“Sometimes the only way around suffering is to go straight through it.”
Here we are, already halfway through the Browns 2017 season and suffering is exactly what we are doing. I don’t think have seen a fan base who has been this checked out, this early and, I mean, can you blame us? The collective Dawg Pound supporters are just plain worn down from the constant negative news cycle surrounding this current regime, and the pain and suffering only seem to be compounding each week we watch the Browns lose, and Carson Wentz shred another NFL defense. The ineptitude is reaching an all-time high, and many supporters are already paying closer attention to what 2018 can produce than the rest of the season the Browns have left.
As we look at what has gone right, and what has gone wrong, let’s not forget this thing isn’t totally in shambles. There are some very redeemable parts of this organization, and some that even set up really well for the future. As the fate of the HBT and coaching staff run their course, we need to align to the fact that there is some talent here that can relay itself into future wins. Is 2017 a failure, sure. Is it an abject failure? That is more subjective, and I lean toward no. Let’s take a look at the players on the field only, and see how each group has performed in 2017 with a “best highlight” attached to make us feel better.
Now this area has been an abject failure. The Browns came into 2017 with DeShone Kizer, Cody Kessler, and Kevin Hogan manning the position. They tried to preach how it would work out. All we have seen is perhaps the worst performing group in modern NFL history. They have turned the ball over 17 times via interception and twice through fumbles. Kizer leads the group with 11 interceptions and Kevin Hogan has contributed five himself. Kessler not seeing more action in 2017 when those he competes with have performed so poorly speaks the the mystery that clouds the Browns quarterback position. Hue Jackson has made this group worse, and stunted the growth of two young quarterbacks. Somehow an F doesn’t seem low enough. But here’s the best throw we have seen all year! A Kevin Hogan touchdown ball to David Njoku against Baltimore in Week 2.
Running Back: C+
This is a generous grade, in large part because Duke Johnson has been so fantastic when given actual backfield opportunities. If it were not for Johnson this grade would be much worse because Isaiah Crowell has been a let down in every aspect of the position this year. Crowell leads the group with 351 yards and Kizer leads the group with just three rushing touchdowns. Crowell is averaging just 3.4 yards per carry and is regularly missing running lanes and responsibilities in pass protection. Duke is making his biggest impact in the passing game, currently leading the Browns in receptions and yards (yikes). Hue isn’t doing this group few favors, often abandoning the running game before it has a chance to get going, but Crowell’s issues can’t be ignored. Seeing some more of Matthew Dayes would be nice, but in reality, this team has to feed Duke Johnson as much as possible. Here’s a look at the mastery that Duke Johnson can make happen on a basic sweep, embarrassing the Colts in Week 3.
Wide Receiver: F
Another position of failure from the 2017 Browns. The rate of production from this group is beyond poor. Consider this:
Through 9 weeks Antonio Brown leads the NFL with 835 receiving yards. The ENTIRE Browns WR group has 845. Unfathomable.
— Jake Burns (@jake_burns18) November 6, 2017
In 2016 Terrell Pryor ended the year with 77 catches for 1,007 yards and four touchdowns. Outside of Pryor’s production the Browns didn’t have a receiver register more than 33 catches. Now consider that the Browns let Pryor walk, and replaced him with the vastly underwhelming Kenny Britt – who has a whopping 10 catches for 128 yards this year. Due to Britts poor play and another broken hand for Corey Coleman, the group features Ricardo Louis, Rashard Higgins, and signed practice squad player Bryce Treggs as it’s current depth chart occupants. To say this position needs a massive upgrade would be the ultimate understatement. The rest of the season won’t see much change in this department, but perhaps help is on the way? In the mean time, enjoy this lovely catch from Jordan Leslie in Week 2 against the Colts (before he saw his season end with an injury).
Tight End / Fullback: B
This group is one of the positives for the Browns this season. Danny Vitale is a respected I-Formation fullback who does a nice job when called upon, and can catch the ball out of the backfield off play-action schemes. We have seen the emergence of David Njoku into something of a legit threat in the passing game, coming in second in receptions and leading the team with three receiving touchdowns. Seth Devalve take the necessary steps into becoming that perfect #2 Tight End in the right system, and he is proving to be a nice compliment to Njoku. Randall Telfer has also been respectable filling out the position. The blocking has to improve from the group, especially Njoku and Telfer, when given the assignment in both the run game and when called on in pass protection. The Browns have to use Njoku more in the second half, as often times Njoku played less than 45% of the Browns offensive snaps in the first half. His continued growth will be something both vital to the Browns and fun to watch. For your viewing pleasure, let’s revisit this one-handed snag from Njoku in Week 5 against the Jets when he toasted Jets’ safety Jamal Adams.
Offensive Line: B+
The Browns invested heavily in this department, and for the most part, it has panned out. The first three weeks were about average for the group as it meshed together and worked through the scheme errors. Since then, they have come together nicely. Kevin Zeitler, Joel Bitonio and Joe Thomas have all performed well. Shon Coleman and JC Tretter have been up and down, but they have been effective. The Browns ranked 7th in the NFL according to PFF after week 5 with an average grade of 71.1 across their five lineman. They have only performed well since then. The Joe Thomas injury hurts, obviously, but Spencer Drango has performed adequately in his place. Although the numbers don’t look great for this group in terms of basic stats, this doesn’t play into Isaiah Crowell missing running lanes and the unbalanced play calling. Look for this group to keep being the rock we have come to expect of late as we work through the end of the 2017 season. Offensive line highlights aren’t always the easiest to find, but here’s a nice example of how your inside one system should work against the Vikings on this Crowell touchdown.
