Mornin’ y’all. Hope you are finding yourselves in high spirits on this first NFL Monday of 2017 with the wind forever at your back. Cleveland sports had quite the weekend of activity as the Browns started their season off with a loss to the Steelers, while the Indians continued winning baseball games- this time against the AL Wild Card contending Baltimore Orioles. An 18 game winning streak is just three away from the all-time MLB record. Insane! Let’s get right to it, shall we?
Competitive Browns with some stand-out sophomores
If you want to bellyache about yet another loss to the hated Steelers, then have at it. Pittsburgh has the stable organization most other teams strive to be, which is especially frustrating when the Browns have to play them twice every season. Such consistent teams should be much better early in the season than those integrating a ton of new players, coaches, and schemes. Except on Sunday, the Browns and Steelers appeared to be much closer on the competitive landscape than anyone should have expected. The defense held everyone not named Antonio Brown in check despite missing rookie star Myles Garrett and DeShone Kizer gave the Browns legitimate quarterback play in his first ever start.
There were obvious issues. The offense had zero push in the run game and Kizer took too many sacks. Kenny Britt is moving closer to Dwayne Bowe territory. The cornerbacks were expected to be a weakness and they delivered to expectations in Week 1. The Steelers did control the flow of the game in the second half, yet the score remained close throughout.
The biggest reason the Browns were in a competitive football game was the 2016 NFL Draft class. After an overall disappointing rookie year from the young players, the early returns on Year 2 are much more promising. Corey Coleman (five receptions, six targets, 53 yards, touchdown) and Seth DeValve (four receptions, five targets, 42 yards) led the way in receiving. Ricardo Louis was not too far behind them (two receptions, three targets, 32 yards). Joe Schobert (nine tackles, four solo) was everywhere on defense.1 Derrick Kindred (three tackles, two solo, two pass deflections) was making plays all over the field including an important interception (Steelers could have put the game away on that drive). Emmanual Ogbah struggled getting to Ben Roethlisberger but made a key pass deflection on a wide receiver screen and also set the edge to force LeVeon Bell and James Connor to the linebackers (43 yards on 14 carries). Carl Nassib was not a major impactful player on Sunday, but he did register a sack.
None of the sophomore players have proven themselves to be a NFL star. Shon Coleman had his issues in protection throughout the day, and Cody Kessler has dropped to third-string quarterback. However, the 2016 draft class proved it is far too early to give up on them as they were the foundation of the Browns on Sunday, and they should continue to be moving into the future.
DeShone Kizer versus Deshaun Watson
Whether anyone wants it to happen or not, Kizer and Watson will be compared throughout their careers. The narrative was set once the Browns decided to trade the No. 12 draft pick used to obtain Watson to the Houston Texans, then took the next quarterback in the draft at No. 52 in Kizer. The fact that these two quarterbacks were the first two from their draft class to obtain snaps for their teams only strengthens the arc even if it took the Texans pulling a Charlie Frye on Tom Savage for it to happen.
DeShone Kizer 20-for-30, 66.7%, 222 yards, 7.4 YPA, 1 TD, 1 INT, 7 sacks for -42 yards, 85.7 QBrating
Deshaun Watson 12-for-23, 52%, 102 yards, 4.4 YPA, 1 TD, 1 INT, 4 sacks for -21 yards, 60.4 QBrating
The early returns demonstrate that Kizer outplayed his counterpart though there are mitigating factors that caution about any definitives being drawn. Watson only played the second half of a blowout game, while Kizer was in a competitive contest for four quarters. Watson had more rush game support as Lamar Miller finished with 17 carries for 65 yards (3.8 yards per carry) compared to Isaiah Crowell’s 17 carries for 33 yards (1.9 yard per carry). Also, not included in the above statistics is that Watson also lost a fumble, while Kizer scored a rushing touchdown.
Still, each quarterback displayed many of the positives and negatives of their scouting profile. Watson moved through his reads and delivered good accuracy on his throws, but his weak arm meant that the correct decision was often a shorter, timing route (Brady Quinn would be embarrassed with a 4.4 YPA). Kizer showed off the cannon on a couple of occasions, but his timing accuracy can wane and he needs to develop a better internal clock (at least three of the sacks he took were on him).
Cheering for the 2017 Cleveland Indians has been great fun. Even so, winning 18 games in a row is unfathomable especially considering three of the teams swept during the streak (New York Yankees, Kansas City Royals, Baltimore Orioles) are fighting to get into the AL Wild Card game. The Tribe’s run has pushed them ahead of the Houston Astros in the MLB standings (crazy) and are within five games of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in all of baseball. If the Indians sweep the Detroit Tigers, then they tie the all-time MLB record for wins in a row (Do not count the 26 game “winning streak” cited by ESPN on Sunday Night baseball as the New York Giants mixed in a tie during that streak. Most wins in a row is 21.). I’m sorry, let us properly emphasize the possibility.
THE CLEVELAND INDIANS CAN SET THE ALL-TIME MLB RECORD FOR MOST CONSECUTIVE WINS IF THEY COMPLETE THE THREE-GAME SWEEP OF THE DETROIT TIGERS THAT STARTS MONDAY NIGHT!!!
There has been some thought floated that the Indians are peaking too early. Let us squash any such thought before it becomes a thing. A huge winning streak does not mean the Tribe is destined to win the World Series nor does it portend doom for somehow playing their best before October hits. The MLB postseason is a great reset on the MLB regular season with momentum heading into it playing as big of a role as the ranking of the ballpark concession stands.
The important items to line up for October are health and acquiring enough information to make competent roster decisions. Let us remember the Indians are on this streak without Andrew Miller, Jason Kipnis, and Michael Brantley (plus, plenty more have missed significant time during it).
It now appears they might have to complete the season without Bradley Zimmer after he broke his hand sliding into first base on Sunday night. MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian reports he sustained a fracture of the fourth metacarpal, which is below the palm and underneath the ring finger. The Tribe must once again move to their Next Man Up philosophy and determine if Greg Allen is ready to be a postseason contributor or if it is more intelligent to go with a rotation of Austin Jackson, Abraham Almonte, Brandon Guyer, and Tyler Naquin to complement Jay Bruce and Lonnie Chisenhall. With Brantley also possibily returning, the outfield has plenty of options. It is now up to the Indians to figure out which options will benefit the team the most.
Meanwhile, they just keep on winning. Keep on winning. Keep on winning, winning, winning.
- Major props to Joe Gilbert who has continued to praise Schobert’s development. [↩]