Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Mid-week thoughts

Well, well, well. Look who is going to be on the opposite sideline when the Browns travel down to Cincinnati to play the Bengals a week from Sunday.

It’s none other than that old revisionist history guy who just a few short weeks ago the Browns called their head football coach.

Hue Jackson has answered the clarion call for help from his good friend and Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, whose club has played recently like the Browns of the last 19 seasons.

It will be Hue Jackson to the rescue in an effort to salvage a season that started out so promisingly for the Bengals with four victories in their first five games before collapsing spectacularly in the next four.

They have labeled Jackson’s role special assistant. Which probably means he will be more like a bench coach in baseball and make suggestions within the game in an effort to help Lewis concentrate on the defense after the firing of coordinator Teryl Austin.

It is a move – more like a cry for help – that very likely could eventually see Jackson elevated to the top spot when Lewis, who has helmed the Bengals since 2003, finally retires or is kicked upstairs after this season.

Rumors suggest Jackson could have had the top job in Cincinnati last season – he was already a successful offensive coordinator there – had he waited just one more year. He chose instead to take the top job with the dysfunctional Browns.

That ill-fated move, in many more ways than one, led to the Browns posting the worst two-season record in National Football League history at 1-31 and setting a few other low bars in the process.

Lewis and Jackson are extremely close in a brotherly way and share the same basic football philosophies. It was thought Lewis would step down after last season, but now that Jackson is a free agent following his firing by the Browns, that likelihood is coming more into focus.

What makes this move interesting now is the teams meet twice in the next couple of months, which ostensibly gives Jackson the opportunity to share some Browns secrets.

That won’t work and here’s why.

The team that invades Cincinnati won’t be any different from a personnel standpoint than the one he left. But it will be significantly different from a schematic and philosophical standpoint with new names in charge.

Jackson almost assuredly will shed light on the Browns’ strengths and weaknesses on offense. Where they excel, where they are the most vulnerable, and point out their tendencies.

But he will soon discover this is not the same team he left a couple of weeks ago. That one stopped listening to him a while ago and has played a different brand of football since under new offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens.

We are being told Kitchens is basically running the offense of fired offensive coordinator Todd Haley. If that is the case, then he has thrown in a myriad of different wrinkles, many of which seem to be working.

He has dumbed down the Haley offense to an extent and simplified it to the point where fewer mistakes are being made. There has also been, at least seemingly, far less motion before the snap.

It doesn’t take much to see that this offense runs much more smoothly and effectively under Kitchens. Baker Mayfield is a much more efficient quarterback and the running game has become dangerous now that rookie Nick Chubb has had the handcuffs removed.

There isn’t much Jackson can share with Lewis regarding the Cleveland defense because he left that side of the ball almost totally to Gregg Williams. And that defense, in addition to becoming healthier, is playing more conservatively since Williams became the interim head coach.

Too often a switch such as this, which is unusual because of its timing, turns out to be nothing more than talk-show fodder. You can prepare for a team just so much, but it’s all about execution. And right now, the Browns appear to be the better team when it comes to execution.
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A couple of new faces have emerged on defense the last two games, names that not had seen much more bench, other than on special teams, earlier this season.

Tanner Vallejo is logging more time in the linebacker rotation now that Christian Kirksey is done for the season and has not disappointed. If fact, Williams has rewarded him with more playing time.

Vallejo played 41 of the 75 defensive snaps against Atlanta Sunday and checked in with an efficient six tackles (four solo) in support of fellow linebackers Jamie Collins and Joe Schobert, who missed the last three games.

On the line, defensive end Anthony Zettel was a stickout with three solo tackles on just 25 snaps. Conversely, Emmanuel Ogbah needed 53 snaps to compile two tackles (one solo) and half a sack.

Fans probably remember Zettel best after he was a little too exuberant celebrating his sack of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan on a two-point conversion attempt after the final Atlanta touchdown, injuring his left leg. 

Both young men joined the Browns days apart at the beginning of the season when teams trimmed their rosters to the required 53. Vallejo was claimed on waivers from Buffalo and Zettel, a teammate of ex-Brown Carl Nassib at Penn State, was claimed a few days later after he was released by the Detroit Lions.
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Scraps . . .  T. J. Carrie, the forgotten man in the secondary at the beginning of the season, is making the most of an opportunity created by a few injuries. The five-year veteran from Ohio University forced and then recovered one fumble and held the dangerous Julio Jones to seven receptions and just one touchdown. . . . Mayfield fell just short of a perfect passer rating (158.3) with a 151.3 against the Falcons. . . . Defensive end Myles Garrett’s sack streak was halted at three straight games. He has logged just seven solo tackles in the last six games. . . . Britton Colquitt still leads the NFL by far in number of punts with 64, nine more than Lachlan Edwards of the New York Jets.

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