Defensive Line: A-
Another source of encouragement for the current Browns. Shashi and company have spent plenty of capital on the front four, and the results have shown up. Alongside the linebacker unit this group has allowed an NFL best 2.9 yards per carry in 2017. It’s great to see a Browns defense consistently contain the run – it’s been some time since we’ve been able to say that. Led by Myles Garrett, Emmanual Ogbah, Danny Shelton, Jamie Meder, Trevon Coley, Larry Ogunjobi, Carl Nassib, Nate Orchard, Caleb Brantley, TY McGill, this group has performed above what we could have expected. The rotations play well without any drop off, and it is a real area of strength for the Browns. The Browns currently rank 23rd in the league in sacks and 13 of their 16 have come from the defensive line. The pass rush will improve as Garrett gets to full strength and Ogbah keeps forming his craft. More pressure in the pass game will be needed from the front four in the second half of the season, and a healthy Garrett will hopefully show us that. The highlight of the first half up front, among many choices, was the effort from Myles Garrett against the Texans in Week 6. Garrett is going to be special.
Myles Garrett, folks.
-Gets rode like a Schwinn bike
-Still beats his man
-Draws a holding call
-Then gets up and hustles down field to contribute to the tackle
This man is going to be All World. pic.twitter.com/xK1iQH18zQ
— Jake Burns (@jake_burns18) October 16, 2017
The expectations were pretty high for a group returning Jamie Collins and Christian Kirksey. Joe Schobert was tabbed as the replacement for the departed Demario Davis as the MIKE linebacker. The results have been the opposite of what was expected.
Schobert leads the group with 71 total tackles, and Kirksey is close behind with 67. Much of the poor game analysis comes from the linebacker trio being a liability in pass coverage, especially when dealing with play action. James Burgess is the next in line, and has played for Collins when he dealt with concussion issues early in the season. Burgess has been below average as well, playing with weaknesses that limit him to playing all three downs. Overall, this group has to play better. Schobert has shown flashes of being that rangy MIKE linebacker that can play sideline to sideline but we need to see it more consistently. Collins and Kirksey just have to be better, and certainly more consistent with their effort. The lone turnover the group has produced is the highlight play. Schobert came up with this interception last week in London early against the Vikings. There need to be some more concrete highlights for this group in the second half of the season.
Finally, a position of strength. The Browns have four corner backs who are playing really great football. Jason McCourty, one of the front office’s great bargain transactions, has been rated as the second best corner back in the NFL when playing. McCourty leads the team with three interceptions. Jamar Taylor has been a beacon of consistency, rating well into the high 70’s on PFF, and riding through the ups and downs of life as NFL corner to show real value for this team. Briean Boddy-Calhoun has proven to be elite in his own right. Both in the slot and on the perimeter when called upon. Mix in young Mike Jordan and hopefully the return of Howard Wilson at some point and the Browns are set for 2018 at this position. Look for continued growth from Calhoun and Jordan in the second half. McCourty pick sixes will also be welcome as the Browns look for their first win.
The safety position group has been quite the whirlwind. The Browns brought in Jabrill Peppers to solidify the Strong Safety spot, only to see Derrick Kindred man the position in 2017, and at a really high level. Peppers played the first half of the season in Gregg Williams’ deep Free Safety position as a deterrent to opponent’s deep passing game, and at a position that would allow him to dissect and play fast. The opposite has happened. Peppers has continually looked lost, taken poor angles, and looked like a shell of the confident All-American we saw at Michigan last year. Peppers is rated in the bottom five safeties in all of football according to PFF. The FS position found some stability when Williams inserted Ibraheim Campbell in the deep safety spot, and showed some of skills needed to effectively fill the role. Where Peppers fits in long term is up in the air, but what improvement the Browns can get from him will be paramount in the second half to show his value going into 2018. For now, enjoy the elite presence Kindred has shown. This guy is going to be dangerous in run support and blitzing for years to come.
Special Teams: D+
Nothing great of note here. Zane Gonzalez has been inconsistent, going 7/11 on field goals and 12/13 on extra points. He is missing some makeable kicks, and making some difficult kicks. As up and down as he has been, I think Gonzalez will prove to be a quality NFL kicker once he settles in. Kick coverage has been solid, as there is nothing of note for the Browns in these areas, or major breakdowns to point out after the first punt of the season was blocked for a touchdown against Pittsburgh. Britton Colquitt ranks 10th in the NFL with a 42.2 NET punt average, and has done well pinning opponents and switch field position when needed. Colquitt is in the bottom third of kicks downed inside the opponents 20 yard line, but much of that is due to poor field position from the Browns offense. Peppers was brought in for his abilities in the return game, but he has been very quiet in that department, and in fact the Browns might have found their man for kickoffs last week as Matthew Dayes made the best return play of the year for this group’s highlight.
The Browns return to action this weekend in Detroit facing the 4-4 Lions.