Well, here we are having survived the bye week, but not without a controversy of minor proportions. Never a dull moment for Cleveland’s professional football team.
The trade that wasn’t a trade aside, Hue Jackson is still the head coach of the drama-laden Browns, Sashi Brown is still the de facto general manager and owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam have managed to maintain the status quo, such as it is.
As the winless Browns continue their journey through the desert of ineptitude that is the 2017 National Football League season with a visit to Detroit, the second half portends even more trouble.
The first half of the schedule was thought to be easier when it was unveiled. Then they started playing games and sure enough, it was. Even so, the Browns duplicated the start of the 2016 season with eight straight losses.
The results show they lost half of those games by three points, which would seem to indicate they had a chance to win. That would be wrong with one exception.
They played reasonably well enough in the 21-18 season opening loss against Pittsburgh, shaving a 21-10 deficit in the final moments of the game. It gave rise to the hope this season would not look anything like the 1-15 they posted in 2016.
Then they were blown out by halftime in the 31-28 loss in Indianapolis when the defense collapsed. Only a strong second-half comeback made the final score look respectable.
In the 17-14 loss to the New York Jets, Jackson began playing yo-yo with quarterback DeShone Kizer, yanking the rookie for Kevin Hogan at the half despite trailing only 3-0. A late touchdown by Duke Johnson Jr. on a screen pass made this one look closer than it was.
The touchdownless 9-6 overtime loss to Tennessee at home, during which they lost offensive tackle Joe Thomas for the season, qualifies as the only game they could have – and should have – won.
A 54-yard field goal by rookie kicker Zane Gonzalez with 47 seconds left in regulation sent this one into overtime, but the offense stalled in the extra session and Ryan Succop put it away for the Titans with a 47-yard field goal.
Kizer’s off and on, in and out season pretty much encapsulates Jackson’s coaching style to the point where the kid, no doubt confused at this point, has no idea what to expect next.
He has started all but one of the team’s games. Hogan quarterbacked the entire Houston loss while Kizer “reset” (Jackson’s term) on the sideline. Of those seven, he has played the entire game just three times – Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and the Minnesota game in London.
He missed part of the Baltimore loss with a migraine; was benched for Hogan on the final series of the Cincinnati loss after the Bengals led, 31-0, at one point; was relieved by Hogan in the Jets loss; and gave way to Cody Kessler in the third quarter of the Tennessee loss after throwing his second interception of the game.
Kizer most likely will have the huddle in Detroit with the same cast still searching for that elusive first victory against a team that has struggled out of the gate with a 3-4 record entering Monday night’s game in Green Bay, losing three of four at home.
The only good news that emanated during the bye week, the lifting of Josh Gordon’s suspension conditionally by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, gave rise to the anticipation of the Browns’ best wide receiver suiting up during the last month of the season.
Which means Kizer must play the next three games, assuming his coach does not invoke another “reset” along the way, with arguably the league’s worst set of wide receivers before Gordon returns.
There is no guarantee the troubled wideout, who hasn’t played a game in nearly three years, will step right in and perform as he did during that magical 2014 season, when he took the league by storm in record-setting fashion.
Kizer’s main problem is accuracy and connecting with members of the opposing team with alarming regularity. But he is unfairly hamstrung by a coach who has given him an offensive system better suited for a seasoned veteran.
Now get ready for some interesting statistical comparisons.
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Let’s start with the quarterbacks, who are on pace to throw the most interceptions in any season since the resurrection in 1999. Kizer, Hogan and Kessler have thrown 17 of them in just 307 attempts – Browns quarterbacks threw only 14 in 567 attempts last season – and are on pace to throw 34 picks, significantly more than the 26 thrown in 2013. . . . The passing game has produced 223 yards a game this season, eight yards a game fewer than 2016.
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The ground game has been awful and that’s being kind. Isaiah Crowell averages 44 yards a game. Remove the ground stats of the three quarterbacks (mostly scrambling) and the Browns average only 68 yards a game. . . . How bad are the receivers? Running back Duke Johnson Jr. is the club’s leading pass receiver with 36 receptions. That’s how bad. . . . The leading wide receivers are Ricardo Louis with 23 and Rashard Higgins with 14. . . . Kenny Britt, simultaneously trying to escape Jackson’s doghouse and heal nagging knee and groin injuries, checks in with 10 grabs in five games. . . . The secondary has picked off only five passes, three by Jason McCourty, and is on pace to match last season’s 10 thefts.
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The improved offensive line has permitted only (compared to last season) 23 sacks this season and is on pace for a 46-sack season. That’s 20 fewer than last season’s franchise record-setting 66. . . . The pass rush has generated 16 sacks, four by rookie Myles Garrett in just three games, and is on pace to beat last season’s 26. . . ,The secondary, believe it or not, has allowed 19 fewer yards per game this season than last (261-242). . . . The number is down dramatically on run defense, which permits just 84 yards a game. The last three seasons, those numbers were 143, 128 and 143. . . . The defense has permitted 21 touchdowns this season (a 42-TD pace), much better than last season’s 54. And the offense has scored 13 touchdowns, slightly behind last season’s 28. . . . The offense converts only 29% of the time on third down. Last season, it was 36%. The defense is 39% on third down, better than last season’s 45%.
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Individually, linebackers Joe Schobert, Christian Kirksey and Jamie Collins are the heart and soul of the defense with 168 of the club’s 547 total tackles. That’s nearly 31% of the stops. Schobert, tied for fifth in tackles in the NFL, is on pace for 142 tackles in his first season as a middle linebacker. Kirksey, on pace for 134 tackles, ranks eighth. . . . Rookie tight end David Njoku owns three of the club’s seven touchdown receptions through the air. . . . Johnson also has three scores, two on the ground. He has touched the football 70 times and gained 500 yards, an average of 7.14 yards per touch. . . . Britton Colquitt is quietly having a Pro Bowl season, averaging 49.2 yards on 41 punts with no touchbacks, landing 13 inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Last season, he averaged 45.3 yards with only two touchbacks.