Before the game kicked off I had a chance to speak once again with Chris Pokorny of Dawgs By Nature, SB Nations’ site for the Cleveland Browns. We both sent each other five questions, returning with five answers. This link will bring you to my answers for their questions.
1. The Browns are 0-9, are the whispers of a 0-16 season something that could be a reality?
I still keep telling myself that one of these weeks, Cleveland is going to face a team that is having an "off" day. We see it all the time in the NFL. With that said, I think a lot of fans have already accepted the fact that 0-16 is a real possibility at this point. I even asked my readers today if we even want the Browns to win a game at this point, if it'll cost us draft position. The general feeling is that people actually does want to club to get one win, even if it means sacrificing the No. 1 overall pick, so that fans aren't subjected to the having the team in the history books next to Detroit. If it happens, it'll have to be a shootout. Because of how poor the Browns' safeties are, I have no faith that Cleveland will be able to stop opposing teams.
2. Cody Kessler has impressed the past few weeks. Could this be a guy Cleveland can build around?
All things considered, Cody Kessler has been impressive enough to continue warranting more starts this season. However, his major weakness remains his downfield passing. It's one thing if the offense just can't get open or have the time to throw downfield, but it's another thing to see Kessler's downfield passes consistently be off on timing, or just not have a lot of zip on them. I really hope Kessler can improve upon that, because we're sick of trying to develop quarterback after quarterback in Cleveland, and he has a lot of other elements of his game down pat right now -- accuracy in the short passing game, good decision-making under pressure, and a good command of the offense in general.
3. The Browns are last in points against. Where are the defenses biggest weak points?
Free safety and strong safety. It's not often that you look at a team and say that the safety position is the main reason a team's defense completely falls apart, but that's the case with Cleveland. The past couple of years, they had Tashaun Gipson and Donte Whitner as their starters, with Jordan Poyer as the primary backup. This offseason, they let Gipson walk in free agency (they didn't want to pay him top dollar) and they cut Whitner as the roster shifted to younger players. Poyer stepped into one starting role, and the other starting role was split between two fourth-round picks -- one from 2015 (Ibraheim Campbell) and one from 2016 (Derrick Kindred). The results have been less than ideal. Poyer was the only shred of stability at one point, albeit at still a below average level, but he's on injured reserve now. That forced the team to take an undrafted free agent cornerback and thrust him into the starting free safety role. Last week, the team rotated four different safeties into the game, none of whom have much, if any, prior experience at the NFL level. I see no redeeming qualities from any of them -- they don't tackle well and they don't cover well. It's not like they blow a play here and there; it's evident throughout the entire game. Other teams aren't stupid -- it's the first thing they take advantage of. Heck, it's a big reason why Dennis Pitta had his best game of the season against Cleveland back in Week 2.
4. A slew of picks for the Browns last draft, which rookies have impressed thus far?
I already talked about quarterback Cody Kessler, so I won't bring him up again. A broken hand kept wide receiver Corey Coleman out a lot of games, but Baltimore Ravens fans got a taste of his breakout performance back in Week 2. He finally returned to action last week and the game still didn't seem too big for him. Unfortunately, none of the team's other three drafted receivers proved themselves worthy during Coleman's absence. Fourth-round pick Ricardo Louis had been given the biggest opportunity, but he squandered it by dropping too many passes (which was exactly what his weakness was in scouting reports heading into the draft). Second-round pick Emmanuel Ogbah has done a fair job -- nothing that I really wish to brag about, but I can see where his pass-rushing skills can come into play more if this defense as a whole gets better in the future. Other than that, the contributions have been minimal for the rookie class. Third-round pick Carl Nassib was a fan favorite in the preseason and got off to a solid start in Week 1, but he also suffered a broken hand. He returned to action fairly quickly, but just hasn't flashed the same grit since then and teams are taking advantage of him.
5. Last game was a nailbiter. What are you expecting this Thursday night?
The Browns have gotten off to excellent starts to games twice this season -- against Baltimore in Week 2, and against the New York Jets in Week 8. In both games, the offense fell flat in the second half and the defense couldn't get a stop. I'd like to wish that Cleveland can pull off an upset against a Ravens offense that is struggling a bit, but that's how little faith I have in the Browns' defense -- I'd be surprised if Baltimore couldn't put up 30 points. Given the Ravens' defensive prowess in general this season, it'd be surprising if Cleveland was able to have the same type of success that they did early on in Week 2. I'm projecting the Browns to fall to 0-10 in a game that isn't much of a nailbiter.