It's hard enough keeping up with your tea, let alone the 31 other teams in the National Football League. That's why we have our 'Surveying the Enemy' series, giving you all of the knowledge you need to know about the opponent. This week's author was Chris Pokorny, Managing Editor of Dawgs By Nature. His answers were great and thorough.
For my responses to his questions, check it out on Dawgs By Nature.
1. If you could place any Ravens' player on the Browns roster, who would it be?
I'm going to set a ground rule that I can't pick the quarterback, because that is too easy of an answer for a team that has been seeking a franchise quarterback since 1999. I almost went with Marshal Yanda, but the Browns already have too much invested in their offensive line, and have first-round pick Cameron Erving waiting in the wings at right guard. Therefore, I had to look at the defensive side of the ball, specifically at inside linebacker C.J. Mosley.
Presently, the Browns rely on Karlos Dansby at one of the inside linebacker positions and then a platoon of Craig Robertson and Christian Kirksey at the other position. Dansby isn't getting any younger, and neither Robertson nor Kirksey will overwhelm the opposition with their play. Mosley looks to be one of the young, up-and-coming inside linebackers in the NFL, and it'd be great to have him aggressively pursue ballcarriers behind nose tackle Danny Shelton.
2. The Browns' backfield situation is confusing as can be. Can you help us clarify what exactly is going on and tell us who carries the rock this Sunday?
Cleveland entered training camp with Terrance West, Isaiah Crowell, and Duke Johnson. West was the team's leading rusher last year, but had major attitude and work ethic issues. It was a case where I knew the Browns' coaching staff would love to just have him out of the equation, but I didn't think they'd actually pull the trigger and trade him prior to Week 1.
During training camp, the Browns desperately wanted Johnson, a rookie third-round pick, to win the job. A hamstring injury kept him out the first several weeks of camp, but when he was finally healthy leading up to the team's third preseason game (the dress rehearsal), he started with the first-teamers ahead of the other backs. Unfortunately, a concussion set him back again, so Crowell pretty much won the job by default. With Johnson missing so much time, he had a hard time find his groove during the first few weeks of the regular season.
Crowell has been the team's lead running back more times than not, but if the offensive line doesn't create a pretty nice hole for him, he usually just starts stumbling and gets the minimum yardage. If the hole is there and he can build up a head of steam, look out. Johnson's elusiveness has been great the past two weeks, and last year, all of the "he's a fantastic receiver" hype we heard about Johnson all offseason was finally on display during a regular season game and it was glorious. I think Crowell will be used in more first- and second-down packages, with Johnson playing on third downs or when the team wants to go hurry-up.
3. Tashaun Gipson is out for the Browns. How are you feeling about the secondary this Sunday?
Forget about Gipson being out -- the secondary as a whole has been disappointing. The play of both safeties in particular has been pretty bad, with Donte Whitner taking wrong angles and missing tackles and Gipson being a non-factor. Joe Haden typically gets off to a slow start to the season, but the fact that he basically had zero impact plays in three games was puzzling. Veteran Tramon Williams has been the most stable player in the secondary, but he was supposed to be a veteran joining an elite unit, not a veteran who is the best player in the secondary with nothing more than slightly-above-average-play. I'm worried about the secondary because of how poorly they've played for one quarter of the season so far, but in the back of my head I know that at some point, this unit is just too talented (based on their past accolades) to keep struggling.
4. The Browns made a big splash in the draft this year, taking five top prospects in the first 100 selections. Danny Shelton, Cameron Erving, Nate Orchard, Duke Johnson, and Xavier Cooper all headlined Cleveland's class this year. Can you appraise us on how some of these young players are doing?
Danny Shelton has seen the most playing time. He looked like an absolute monster in training camp and the preseason, which made Browns fans believe he'd be a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate. Through four games, he hasn't struggled, but nothing has jumped out at the screen that you'd expect to see from a Top-10 draft pick. It's still early in his career, so nobody is thinking "bust" -- we'll just have to be a little more patient than we were hoping for.
Cameron Erving is only playing about three snaps per game as a sixth offensive lineman in goal line situations. He was unable to beat right guard John Greco in camp, as the team worked him out at several positions in camp. Some are wondering if the Browns expect center Alex Mack to opt out next year and for Erving to take over his spot.
Nate Orchard began the year with a back injury. He's played the past couple of games in a backup role, but has not done anything of significance. I talked about Duke Johnson earlier, and by the end of the year, I'm sure he will have made the biggest impact of our rookie class. Xavier Cooper was drafted to be a pass-rushing defensive tackle, but has also seen very limited snaps and was even inactive for the first two weeks.
5. The Browns and Ravens both hold the same record right now. Obviously, this is going to change. Do you expect the Browns, or the Ravens to climb up from the bottom of the AFC North?
If Ben Roethlisberger is out for another month or so, I think both the Browns and the Ravens could surpass them briefly before falling behind again once Roethlisberger returns. The Bengals seem to be well-in-command of the AFC North, and based on the start, I think Baltimore and Cleveland will each finish below-.500, with the Ravens finishing in front of them.