On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers face the winless Cleveland Browns. Chris Pokorny of Dawgs By Nature was kind enough to answer some of our questions about the Browns and provide insight into their strengths and weaknesses.
[Editor's note: The questions were submitted prior to the news that the Browns named former Packers executive John Dorsey as general manager.]
APC: Despite DeShone Kizer starting most of the Browns' games this season, the team seems reluctant to fully commit to him. What is your evaluation of Kizer at this point in his rookie season, and do you anticipate he will be Cleveland's Week 1 starter in 2018?
I'd be surprised if DeShone Kizer is the Browns' starting quarterback in Week 1 of 2018. The position has been a disaster in Hue Jackson's two years as head coach, which is a surprise because fixing the quarterback position, regardless of the personnel, was supposed to be his specialty. The Browns just fired their head of football operations, Sashi Brown, and brought in John Dorsey as GM while maintaining that Jackson will stick around for 2018. Jackson wanted to acquire A.J. McCarron from the Bengals before the trade deadline, and now it looks like a move he'll push for this offseason. If I had to guess right now, McCarron starts in 2018, and the team also drafts a quarterback at No. 1 overall to be the team's long-term answer. It's kind of a sham that Jackson has gotten that much benefit of the doubt, but I'm sure he's played the "give me a shot with a decent quarterback" card to ownership.
Regarding Kizer, he has a lot of faults. Accuracy is an issue on short and deep passes. His decision-making in the red zone has been atrocious, leading to more than a handful of baffling turnovers. The icing on the cake might have been running a quarterback sneak from the three yard line with no timeouts and time winding down (the half ended with no points). The positives include his mobility, arm strength, and size -- but those are not off-the-chart positives to offset the negatives. He does get the benefit of the doubt a little for being so young, but the writing is on the wall that the Browns are going to upgrade quarterback in a major way in 2018, with either that youngster playing right away or a veteran taking over.
APC: The Browns' QB issues and overall record have overshadowed how well the defense has played. What are the strengths of the unit, and which players could have a major impact on Sunday's game?
The strength of the Browns' defense was their run defense, although that has taken a bit of a hit over the past 2-3 weeks due to season-ending injuries to DE Emmanuel Ogbah and OLB Jamie Collins. The team is still loaded with some talented young run-stopping linemen, and it hasn't been an area of weakness over the past couple of games, but there has definitely been a dropoff that has turned it into more of a moderate strength instead of a dominant one.
As far as individual players who could make an impact, defensive end Myles Garrett stands out as the only player who can generate pressure on the team, although he tweaked his ankle again last week. In the secondary, veteran Jason McCourty was pretty much Pro Football Focus' top-rated cornerback in the NFL until the past two weeks, when he's been very pedestrian against A.J. Green and Keenan Allen. It's true that they've gotten the upper hand on him, but I haven't lost any confidence in McCourty based on his overall body of work. The other player to watch for is nickelback Briean Boddy-Calhoun. No one has been able to succeed against him this year, and the fiesty corner is both a good tackler and an aggressive player on the ball if teams do try to target his man.
APC: Already 0-12, the Browns will likely enter every game the rest of the season as underdogs. Do you believe they finish winless, and do you see any progress despite the poor record?
I think they'll end up being Vegas underdogs in the rest of their games. The only exception might be if it's Week 17 and the Steelers are locked in to their seed, and also announce that they'll sit all their starters. I don't think they'll finish winless, and one big reason is the return of Josh Gordon. I do see progress despite the poor record, and if you stacked up the Browns' talent to some of the other bottom-dwellers in the NFL, I'd say that Cleveland's franchise is in much better shape. Why the constant losing? The horrid play at quarterback for one, as I discussed earlier, but also a lot of blame has to go on the coaching job by Hue Jackson. I'm not avidly opposed to him returning in 2018 to maintain continuity, but I think a lot of other head coaches would've been able to string together a few wins with this club between last year and this year.
APC: If you were game-planning against the Browns, how would you attack them on offense? On defense?
While the Browns have the ball, the Packers should bring pressure on DeShone Kizer fairly often, particularly from the slot, because his numbers go way down in those situations and the Browns have been without their future Hall of Fame left tackle, Joe Thomas, for several games now. While the Packers have the ball, they should target the Browns' linebackers in coverage -- either in man with their tight ends and running backs, or on crossing routes while Cleveland is in zone coverage. I think just about every quarterback we face goes 15-of-15 for 150 yards and 1-2 touchdowns when targeting our linebackers in coverage each week. A lot of that is Gregg Williams' scheme, rather than the linebackers themselves being bad cover guys.
APC: Finally, it's prediction time. Which team wins on Sunday and why?
Before I answer this, consider that as the Browns get closer to a perfect 0-16 season, the odds of me over-padding the reasons the Browns can beat a certain team are increasing exponentially. I do not want to be part of a winless season, and Brett Hundley is probably the lowest-tiered quarterback the Browns' defense will have faced all season. It also sounds like the Packers' cornerback position took a big hit this week. Josh Gordon's debut last week saw him get the upper hand on Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward, who is ranked No. 1 in the NFL by PFF. Gordon was also open for what could've been two long touchdown passes, but Kizer's inaccuracy came into play. Gordon is unreal, and could be a one-man wrecking crew -- so I'm throwing by optimism hat on and predicting a Browns upset on Sunday.
We'd like to thank Chris and Dawgs By Nature for answering our questions. Be sure to check out our Q&A session over there, as well as their fantastic coverage of all things Browns. As always, keep your internet machines tuned to Acme Packing Company this Sunday for our comprehensive game-day coverage of Packers vs. Browns.