Browns

Deshone Kizer was fine but let’s all take a breath, OK?

Whooo boy, do you feel that sting in your neck this morning? It is a case of severe whiplash from the fanbase of the Cleveland Browns pivoting from meager attempts to prop up Brock Osweiler as the starting quarterback to declaring Deshone Kizer the franchise quarterback whom we have all been waiting to see after a comeback victory against the New Orleans Saints, 20-14.

Too much emphasis being placed on the first Browns football game of the 2017 season is to be expected. It has been seven months since we have seen the team finish off their 1-15 record to acquire the No. 1 overall pick during their full blown rebuild. The foundation of the franchise was rebuilt from the line of scrimmage out this offseason with three new offensive line starters, a potentially elite pass rusher, and new coaches.1 A cautious optimism is warranted, but the expectation from the fanbase should be for an improved, but non-playoff team that frustrates us more than exhilarates.

The same should be said of the current quarterback competition. Head coach Hue Jackson has been consistent in his messaging that he is going to allow each of the three quarterbacks the opportunity to impress him, and he would make his decision based on their overall body of work.2 Everyone in the current quarterback room has significant flaws that will be exposed at times when they play. Osweiler’s inaccuracy and poor reading of defenses, Kessler’s inability to fit the ball into tight windows especially on mid-range to deep routes, and Kizer’s poor footwork leading to inaccurate throws (not to mention his overall lack of experience in the NFL showing up in multiple ways). Jackson has crafted a career out of masking the weaknesses of his quarterbacks while highlighting their strengths,3 so it is not unreasonable to expect whichever quarterback he selects to perform as best they can.

Osweiler has been telling people to go watch the film on him to determine his ability at quarterback. Well, we do finally have some of him in a brown and orange uniform to go along with his tape from the Houston Texans and Denver Broncos. Guess what, he’s the same guy he has been as a NFL starter as inconsistency and an inability to create led to a 6-for-14 day with just 42 yards. He cannot blame the protection as the offensive line did their job. To his credit, he put the blame for his performance on his own shoulders. “I don’t even think a finger got laid on me. Those guys did a tremendous job up front.” Osweiler noted. “We made some plays on the third drive, and we were able to move the ball down the field. It was just unfortunate that we couldn’t end the drive with a touchdown. Once again, that falls onto me.”4

Kessler has fallen far since Jackson proclaimed that Osweiler and Kizer would have to take it from him when referring to the starting spot, which Osweiler did for this start against the Saints. Kessler did nothing to force that decision to be reversed as he went 5-for-10 for 47 yards though he did lead the Browns on a short field touchdown drive, which included three of his completions.

Then, there was Kizer. In case you missed the game or want a refresh, here are all of Kizer’s pass attempts as he went 11-for-18 for 184 yards and the game-winning touchdown. It does not show the three sacks he took or the three runs he made for 12 yards on scrambles, but it does show how he was able to make two downfield plays along with the ball popping out of his hand much better than the other two quarterbacks who went before him.

A bunch of good can be gathered from Kizer’s start. He didn’t Derek Anderson the screen passes (i.e. throw them as hard as he could to players just a few yards away from him). He kept calm in the pocket. His eyes remained downfield as he maneuvered smoothly to open areas to throw. He fit the ball into some tight windows. Third down throws tended to be one yard beyond the marker instead of before it. Kizer even suffered from his receivers dropping a couple of catchable balls.

There was also some problematic items as well. His propensity to lose his feet leading to inaccuracy showed up on a few occasions. The biggest item though was his head. Watch those throws again and notice the helmet turn- or lack thereof- from Kizer. He is staring down one side of the field at best and probably one receiver on many of those plays. Against an aggressive team that is blitzing like crazy it can work because the defensive backs need to focus on the receivers and not the quarterback, but Kelly Holcomb can tell Kizer all about what happens if he tries that against a team that drops into a zone.

To his and the coaching staff’s credit, Kizer recognized the type of defense the Saints were going to give him. It is worth tracking though if he continues to do so in future weeks. As Kizer explained “The Saints were straight forward with what they were going to do. They are going to play you man, they are going to blitz you and if they are going to do that you have to be able to take shots on a team like that. We dialed them up at the right time.”

Now that the first game is in the books, everyone needs to take a breath. Here’s an exercise Alan Jaeger taught me to use with my pitchers that you can try out yourself. Close your eyes and as you take a nice big breath inwards, rise up on both of your feet until you are propped up on your toes. When you descend downwards, do so slowly as you breath out. Repeat a few times to regain your mindset that watching a rookie quarterback take advantage of football players that won’t make any team’s final 53 man roster should not have you drastically change your opinion of him.

The Browns were smart to put Kizer third. Just as the Houston Texans did with Deshaun Watson and the Chicago Bears did with Mitchell Trubisky, having the rookies go against backups and fringe players allowed them to get their first taste of NFL action without having to go against the true NFL veterans. Each of these rookies has created a buzz after succeeding in these circumstances, but failure would have meant more than success as they did what they were supposed to do.

Kizer had a positive game, and it was a step Kizer needed to make in order push himself into the starting position for the Browns, which could and perhaps should happen for their Week 1 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He just isn’t a franchise quarterback because he made some throws on guys who will be playing in the Arena Football League this season. And, if Jackson doesn’t tab him as the starter for the second preseason game, then it is not the end of the world either.

Just keep listening to coach Jackson. He’s been the voice of reason through it all for the team and we as fans can learn a few things from him. “The guy made some plays at the end that gave us a chance to win, but there is still so much growth that needs to happen for this young player.” Jackson noted “We all know he is talented, as I said before, but there are still some things he needs to do better.”

  1. Bob Wylie is the new offensive line coach and Clyde Simmons is the new defensive line coach. []
  2. I assume this includes practice, film study, and leadership alongside what we see in preseason games. []
  3. Kessler had a 92 QB rating in 2016 for his latest work of alchemy. []
  4. On the first two series, Osweiler said “Anytime you struggle to get into a rhythm early, you are going to have a slow start to the game. That is what you saw tonight. There are no excuses for that. Honestly, that comes onto my shoulders.” []