik, but it was his presence that enabled Emmanuel Ogbah on the other side of the defensive line to cash in with three solo tackles (all for a loss), two sacks (doubling his season total) and a pair of quarterback hits in 37 snaps.
That was the Ogbah the Browns thought they drafted last season, when he averaged three tackles a game and led the team with 5½ sacks. Apparently all he needed was for Garrett to return and attract the double teams he occasionally saw when the rookie was sidelined.
Linebackers Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert bagged the other two sacks of Stafford, bringing the season sack total to 20, only six fewer than all last season.
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Outside linebacker Jamie Collins’ injury-filled season was cut short Sunday. The outside linebacker suffered a season-ending MCL injury after intercepting Stafford on the seventh play of the game, setting up the Browns’ first touchdown of the game three plays later, a 19-yard pass to Kenny Britt.
Collins, who missed three games earlier this season with concussion issues, returned the theft just a few yards before being tackled by Detroit guard Graham Glasgow, falling awkwardly. He had to be helped off the field.
Filling in is second-year man James Burgess Jr., who is primarily a run stopper and is on the sidelines for a fifth defensive back in passing situations.
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Crowell finally emerged from his cocoon against the Lions with his 90 hard-earned yards. It was easily his best day this season, bettering his previous high of 64 yards.
He looked especially quick to the hole on a six-yard touchdown run after right guard Kevin Zeitler delivered a perfect trap block to spring him on the first possession of the second half. Nothing wrong with running more traps and counter plays for him.
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This is how frustrated (desperate?) Jackson is with his offense. On the third possession of the game and the Browns with a 10-3 lead, the Browns faced a fourth-and-1 at their 44-yard line. Normally, that calls for a Britton Colquitt punt.
Screw it, Jackson all but declared by going for it. Duke Johnson Jr. made the first down by the nose of the ball. The drive ended in a Colquitt punt, anyway, several plays later when holding penalties on tight end Seth DeValve and Zeitler blew it up.
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Finally . . . Maybe it’s me, but Britt look a lot more engaged against the Lions than at any other time this season,. He was targeted just three times by Kizer, but caught two for 38 yards, including the first touchdown. . . . That was Kizer’s first touchdown pass since the Indianapolis loss in game three. . . . Stafford now has thrown for 12 touchdowns in three career games against Cleveland. He threw for 192 second-half yards after a 57-yard first half. . . . The Cleveland offense clicked for a dozen plays of 15 yards or more. . . . The secondary was burned by pass plays of 22, 29, 40 and 50 yards. . . . Jamal Agnew of the Lions had punt returns of 49 and 29 yards, the first wiped out by a penalty. . . . Rookie tight end David Njoku is having all sorts of problems. He was targeted six times by Kizer and caught only one ball for three yards. . .. The Browns’ 10-0 lead after two possessions in the first quarter was their first double-digit lead of the season. . . . Duke Johnson Jr. touch watch: 10 carries for 54 yards; six receptions for 34 yards: 16 touches for 88 yards.