Baltimore Beatdown: The Browns started Jason Campbell last week and I thought he did a pretty good job all things considered. Do you think Campbell has it in him to get the offense rolling similarly to how Brian Hoyer did?
Christopher Pokorny: Knowing full well that we are working with a very small sample size here, my answer is 'yes' — I think Jason Campbell can get our offense rolling similarly to what Brian Hoyer was achieving. It's not about me feeling Campbell is some secret gem we found late in his career, but rather the fact that he is someone other than Brandon Weeden. Right now, quarterbacks other than Weeden have looked very competent in our offense — suddenly the sacks disappear, we are able to convert third downs, and our top receiving weapons are getting the ball thrown to them.
Even against the top-ranked Chiefs defense last week, Campbell had an excellent internal clock of knowing when to release the ball before any significant pressure got to him, and most of his passes were on target. I was pleasantly surprised with Campbell's mobility, too. If he can keep up what he did against the Chiefs last week, our quarterback position might at least be somewhat stable for the rest of the season.
BB: The Ravens and Browns historically have been two run-first teams. This year both aspects of both offenses have been non-existent. Have you seen any improvement that the casual observer wouldn't notice in this area? Or do you think the Browns will or should continue to air it out more?
CP: The Browns' run blocking is very inconsistent, especially early in games. On top of that, even though Willis McGahee probably knows where to find a hole better than Trent Richardson, McGahee has no burst at this stage of his career - he's not going to be able to evade any defender who gets penetration in the backfield.
Cleveland's best runs have been on end-arounds to wide receivers. The Browns' running backs do have a trend of ripping off two 10-yard runs in a row later in the game when defenses start respecting the passing game a little bit more. While I'd like to see more success against the run, Cleveland is better off being a pass-first team right now, because that is our best chance of moving the ball and our pass protection seems to be improving.
BB: This question is rather obvious but how big has it been to have Josh Gordon back in the lineup. Baltimore got to go against a Browns team without Gordon in Week 2 but will now see him this time around. What kind of matchup issues do you think he presents?
CP: I thought teams were going to double team Josh Gordon a lot when he came back, but that actually hasn't been the case. That plays to Cleveland's advantage for two reasons — when our quarterbacks (other than Weeden) see that, they feel confident pre-snap that they can air it out deep to Gordon. Gordon has already turned a lot of defenders inside out with his route running skills to create separation. He's not just a deep threat either — he executes screens, quick slants, out routes, dig routes, etc. very well (in that sense, I'd call him the anti-Mike Wallace).
BB: We're now nine weeks into the season so you probably have a good read on each of the team's players. How do you think Paul Kruger has fared and has he lived up to the big offseason contract?
CP: Unfortunately, the way the NFL works is that a player like Paul Kruger, who showed some promise for one year in Baltimore, is going to get paid the big bucks when they become a free agent. My initial feelings when we signed Kruger was that he was significantly overrated — he could be a good situational pass rusher, but hadn't proven he could produce at an every-down rate.
Half-way through the season, I would say that Kruger has been nowhere near a bust, but has been rather average, considering the contract he was given. He has been getting a lot of hurries on quarterbacks (23), but only has two sacks and four quarterback hits. I think the underrated aspect is that he has actually helped a lot with Cleveland's run defense. Overall, I'm not disappointed with Kruger's output to date, but I'm certainly hoping that he turns it up a notch during the second half of the season, starting with this Sunday's game against the Ravens.
BB: Now that you've had plenty of time to reflect on the Trent Richardson trade, what's your view of it now?
CP: I thought it was definitely the right move when it first happened; it seemed like the Browns were fleecing the Indianapolis Colts. I couldn't believe that Cleveland could recoup a first-round pick for a player who had run with such poor vision like Richardson.
The Browns really haven't been able to sustain their running game this year, but that has nothing to do with not having Richardson and more to do with the issues I described earlier (poor run blocking and McGahee not having any burst left in him). The Browns will certainly be looking for an upgrade at running back in 2014, but that doesn't mean a high draft pick — we can use that extra first-round pick on bigger needs like a quarterback or a top-ranked defender.