After 15 winless games this season, one would think there has to be discordant feelings in the Browns’ locker room. All this losing wears on emotions.
Not according to Browns outside linebacker Christian Kirksey, who basically says everything in the locker room is hunky dory and Hue Jackson is in firm control of the situation.
“Yeah, Hue still has the locker room,” Kirksey said following the Browns’ latest loss in Chicago Sunday. “As long as I’m playing for this team, I will stand behind Hue. That’s my head coach. Guys are still rallying around him. We’ve just got to get through this phase.”
That’s what this is, a phase? Are the last 52 games a phase? Winning only four of them is a phase? Losing at least 14 games two seasons in a row is a phase? Really? If so, this has to be the longest phase in the history of phases.
Nevertheless it appears, at least through the eyes and ears of Kirksey, that locker room has Jackson’s undivided attention.
After the Bears loss, he couldn’t be bothered by the Browns clinching the top pick in the next college football draft for the second consecutive year.
“I could (not) care less about the No. 1 pick,” he said. “I’m more so about that locker room. Those guys fight their tails off for me. They work hard. They do everything I ask.”
If that’s the case, then, whey are they still winless this season? Either he must be asking them to do the wrong things or they are just flat out too incompetent to execute them. Whatever the divide, it has produced one teeny, tiny victory in the last 31 attempts.
So what about that 1-30 record, coach? “I’m pissed,” he said. “Let’s be honest and put it out there. I’m disappointed, I’m pissed off because I never saw this being this way. . . . And I know without question we’re going to get this fixed.
“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever been through in my life. Hopefully, we’ll get to the other side of this one. We’re going to get this football team where it needs to be. Right now, we’re going to take the lumps. We deserve them.”
Where it needs to be is with a brand new head coach, one who isn’t a silver-tongued snake oil salesman who tap dances his way past a graveyard in an effort to put a happy face on a gloomy situation.
This football team has been headed in the wrong direction ever since Jackson took over in 2016 and shows absolutely no signs of even coming close to turning this thing around. It is a runaway freight train with no brakes.
But the coach is correct about one thing, though. He used the first person plural in acknowledging all the lumps are deserved even though he more than anyone is responsible for a vast majority of them.
The toxic aroma that has emerged out of this historic collapse by any one franchise in National Football League history cannot in any way be erased by anything this coach says.
Rookie tight end David Njoku pretty much summed it up: “It’s embarrassing,” he said
The damage has been done. The last two seasons have been a monstrosity. It has been historic in nature and colossal in its crushing impact on the record book in a terrible and embarrassing way for this franchise. This coach cannot undo that.
As he often says, “It is what it is.” What it is is inexcusable, unconscionable, unforgivable and intolerable. The chief perpetrator needs to disappear.
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Fans have had 14 games to see what DeShone Kizer can do as an NFL quarterback – he was benched in the Houston loss – and have been rewarded with arguably the worst quarterbacking in franchise history over a prolonged period of time.
There have been other bad ones along the way among the 27 other starting quarterbacks since 1999, but Kizer has taken the quality of play at the position to a new low.
Yes he is a 21-year-old rookie who was shoved into the starting job well before he was ready. On any other team, he would have learned how to play in the NFL the right way. By observing.
But Jackson had no choice – thank you, Sashi Brown – but to start the kid. Who else was he going to start? Brock Osweiler was cut. Cody Kessler is a marginal NFL quarterback at best. Kevin Hogan’s talents make Kessler look good.
The mistakes that were expected and made early by Kizer became repetitious. Like holding on to the ball too long; not getting it out quickly enough; timing issues; accuracy issues; showing an inability to make proper adjustments to opposing defenses; forcing passes into windows that looked like slivers.
His performance against the Bears serves as a microcosm of his season. He threw 14 of his 32 passes toward Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman, his best wide receivers, and connected on three for 22 yards. He either overthrew, underthrew or just plain missed them.
It has all added up this season to nine touchdown passes and a league-leading 21 interceptions through the Chicago game with the finale in Pittsburgh against the Steelers dead ahead.
And yet he will not end up as the franchise interception leader unless he throws five picks against the Steelers. Brian Sipe had seasons of 26, 25 and 23 between 1979 and 1983. Hall of Famer Otto Graham had 24 in 12 games in 1952.
Three of Kizer’s scoring passes were against Green Bay and two were against Indianapolis. He has gone eight games without throwing at least one touchdown pass and been picked off at least once in 12 of the 14 games he has started, including his first six and last four.
And yet despite all this, Kizer remains upbeat. Each game is a new challenge, an opportunity to prove Jackson’s faith in him will be rewarded. The only problem is he keeps going out and making the same mistakes that have plagued his rookie season.
He also seems to have adopted a more philosophical approach recently. “It’s going to be one of the more pivotal years in my career in the sense that you have to know what rock bottom looks like before you can climb to the top,” he said.
Rock bottom won’t be reached until after the Steelers game.
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When the Browns selected Jabrill Peppers with their second of three first-round draft picks earlier this year, they believed they were getting one of the most versatile players in the entire draft. Sort of an NFL Swiss Army Knife.
At the University of Michigan, Peppers was Mr. Versatility. He played in the secondary and at linebacker on defense. He returned kickoffs and punts. He played some on offense, running and pass receiving. You name it, he did it.
And when he became a member of the Browns, that versatility disappeared. He has yet to play a down from scrimmage on offense. And after a few games as a kick returner early in the season, he has become the club’s main punt returner.
A natural strong safety and/or box safety, the 5-11, 213-pound Peppers won the free safety job on a club overloaded with strong safeties. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams made him his “Angel” in the secondary, routinely placing him 20 yards off the line of scrimmage to prevent big plays.
Peppers, whose 53 tackles is seventh-best on the team, was known for his rugged style of play and solid tackling with the Wolverines and was ill-suited to play so far off the ball for Cleveland, although Williams recently has moved him up closer to the football due to an injury to Derrick Kindred.
As for returning punts, he thus far is a non-threat, averaging just 6.3 yards a return on 29 punts in 14 games, his longest only a 25-yarder. He returned 11 kickoffs for 238 yards, including a 116-yard game in the first Cincinnati loss.
To call him a bust would be harsh. He’s been more of a disappointment, but that was not entirely his fault, having been played out of position. The drafting of a true free safety in the 2018 lottery should solve that problem.
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Finally . . . The Browns have scored 10 or fewer points in seven games this season. That’s nearly half their games. And it’s with an offensive line that is one of the highest paid units in the league. . . . Time of possession and turnover ratio are vital statistics that indicate how well or poorly a team is doing. The Browns are losing the ball possession battle, 33 minutes to 28. And their turnover ratio is an awful -28, most of which can be traced to generosity of Kizer. . . . In addition to his offsides penalty that nullified a Cleveland touchdown against Chicago, defensive end Carl Nassib also blocked an extra point, was flagged for holding on another point after and drew an unsportsmanlike penalty when he called someone (unidentified) an idiot. . . . The Browns had 11 possessions against the Bears, 10 of which lasted no longer than seven plays. . . .Duke Johnson Jr. touch watch: Four carries, 20 yards; seven receptions (on seven targets), 81 yards. Total: 11 touches, 101 yards, 9.2 yards per touch. Season total: 144 touches, 946 yards, 6.57 yards a touch.