More Than Meets the Eye

The Browns stand at 0-11. To most NFL fans, they’re floundering. When one adds in two years’ worth of wins and losses, the Browns found glory once in their past twenty-seven games, with a 1-26 record. Want more fun? Cleveland’s losing stretch rivals the 1976-77 Buccaneers, who went 2-26 in their first two seasons. The 2008-09 Lions went 2-30 in a two-season span. The Browns can soar pass the Buccaneers in all the wrong ways if they lose to the Los Angeles Chargers this Sunday. But things may not be too bad, despite the constant losing.

Like my friends, anyone reading this piece will say I’m losing my mind. “1-26 is 1-26,” they said. “Todd, a win is a win, a loss is a loss.” Easy for Steeler fans to say, many of whom have yet to experience a losing season. Ditto for Patriots fans. Hey, argue with front running fanbases all day. It’s not worth arguing with stupid. If you’re educated, or if you possess an Intelligence Quotient higher than eighty-five, read on. If you’re a knucklehead, stop reading, as the following over capacitates simple minds.

The steps in building a dynasty challenge even the brightest football minds, and the impatient or faint-hearted give in after two seasons. Ever here the adage, “a circle has no ending?” The Browns hired eight coaches the past nineteen seasons. Butch Davis and Romeo Crennel lasted more than two seasons with the club. In this span, the Browns started twenty-eight different quarterbacks. Detmer, Couch, Pederson, Wynn, Holcomb, Garcia, Luke McCown, Dilfer, Frye, Dorsey, Anderson, Quinn, Gradkowski, Delhomme, Seneca Wallace, Colt McCoy, Thad Lewis, Weeden, Hoyer, Manziel, Connor Shaw, Josh McCown, Robert Griffin, Kessler, Austin Davis, DeShone Kizer, and Kevin Hogan. Not a single quarterback lasted more than five seasons with the team (Couch).

With the following being said, why not try something different? Why not give the new regime a fair chance? Eight or nine years ago, I said the Browns needed to do what they’re doing now. I said they needed to suck. They needed to lose, and lose big, as in lose a lot of games. I wanted a roster resembling an expansion team. I wanted first and second year players playing alongside cast-offs. Why? To build the ultimate dynasty, per Jimmy and Dee Haslam’s patience. Where do you start?

Step One: Tear down the existing roster. Even the contributors not named Joe Thomas. Tear it down. If they didn’t help you win, sans Joe Thomas, throw them to the curb. Bye-bye, Birdie.

Step Two: Hire your coach. Enter Hue Jackson, the perfect man for the job. Why? Hue’s handed the keys to turn a seven-two off-suit into a winner. The man perseveres through the strongest storm. No, Hue is the storm. A cyclone. The man to see the strongest storm given to a team in NFL history captains the ship.

Step Three: Draft for quantity. Holes three fathoms deep sit in the roster. Lack of depth lurks everywhere, from cornerback to offensive tackle. Draft players. Not studs, but players willing to become part of this revolution. Players who may make an impact, but provide services. Corey Coleman finds himself in a number two receiver role, but he burns defenses when healthy. Ditto for Emmanuel Ogbah and Carl Nassib.

Step Four: Attract a few free agents and start drafting quality over quantity. Myles Garrett, anyone? Again, when healthy he wreaks havoc. Jabrill Peppers played linebacker in college and safety in the NFL. The kid looks like a Troy Polamalu-T.J. Ward hybrid. Enter David Njoku and DeShone Kizer. Two potential future studs. Even Kizer, despite his struggles. Wait and see what he does with Josh Gordon slotted next to Corey Coleman.

Step Five: Attract more free agents to the cause and draft quality over quantity. Two top ten picks in 2018 brings quality to the table. Package the three second rounders and move up. How far? Wait and see who bites on the bargain. The Browns enjoy firepower in the 2018 Draft. Boom, boom, and boom. Three more studs to build around.

Check out the current starting lineup, without Joe Thomas.

QB: Kizer

RB1: Crowell

RB2: Johnson

FB: Vitale

WR1: Gordon

WR2: Coleman

WR3 Britt

WR4: Louis

TE: Njoku (Telfer is first on depth chart, but Njoku and DeValve receive more playing time).

LT: Drango

LG: Zeitler

C: Tretter

RG: Bitonio

RT: Shon Coleman

We all thought Drango collapsing the left side. So far, so good. Coleman provides the weak link, but even he shows flashes as a first-year starter. Good. I’ll take it. Gordon’s back after a two-year absence. He raises the receiving corps to another level. Mark me. Coleman dropped a surefire touchdown last week, but talk about productivity. He delivers often and gives Kizer sure hands ninety-nine percent of the time. I’m not counting the drop against him.

