Category: AFC North

Analyzing a crazy week for the Browns

With the final preseason game looming and the regular season opener fast approaching, it’s been a crazy and busy week for the Browns.

Most of these moves were not unexpected but how some went down has been the topic of much discussion.

Here is an analysis of each of the major moves that have occurred in the past week.

KIZER NAMED STARTING QUARTERBACK

As I’ve said throughout the summer, Brock Osweiler had the best chance at the starting quarterback position based on his experience. But if rookie DeShone Kizer played equal or above him, it would be in the best interest of the franchise to start Kizer because he is the future and Osweiler is not.

Osweiler had his chance to win the starting job in preseason Week 2, but played poorly. Kizer, while unspectacular last week against the Buccaneers, played well and moved the offense. The team would have scored more points if not for a pass interference penalty against Corey Coleman and a fumble by Duke Johnson.

At this point, with Cody Kessler struggling, coach Hue Jackson should stick with Kizer the entire season and live with the growing pains.

JOE HADEN RELEASED

This one is a head scratcher. Not in the fact cornerback Joe Haden is gone. Injuries have affected his play in recent years and he clearly has lost a step. But it’s curious that with a need at wide receiver, the Browns couldn’t find a trade partner and chose to release him instead.

As a result, the rival Steelers snatched Haden up quickly. It’s going to be a strange opening Sunday with Haden in black and gold.

CAM ERVING TRADED TO THE CHIEFS

It finally happened. The Browns are rid of a player they should have released long ago. The amazing thing is the Chiefs actually gave them a 5th round pick for him. This is a total steal by the Browns.

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Things to look for in Giants-Browns preseason game

The Cleveland Browns host the New York Giants in their second preseason game on Monday Night Football. It might be the only nationally-televised game for them aside from (possibly) the London game in the regular season.

Unless, of course, they have a game get flexed into a primetime spot later in the season. Which for a team coming off of a one-win season is very wishful thinking.

The Browns are coming off a 20-14 win over the Saints in their preseason opener. Yes, wins and losses in preseason matter little, but considering the Browns were 0-4 last preseason, a win can’t hurt their confidence.

Here are a few things to watch for in Monday’s tilt on ESPN:

#1 Brock Osweiler is starting again. But for how long?

Osweiler played poorly in the preseason opener against the Saints. The chemistry and timing with his receivers was off. He didn’t have any bad plays, but just wasn’t that great. With rookie DeShone Kizer vaulting up to the No. 2 spot in the depth chart, Osweiler needs to show something to prove he should be the starter Week 1 against the Steelers.

#2 Will Myles Garrett get his first sack?

Garrett played well in his first preseason game but did not record a sack. Will he get his first (unofficial) one against the Giants under the lights of Monday Night Football? It would help for him to get at least a couple out of the way before the regular season.

#3 How will the secondary fare?

Assuming Giants quarterback Eli Manning and receivers like Odell Beckham Jr. play Monday, it will be a big test for the Browns’ defensive backfield. Saints quarterback Drew Brees had the opener off.

Rookie Jabrill Peppers has impressed in camp so far. This is a big chance for him to show off his skills to a national audience.

#4. Will the Browns make their kicker decision after the game?

As expected, incumbent kicker Cody Parkey and rookie Zane Gonzalez have been pretty even in the kicker competition. Depending how things play out in this Giants game, Browns coach Hue Jackson might be able to pick his guy before the preseason dress rehearsal next week against Tampa Bay.

#5. Will the team continue to carry positive momentum?

As I stated above, wins and losses are almost meaningless in the preseason. But for a Browns team with so many rookies and second-year players, every victory counts in the confidence department. A victory in a Monday Night Football game at home can really give the players a boost heading into the back end of the preseason.

Browns must move on from Cam Erving

 

 

 

In their preseason opener last week against the Saints, the Browns gave veteran left tackle Joe Thomas the night off. In his place was “versatile” third-year lineman Cam Erving.

That’s right. The player who failed miserably at center last year and has been at best serviceable in backup duty at guard was asked to protect starter Brock Osweiler’s blind side in that game. The results? Well they weren’t pretty.

The fall-on-your-butt technique is never a good one for an offensive lineman. And sadly, no matter where Erving lines up on the field, this keeps happening. This on top of multiple false starts, holds and looking lost on several plays.

