DeShone Kizer learned what it’s like to play the Ravens on the road. Today was a learning experience, but Kizer proved one thing: he doesn’t surrender. He left the game in the second quarter with a migraine, and re-entered the game in the second half. Sure, he completed fewer than fifty percent of his passes, and threw three picks (one was on his receiver), but he didn’t surrender the game.
Ditto for a defense who allowed some rushing yards today, but managed to hold Baltimore when it mattered most for much of the game. The defense stepped up at key moments, and never allowed the game to get out of hand, as it would’ve last year. In fact, many games did get out of hand last season, in route to a 1-15 record, the worst in franchise history.
Rashard “Hollywood” Higgins looked like the receiver he was at Colorado two years ago, hauling in seven catches for ninety-four yards. On a day where Kenny Britt and Corey Coleman struggled to get open, Higgins stepped up, and made several key plays. He was also wide open in the end zone, but Kizer forced it behind him and the pass was picked off. Okay, growing pain day, but Higgins looked like a diamond in the rough. Now, he must prove today wasn’t a fluke.
For the second straight week, the Browns played a tough division opponent, this time on the road, and didn’t back down. With a committee of backs keeping everyone fresh, the run defense had its hands full in the fourth quarter. Alex Collins broke one for a big gain, and the ball was stripped and turned over to the Browns. Last year, the defense would’ve given up. This year, a new defense has come to light.
Sure, the Browns stand at 0-2, and are 1-20 since Week Fifteen of the 2015 NFL Season, but they’re finding players. Guys like Joe Schobert and Rashard Higgins are coming into their own. Corey Coleman had a good game against Pittsburgh last week, and Seth DeValve is looking like a legitimate NFL tight-end. Each player mentioned was drafted in 2016. Shon Coleman is making his mistakes at right tackle, but he’s holding his own, especially after facing Terrell Suggs today. Suggs beat him a few times, but Coleman is a much better option this year than Cam Erving and Austin Pasztor were last season. Carol Nassib and Emmanuel Ogbah each made a few plays, and they were also 2016 draftees. Jabrill Peppers, the second first-round pick in 2017, is looking like a mutant hybrid of Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed.
One must wonder what this defense will look like when top pick Myles Garrett re-enters the line-up. He’s supposed to transform a defense, but how do you transform a defense that’s finding their rhythm. This is the second straight week the defense played well enough to keep the Browns in the game. Sure, they didn’t win, but no one expected them to beat neither Pittsburgh nor Baltimore. They nearly beat Pittsburgh and they played Baltimore well enough on the road to keep fans watching until the end.
This is a better team than last year, and they’re set up for long-term success. They must continue to grow this season, and after playing tough opponents the next two weeks, they have a break against Indy, a much weaker opponent. I’m not saying the Colts are a joke, because they too stayed in it against a beaten and battered Arizona Cardinals team, but the Colts are neither the Steelers nor the Ravens if one’s placing teams into Tiers. The Colts are a team on the same level as the Browns, but they’re moving in the opposite direction, whereas the Browns are building for the future.
When you’re building for the future, games like this are unavoidable. This is the youngest team in the NFL, and they played their two strongest division rivals with vigor. No, they aren’t a good team, but they have good, young players in Years One, Two, and Three building something big together. Not to mention, they have two of the most respected coaches in the game in Hue Jackson and Gregg Williams. This team isn’t building for a single-year success, they’re building for the same success the Steelers and Ravens have had over the last ten to fifteen seasons. And for that, they’re being built correctly.