The final road game for the Ravens is today against the Cleveland Browns. An important game, though it doesn’t feel like it, as the Ravens are in a full-blown race for the wildcard. But before I put the cart before the horse, I sat down with the Managing Editor of Dawgs By Nature, Chris Pokorny, to talk Browns football.
1. Josh Gordon is back, and somehow he hasn't missed a step in the three years he's been absent. How big is he for the Browns offense?
His return has been amazing. Granted, he hasn't had an off-the-chart game statistically in his two appearances, but he's passed the eye test and is by far the most threatening offensive player on the Browns. You get the sense that he's a threat to score a touchdown every play. Last week, the Packers got away with 2-3 pass interference penalties against Gordon, one of which would've been a touchdown and the other of which could've been as well. Why didn't the officials call it? Beats me -- we all know officials make bad calls for all 32 teams in the league each week.
2. Are the Browns still 100% committed to DeShone Kizer?
They're 100% committed to him for these final three games, but not beyond that. The general assumption in Cleveland is that the team will add a "veteran" to start next season, between either Alex Smith, Kirk Cousins, or A.J. McCarron. If they add Smith or McCarron, they'd also likely draft one of the top quarterbacks with one of their two first round picks. Kizer has made some progress, but we've seen a fairly large sample size of him now and his ability to come through in the clutch at the end of a game just isn't there. I understand that it's rough to judge such a young quarterback on a rookie season, but with all the losing this team has done, Hue Jackson will want a "win now" guy in 2018 just to steer the ship toward a winning path.
3. The Browns run defense is ranked sixth in the league, how are they doing so well against the run in particular?
I'd attribute it to the now-former front office hitting right on re-building the defensive line this offseason. The team drafted Larry Ogunjobi and Caleb Brantley, and found an unknown player in Trevon Coley. The shift to the 4-3 defense has surprisingly worked well for former first round pick Danny Shelton. The Browns make a lot of mistakes on defense in coverage, but they've managed to set the edge pretty well all season, so I guess Gregg Williams has that going for him.
4. Who are two players (one offense, one defense) Ravens fans should watch for on the Browns? Why?
On offense, they should watch out for running back Isaiah Crowell. Over his past six games, he’s averaging 5.2 yards per carry. Last week was his first 100+ yard rushing effort of the season, and he’s not wearing down. He's also in a contract year, so there's no doubt he's motivated to pile up the stats and not throw in the towel despite the team's winless record. On defense, they should watch for cornerback Jason McCourty. After being ranked one of the top two cornerbacks by PFF for most of the season, over the past three weeks, he's basically been one of the worst. If Baltimore needs to go after someone, it might be wise to test the veteran's confidence again.
5. This season has clearly been rough on Cleveland fans. How can this season be used as a building block to something greater?
It really sucks that the wins aren't coming, and I think a lot of that is a big-time indictment toward head coach Hue Jackson. There is no way this team should be winless with the personnel they have. I'd take the Browns' roster, cap space, and draft assets in 2018 over quite a few other teams' situations heading into 2018, so I'm not burying my head in the sand. We know the future is going to be bright one of these years, but it is frustrating that the team can't execute at least a few wins to make us happy in the mean time.