This would be understandable considering this was one of his first opportunities playing the left tackle position. But it’s not the first time he has looked this lost on the football field before.

And take a look at this laughable mismatch of Erving against No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett. This should be a mismatch for sure, but Erving proves to be no barrier to Garrett’s path to the quarterback.

Presumably, Thomas will start the rest of the preseason, relegating Erving to backup status once again. But the question is why is the team letting him still take up a roster spot?

This is Erving’s third year. Issues like footwork, balance, strength, penalties should have been worked out by now. He has shown no improvement from his rookie season until now. Versatility only works if a player is competent at most positions and Erving is not close to competent at virtually any position.

Is coach Hue Jackson really willing to have Erving out there in the next few preseason games trying to protect Kessler or Kizer? Even against backups, I do not like those odds.

If the Browns could get a conditional 7th round pick for Erving, they should thank their lucky stars and take the deal. Otherwise, just cut him before the roster is set at the end of the preseason. The front office could probably pluck just about anyone who doesn’t make the cut from other teams and odds are they would be at least as competent, if not more, than Erving most days.

Three things to look for in the Saints-Browns preseason opener

The wait is over. Football is back … sort of.

The Cleveland Browns open up their 2017 preseason schedule with a tilt against the New Orleans Saints at First Energy Stadium on Thursday night.

And while not much can be gleaned from the first preseason game due to the teams’ starters barely playing at all, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some things to focus on as the Browns begin their bid to escape the AFC North basement.

1. Brock Osweiler’s play at quarterback.

Osweiler was named the starting quarterback by coach Hue Jackson on Monday, leapfrogging incumbent second-year player Cody Kessler. The move to drop Kessler isn’t a total surprise because of Kessler’s poor play this summer. Osweiler has impressed coaches since he walked in the building and his experience in Denver and Houston is paying off against three other less experienced signal-callers.

However, Jackson made it clear one of the deciding factors in making Osweiler the starter is that Kessler and rookie DeShone Kizer can get more work in this first preseason game. There is plenty of time for Osweiler to lose the starting spot before Week 1, so his limited performance in this game  is still important.

2. How dialed in will the defense be?

The Browns brought in defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to improve a defense that lacked the ability to stop the run or hold a lead during two years under former head coach Mike Pettine (a defensive coach) and last year under former defensive coordinator Ray Horton. Williams is certainly a vast change from those two coaches. But how will his coaching style show up in the preseason? Will the defense be more aggressive or will Williams save a lot of his more advanced packages for when the games really matter?

3. How will Kizer fare?

Kizer is listed third in the depth chart for this game. Meaning that if Osweiler gets one possession as the starter, Kessler should play most of the first and second quarter. Kizer likely will either come in sometime in the second quarter or start the second half of the game against second and third string players. This is a chance for Kizer to show how much he has learned so far this summer and how his talent matches up against backups.

If he does well, it would certainly boost his chances of starting sooner rather than later. If not, then it will show that he does indeed still need a lot of work before Jackson can turn the offense over to him officially.

The end result of this game doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but this is an important step in the Browns’ rebuilding process this season.

Cleveland Browns season breakdown: Games 13-16

After a miserable 1-15 campaign in 2016, the Browns are hoping to show signs of progress in their new rebuild. This is the last part in a series where I  break down the Browns’ schedule by each four-game “quarter”. These are my predictions as of right now. Of course, things tend to change a lot week-to-week during the NFL season.

Game 13: Green Bay at Cleveland

The final stretch is not an easy one. It begins with a home tilt against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. At this point, the Browns will likely be eliminated from postseason contention while the Packers should be playing for another division title.

Prediction: Packers 38, Browns 20. Record: 4-9

Game 14: Baltimore at Cleveland

I’d like to think this is the year the Browns can break out against the Ravens after several near-misses. However, the Ravens will probably be much better at this point of the year.

Prediction: Ravens 24, Browns 10. Record: 4-10

Game 15: Cleveland at Chicago

It will be the Browns against hometown hero Mitchell Trubisky, the quarterback the Browns likely would have drafted if Myles Garrett wasn’t the consensus No. 1 pick. Unfortunately for Trubisky, the Bears are terrible and the Browns should easily win this one.

