1: Just how good has this season felt so far? After being 1-31 in Hue Jackson’s first two years (we won’t talk about the 1), the Browns at 2-2-1, and are looking pretty impressive. What’s the ceiling for the Browns this year, and what would constitute a ‘good’ season, considering the Browns have already doubled their win total from the previous two seasons combined?
Why don’t you want to talk about the 1 win in those 32 games? (kidding) Browns fans have been so starved for progress that this season just feels incredible at 2-2-1. A key part of that record is that the team has played two division games and did not lose either of them (although both games were at home). There is no reason to think the Browns can’t be an 8-win type of team at a minimum this year, based on the way they’ve played.
One reason that I know this season isn’t just about fans wearing rose-colored glasses is everything we’re hearing from the media. Cleveland could easily be 5-0 right now. That last statement is something you’ll often hear from fanbases, when in reality, the team just has too many flaws. But I don’t know how many times I’ve heard or read sports commentators or columnists on a national level say the same thing this year. That’s not to say Cleveland doesn’t have flaws -- they most certainly do -- but people have taken notice that the Browns are quickly trending as one of the more exciting and intriguing teams to watch in the NFL. As far as the ceiling goes, I think 9 or 10 wins is the ceiling, but a lot of those aforementioned flaws would have to be cleaned up to achieve that.
2: What are your thoughts on Hue Jackson? Despite being extremely in demand when he was hired, his first two seasons weren’t exactly a success. Is he the man to turn the Browns around?
Coaches are often only as good as the talent at their disposal, and a lot is the reason Cleveland was such a bad football team the past two years. The upgrade in talent is one of the reasons they are on the rise in 2018. However, I always love looking at the little things with game management when it comes to a head coach to see if he is making the right decisions that help lead to that extra win or two over a season. Things as simple as not sending the offense onto the field on 4th-and-inches near the end of the game to try to draw the defense offsides, or not coaching his players well enough on getting out of bounds during a two-minute drill. Even when he had a fun, aggressive strategy to go for two point conversions (while leading) against the Raiders, his logic after the game made it sound like he didn’t have a rhyme or reason to do so. So my answer with Hue Jackson is this: he might be the person who is in charge when the Browns turn things around, but he would not be receiving any major props for being instrumental in that turnaround. I could see him still being fired this year with a 7-win team.
3: Personally, I think Gregg Williams is an absolutely terrible DC - and his appearances on Hard Knocks have done nothing to change my mind on that - but the Browns defense is looking really impressive thus far. Are the Browns just that talented on that side of the ball, or is Gregg Williams putting his players in the best position to win? As an example, is Jabrill Peppers still lining up about 25 yards off the Line of Scrimmage?
This is what I think about Gregg Williams, based on his two years in Cleveland: I absolutely hated how stubborn he was last year. He had the mindset that ‘Even though we don’t have the personnel to successfully run the type of defense I want, I don’t care, I’m still going to run it.’ That is horrible in my opinion -- I think coaches should always adapt or limit their defense based on the personnel they have. Peppers being 25 yards off the line of scrimmage last year was a prime example. Sure, maybe that works with elite pass rushers and fantastic cornerbacks, but not with what Cleveland had. It just made it feel like the Browns were playing with 10 players on defense.
This year, Williams got in the ear of general manager John Dorsey to get players to revamp the secondary. Denzel Ward was the No. 4 overall pick and has played like a defensive rookie of the year candidate. Three other cornerbacks were signed in free agency who had more speed that Williams preferred. Damarious Randall was acquired via a trade from the Packers, and he would be switching from cornerback to free safety in Cleveland. That last move has had the biggest impact on defense in my opinion. Stunningly, Randall has played at a Pro Bowl level. He plays the position like a naturally, making plays on the ball and not missing tackles. Him being there also moves Peppers to strong safety where he splits reps with Derrick Kindred, allowing both of them to impact the game more from in the box. And then the maturation of two rookies from last year on the defensive line -- Myles Garrett and Larry Ogunjobi -- have also contributed to a heavily increased pass rush and more turnovers.
4: This Browns regime will likely live and die with Baker Mayfield at QB. What did you think of the pick when it was made, and what do you think of it now? How’s he looked so far?
When the draft came around, I was not dead set on a specific quarterback at No. 1, but I wanted the team to commit to a quarterback with that first pick between Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield. For years, I have been part of the crowd that has salivated at trading down to acquire more assets and not jump at a quarterback in the draft just yet. Two years of being 1-31 changed my mindset. I said ‘[Expletive] it, we need to just try getting a franchise quarterback again.’ Mayfield’s play has been so incredible these past three weeks for a rookie. When he is on the field, I feel like the Browns can score on any given drive. If it is a 3rd-and-13 situation, I perk up because I have this confidence inside me that he’s going to throw for a first down. He typically navigates the pocket very well, throws strong and accurate, and has the leadership and charisma that fires up his teammates. If I had to point out his weaknesses, it would be so far:
* After sitting in the pocket for a few seconds, sometimes he blindly turns right into a sack trying to escape the pocket.
* A few of his passes down the seam to open receivers could have used just a tad more height on them, because the underneath linebacker has been able to jump and deflect the ball for an incompletion.
* He definitely has the arm to launch the ball, but has really only tried two deep balls in three games, one overthrow and one interception.
5: I like your question, so I’m going to steal it if that’s okay! Could we get one Cleveland Brown on each side of the ball that’s going under the radar slightly, but could have a big impact on Sunday?
On defense, your answer is definitely defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi. You will marvel at the sheer power he has to create pressure by bull-rushing offensive guards right into the quarterback. He excelled as a rotational run defender last year, but this year, he is a starter who plays about 90% of the snaps. Being right next to Myles Garrett makes that side of Cleveland’s defensive line pretty tough to handle. On offense, I will go with backup tight end Seth DeValve. He just returned from injury last week and caught a 25-yard pass. He has good hands and speed, and with the team losing two slot receivers to injury this week, I think DeValve’s usage will receive a bit of an uptick.