Shift to defense, minus Ogbah and Jamie Collins, two studs who I look forward to seeing next year.

DE: Garrett

DE: Nassib

NT: Shelton

DT: Trevon Coley

OLB: Burgess

MLB: Schobert

OLB: Kirksey

CB1: Jamar Taylor

CB2: Jason McCourty

FS: Peppers

SS: Kindred

Garrett’s producing. Last week, he finished with a sack, three tackles, and three quarterback hits. He’s a force, and he bounces runners to the outside. Nassib delivers a decent pass rush and his height works in favor. Shelton takes up two blockers and can be a force. Ditto for Coley. Burgess came out of nowhere against Jacksonville and provides depth when Collins starts ahead of him. Schobert tackles everything. Same with Kirksey. Taylor bats away everything. McCourty plays like a man five years younger than his age. Peppers hits like a linebacker. Coverage issues? Of course, but every rookie switching positions needs a learning curve. Same for Kindred. I expect a leap forward next season.

The team plays better than their record. Friend of mine told me on Monday they’re in every game. Nearly every game, to be accurate. Cincy blew them away in Week Four. Houston torched them two weeks later. Minnesota and Detroit pulled away in the fourth quarter, but the Browns led in both games in the third. Small victories and small steps preach importance with our young NFL franchise.

What I Learned in Week Two

The Browns are a bad football team, but they’re not as bad as they’ve been the previous two seasons, where they finished an abysmal 4-28 over that time span. They just aren’t good enough to hang with the top teams in the NFL. But when you start a rookie quarterback, coupled with the youngest team in football, growing pains are going to happen often, and a lot of good has come out of the first two weeks of the season.

I want to begin with DeShone Kizer’s toughness, poise, and ability to extend plays and move the football downfield. Sure, Kizer had an ugly performance both before leaving, and after returning to the game, while battling a migraine, but he never looked rattled. Kizer was on the run often, as he still likes to take his time to go through his reads, but he never lost his poise. In fact, even when down 24-10 in the fourth quarter, he directed a beautiful drive. Unfortunately, the drive ended in an interception. Kizer made the right decision, he just threw a bad pass. Yet I was impressed, as no one from last season’s quarterback committee came back after their injuries (or misfortunes) in any game, at any time. Kizer already set himself apart from his predecessors, because he came back into the game after battling a migraine, but again showed flashes of brilliance.

The defense neither looked as fast nor was as aggressive, but some of that may have to do with the fact Baltimore used a committee of running backs not even signed with the team two weeks ago. Sure, these backs may be less talented, and they made their fair share of mistakes, but when you watch game film, preparing all week for the two top backs before they’re ruled out with injuries, you’re now playing against a style you weren’t preparing for. Nevertheless, the Browns contained the Ravens as often as the Ravens broke out for big gains, and though the defense was inconsistent, this time last season, they would’ve been run over all game long. It was good to see them force a turnover in the fourth quarter, and they played well enough to never let the game get entirely out of reach. This tells me one thing: the defense has improved, and this is without top pick, Myles Garrett.

Injuries are unavoidable, but the Browns seem to be charged double year after year. Both Jamie Collins and Corey Coleman went down, and while Collins will be back once he clears concussion protocol, Coleman will miss extended time for the same exact injury he sustained last season. The good news? Rashard Higgins may have had his coming out party, hauling in seven receptions for 95 yards. Higgins may have even caught a touchdown pass, but Kizer threw the ball a second too late and the ball sailed behind him into the hands of a Ravens defender. Still, Higgins may be a gem.

Ricardo Louis has four receptions in two games, meaning he’s on pace to double his reception total from last season. His role will be extended in the absence of Coleman. Louis has shown toughness on the field in the past two games, and he’s been relatively consistent. What really impresses me are the play of the tight-ends, and Seth DeValve may be the best of the bunch. He’s on pace for fifty receptions this season, and that’s a respectable number as the Browns appear to be using a tight-end committee these days. Both David Njoku and Randall Telfer have also contributed early on. Telfer is more of a blocker, but can catch if called upon. Njoku is making his rookie mistakes, but seems to make big plays when needed, as seen yesterday afternoon when he caught his first touchdown pass from Kevin Hogan.

In conclusion, the Browns would’ve lost this game 35-10, or worse this time last season. The fact the game was only 24-10 speaks wonders, as the defense never let the game get out of hand, and the offense moved the ball, only to make two costly mistakes in the red zone. Still, the Browns kept me watching until the final second for two weeks in a row. And when these games come against Pittsburgh and Baltimore, you’re on to something.