Mornin’ y’all. Hope you are finding yourselves in high spirits with the wind forever at your back as the Cleveland Browns completed their brutal first weeks of the NFL season, and the Indians have finished off winning the AL Central division title this past weekend. The Tribe won 17 games in the first 17 days in September, which was great fun to follow. It will come crashing down on Monday though- the Tribe is traveling to the West coast which means no game tonight. Let’s get right to it, shall we?
Turnover-prone rookie quarterback?
My seven words or fewer to describe my horror level of facing the Baltimore Ravens defense was “Might as well have a red balloon.” It turned out to be the correct assessment as the Ravens collected five turnovers against the Browns the week after they forced five from the Cincinnati Bengals. I came into the season believing the Ravens had the best defense in the NFL and nothing has shaken my belief there yet- though it is wise to note neither the Browns nor Bengals are expected to have an upper tier offense.
A week after taking seven sacks against the Pittsburgh Steelers, head coach Hue Jackson appeared to have instilled a sense of urgency in Kizer to release the ball quicker. The result saw a reduction in sacks to three, but the rookie quarterback struggled finding the appropriate place to throw the ball as he wound up throwing three interceptions and the Ravens finished with nine pass deflections. The offensive line also still struggled with communication on stunts as the Ravens were able to register 10 quarterback hits with Terrell Suggs leading the way with four.
It is far too early to put a label on Kizer of being a turnover-prone quarterback though as we are seeing the natural progression for a young player. He was far too conservative attempting to find receivers with tons of space in Week 1. He was far too aggressive throwing into coverage in Week 2 (nine pass deflections too). The biggest discouraging trend in Kizer’s two games was his J.T. Barrett impersonation on downfield passing. However, he won’t find out where his limits are unless he is willing to cross the line.
It is encouraging he is willing to explore this space. The question is if he can refine his reads to increase his efficiency. The Browns face far easier defenses in the coming weeks, so Kizer has the opportunity to demonstrate what he has learned thus far.
Injuries hitting at the worst spots
Each of these injuries not only hit key players, but they hit the position groups where the Browns might be at their thinnest (outside perhaps the cornerback group- please stay healthy guys). No matter what you might hear this week about the limited Kevin Hogan, the drop-off behind these players is gigantic for a young team such as the Browns.
Kenny Britt and Sammie Coates have done nothing to impress upon the Browns that they will be able to be relied upon in the receiver corps.3 Ricardo Louis is a fine fourth or fifth receiver but nothing more. Kasen Williams is perhaps the deep threat who will replace Corey Coleman should he be out,4 but he does not have the refined route-running needed for much more than a nine route. Rashard “Hollywood” Higgins is the receiver with the best route-running and hands in the group. After his inexplicable exclusion from the 53-man roster in Week 1, Higgins might continue to lead the Browns in receiving these next few weeks.5 Otherwise, expect more heavy doses of Seth DeValve, Duke Johnson, and David Njoku who combined had 14 targets.
The linebacking group is in even more dire straits. James Burgess has flashed a bit of potential despite not playing a down in his rookie 2016 season after being an undrafted free agent who spent time on the practice squads of the Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers,6 Baltimore Ravens, and Jacksonsville Jaguars. It appears he is the defacto starter in the base defense if Collins needs to miss any time.
Burgess and Christian Kirksey were the players to sack Joe Flacco on Sunday. They are not defensive lineman. In fact, the only defensive lineman who laid a hand on Flacco all day was Larry Ogunjobi who hit him once. There is simply no generated pass rush with the front-four of the Browns defense and it will continue to be an issue until Myles Garrett returns.
Tribe’s question marks
The Indians sit on the other end of the competitive spectrum as they shut down the Royals to win the four-game series despite Kansas City messing up their winning streak on Friday night. The Tribe now is guaranteed a postseason slot and sit 1.5 games up on the Houston Astros for the No. 1 overall seed in the AL.7
There are still question marks for the team to figure out in the next couple of weeks as they must figure out how to put together their postseason roster.
The first issue will be determining which players are healthy enough to contribute. Bradley Zimmer will be out until at least the World Series. Lonnie Chisenhall needed to leave another game due to his aching calf muscle. Michael Brantley remains unable to run. Andrew Miller and Jason Kipnis have returned recently but need to come back up to full strength (and the team wants to figure out of Kipnis can play in center). Danny Salazar is a wild card entrant to the bullpen- he could become the right-handed version of Andrew Miller or have his elbow issues return to make him a non-factor.
The next item is figuring out which if the rookie ballplayers are capable of contributing. Greg Allen and Giovanny Urshela have legitimate defensive prowess, but both have just as many issues at the plate. Yandy Diaz appears to have assured himself a postseason spot with a .316/.435/.408 slash line since returning to the team in late August (24 games, 92 plate appearances). Francisco Mejia appears to have guaranteed himself a trip to the fall leagues as his bat hasn’t shown up in MLB yet.
Then, there is the bloodbath of good relievers attempting to make state their case to be included. Miller (if healthy), Cody Allen, and Bryan Shaw are the only guarantees. Salazar might make four. Dan Otero, Nick Goody, Tyler Olson, Joe Smith, Zach McAllister, Craig Breslow, Shawn Armstrong,8 and even Josh Tomlin- fighting to be the long-man- make eight relievers fighting for maybe four spots.
While the wait for the postseason can be frustrating, the Indians need these two weeks to see how they want to manage this team. It’ll be fun to see what happens next.
- My chief worry with the migraines is not that he left the game, but I am worried about any NFL player with head issues as they might be due to hits taken. It is only something to track for the moment. [↩]
- It should be said he did so on a day where he caught one pass for nine yards on seven targets. A horrendous day all around for Coleman. [↩]
- Coates never was open enough to even have a target thrown his way and Britt now has two receptions for 15 yards on the year (on five targets). [↩]
- Currently on the practice squad [↩]
- Seven catches for 95 yards on 11 targets. [↩]
- Yes, last year they were in San Diego. [↩]
- Important because the No. 1 seed gets to play the AL Wild Card game winner, who will likely need to burn their best pitcher to win that game. [↩]
- Well, Armstrong won’t make it. [↩]