Prediction: Browns 30, Bears 17. Record: 5-10

Game 16: Cleveland at Pittsburgh

By this point, the Steelers should have wrapped up another division title and a postseason berth. But as we saw last year, even if they rest their starters, it doesn’t necessarily lead to a Browns win.

Prediction: Steelers 24, Browns 14. Record: 5-11

 

Poor QB play opens door for Kizer

The Browns held their annual Orange and Brown scrimmage for fans at First Energy Stadium on Friday. The results for the offense were less than stellar.

The scrimmage featured no touchdowns by the offense. This was largely due to poor play by quarterbacks Cody Kessler, Brock Osweiler and rookie DeShone Kizer. This continued a trend of less-than-stellar quarterback play, particularly from Kessler, this summer.

Browns coach Hue Jackson conceded on Saturday that a change might be made on Monday before the Browns prepare for their preseason opener against the Saints in Cleveland. All signs point to Kizer, despite his growing pains, becoming the starter over Kessler, who was given the nod due to his experience in the offense last season.

By all accounts this summer, Kizer has displayed the better arm and talent in the quarterback race. He has not been without his rookie ups-and-downs. During the scrimmage, he missed a wide-open Duke Johnson in the end zone on a throw he admitted he has to make.

But Kizer is clearly the team’s future. Kessler still looks like a good backup quarterback while Osweiler is still likely going to be trade bait.

If Kizer is indeed named the starter for the preseason opener and can hold the starting spot the rest of the preseason, the Browns may or may not win more games than they would under Kessler or Osweiler, but it should bode well for the team moving forward.

Cleveland Browns season breakdown: Games 9-12

After a miserable 1-15 campaign in 2016, the Browns are hoping to show signs of progress in their new rebuild. This is the third part in a series where I  break down the Browns’ schedule by each four-game “quarter”. These are my predictions as of right now. Of course, things tend to change a lot week-to-week during the NFL season.

Game 9: Cleveland at Detroit

Coming out of the bye week after their trip to London, the Browns should be rested and well-prepared for a Lions team that despite having Matt Stafford at quarterback, isn’t much better than the Browns at this point. If things go right, I can certainly see the Browns stealing a game here.

Prediction: Browns 24, Lions 21. Record: 4-5

Game 10: Jacksonville at Cleveland

Something crazy always seems to happen when these two former AFC Central division teams meet up. The Jaguars seemingly have been on the cusp of being a playoff team for a couple of years now but have not gotten over the hump. But still, I think Jacksonville will be too much for the Browns here.

Prediction: Jaguars 30, Browns 17. Record: 4-6

Game 11: Cleveland at Cincinnati

I gave the Browns the edge in their meeting in Cleveland in my analysis of the first four games. I’m going to give the Bengals the split here.

Prediction: Bengals 27, Browns 21. Record: 4-7

Game 12: Cleveland at Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers had the distinction of being the only team to lose to the Browns last season. However, that was at home in December. Now, the Browns have to travel across the country to face the Chargers in Carson, Calif. The Chargers should be ready for some payback here.

Prediction: Chargers 23, Browns 17. Record: 4-8

Smooth first day of training camp for Browns

The bikes were empty. And that’s a great thing.

 

Fans and Cleveland media have often called training camp “Tour de Berea” because of all the injured players on exercise bikes, even on the first day of camp.

But on Wednesday, Browns coach Hue Jackson remarked that the team was 100 percent healthy coming into training camp. He was proven right Thursday when all players showed up healthy and practicing and not on bikes.

This includes No. 1-overall pick Myles Garrett and second-year wide receiver Corey Coleman, who both were sidelined by injuries at the end of Organized Team Activities.

For a franchise that has seen its share of first-day calamities, by all accounts this was a smooth, drama-free opening to camp in Jackson’s second season.

Garrett made backup offensive linemen look foolish. Second-year quarterback Cody Kessler, not known for having a big arm, threw a 40-yard touchdown to free-agent addition Kenny Britt.  There were no major injuries, aside from the expected hot summer day cramps. Jackson said the team is “a step better than a year ago.”

For some franchises, a smooth opening to training camp isn’t a big deal. For a Browns team in year two of a major rebuild, it’s a big deal.

Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, who is vying to prove he is the quarterback of the future, was even the last one on the field after practice going through the play sheet and directing invisible players. The work ethic is very much appreciated a mere two years after the antics of former first-round pick Johnny Manziel.

Of course, there is a long way to go before the start of the NFL regular season. But for these young Browns, a step forward at the start of camp is a big plus.

Cincinnati Bengals: Injuries do make a difference 2013-2016

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There comes a time in every Cincinnati Bengals fan’s life (Usually around playoff time every year), when you ask yourself “Why in the world am I still a fan of this team?” It is agreed that being a Bengals fan is very frustrating most times. Common conversation among Bengals enthusiasts and enemies alike sounds something like this:

-Honestly, I just want them to win 1 playoff game. I don’t care if they lose the next 7 in a row again after that.

-Monday Morning: Did you hear the news? Pac-Man Jones made it through the weekend without getting arrested.

-Maybe this will be the year Marvin Lewis finally gets fired!

-Vontaze Burfict is only suspended the first 3 games this year so we should get off to a hot start.

-The Bengals should have beat the Steelers in the 2015 Wild Card game. Joey Porter should have been flagged too. The refs definitely fixed the game ,etc, etc.

Here is why there is still hope, that this core group of players still can get the job done come playoff time when it counts.

First, the main issue is the health of 4 of their key offensive playmakers (Andy Dalton, Gio Bernard, AJ Green, and Tyler Eifert). Since 2013 the Bengals have had 67 games, regular and post season. These 4 players have only been on the field together during 32 of these games. For those of you counting at home that is just under 48% of games. The Bengals still have been productive enough to make the playoffs 3 out of 4 years and win the division twice. Digging a little deeper into the statistics of the games that they missed we discovered that their record when all 4 players are healthy at the same time drastically improved.

Cincinnati Bengals record involving Andy Dalton, Gio Bernard, AJ Green, and Tyler Eifert since 2013:

-With all 4 players on the field:    21-10-1

-With 1 player out:    9-7

-With 2 players out:   7-8-1

-With 3 players out:    1-2

The Bengals have shown that they can compete with the best teams in the league week in and week out during the regular season, but key injuries have taken a toll on this team through the past 4 years.

Looking deeper at when the Bengals played four traditionally good teams in the AFC (New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver Broncos, and Baltimore Ravens).

-Their overall record against these teams: 10-13

Overall record when all 4 players are on the field: 5-2

-When Eifert is out:  4-7

-When Bernard is out:  1-4

-When Dalton is out:  1-3

-When Green is out: 2-2

-When multiple players are out: 2-5

This team can not only compete, but play a major role in the AFC this year. Only if they can avoid having a key player miss extended playing time. Add in playmakers like John Ross and Joe Mixon and this team has the potential to surprise a lot of fans.

 

WHO DEY!

 

Cleveland Browns training camp battles: Offensive line

The Browns’ offensive line last season was nothing short of a disaster. It’s a key reason why the team went 1-15 and went through so many starting quarterbacks that season. The front office wisely signed two key free agents to shore up the line and gave an extension to a current player.

At left tackle is old reliable Joe Thomas. The perennial Pro Bowler is still there despite constant trade rumors and still wants to be in Cleveland despite being 32 years old and heading into the back end of his career. The Browns are lucky to have him. Vying to be his backup are Roderick Johnson (a rookie from Florida State), and a couple of league journeymen. Hopefully Thomas plays every single snap again this season.

The left guard position is set with starter Joel Bitonio, who received a big contract extension this offseason, and Spencer Drango backing him up.

At center, the Browns filled a troubled position from last season by signing JC Tretter in free agency from the Green Bay Packers. Tretter should fill the position left vacant by Alex Mack much better than Cam Erving did last season. But Erving left the bar low. Tretter has a host of league veterans vying to be his backup.

Also coming to the team via free agency is right guard Kevin Zeitler, who the Browns snagged from intra-state rival Cincinnati. He will be backed up by John Greco.

Shon Coleman is back as the starter at right tackle, with Erving set to back him up. This arrangement worked out well in the back half of last season, with Erving looking better outside of the center position.

Position grade: A-

This is considered by Pro Football Focus to be one of the best offensive lines in the league now. I think it’s too early to say that, but if this group develops chemistry in camp, they will be much more improved from last year.