Had the pleasure of speaking with Executive Editor, Chris Pokorny, the past couple days, as we shared questions and responses about our respective teams. Below, you’ll find Chris’ thoughts about Week 1, Week 2, their quarterback and their first overall pick!
1. The Browns put up a fight against the Steelers. Do you believe it was due to all AFC North teams competing well with one another, or are the Browns a competitive squad this season?
Cleveland is competitive this season because of their defense. It's weird to say that because for much of last season, the Browns' defense looked historically bad with not much optimism in sight. The team was able to retain outside linebacker Jamie Collins, extended outside linebacker Christian Kirksey, draft two defensive studs in the first round (defensive end Myles Garrett and safety Jabrill Peppers), and miraculously watched a lackluster fourth-round pick from a year ago (middle linebacker Joe Schobert) all of a sudden look like an All-Pro type of player.
Tying everything together is new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who changed the team to a 4-3 defense and is getting a lot better usage out of his personnel. Last week's defensive effort only built off of what the team did all preseason, when they allowed one touchdown in four games. Not having Garrett hurts the team's pass rush in the short-team, but the Browns' defense will keep them competitive in more than half of their games.
2. DeShone Kizer is the man under center this season. Does he have the tools to becoming a starting quarterback in the NFL? Is he a part of the Browns future?
Fans have endeared themselves to DeShone Kizer, including myself. Despite missing out on a lot of opportunities last week against the Steelers, there is still a great sense of optimism about Kizer's future and that is because people believe in the tools he has. He has the size to actually take some hits, can add some mobility when the time is right, and has displayed the ability to push the ball deep when teams bring pressure.
We're willing to accept the fact that he's going to have rookie mistakes, in part because it's better than being frustrated watching Cody Kessler throw the ball no more than three yards downfield every play, or watching the departed Brock Osweiler continue to disappoint. For example, last week, Kizer threw what ended up being a terrible interception to Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt. If that was Kessler or Osweiler, they would've been killed by Browns fans. Kizer gets a pass, and will continue to do so. There exists a quiet confidence that his decision-making will get quicker, and he'll start hitting some of the downfield passes he's been overthrowing by a foot or two before long.
3. Multiple players have been injured for the Browns the past few days, the biggest names being Myles Garrett and Kevin Zeitler. Do you believe either will play? How big of a loss are they?
Myles Garrett is definitely ruled out. He had a fantastic camp and preseason, looking every bit like a No. 1 overall pick and then some. When he was injured leading up to Week 1, it crushed Browns fans because he is by far the team's best pass-rushing threat, which can trigger a trickle down effect on the rest of the defense (i.e. better coverage in the secondary, easier pursuit by linebackers, etc). Although the Browns' pass rush was poor in Week 1, it's a testament to the team's overall defensive improvements that they were able to hold the Steelers' offense in check. Kevin Zeitler underwent a thumb procedure this week, but is expected to start at right guard. He should be wearing some form of a cast on his arm to support the thumb, but your guess is as good as mine on how that will impact his play.
4. What is the Browns identity on offense?
The identity is supposed to be the running game, even though it didn't work out that way in Week 1. Cleveland made Kevin Zeitler the highest-paid guard in football this offseason, snatching him from the Cincinnati Bengals (one of the reasons they are in bad shape now). They also extended the contract of left guard Joel Bitonio, making him one of the highest-paid guards in football. Center J.C. Tretter was signed as a promising free agent from the Green Bay Packers. And everyone should know about Joe Thomas at left tackle, who has made 10 straight Pro Bowls and is four snaps away from 10,000 consecutive snaps to begin his career. The problem is that all five linemen did not play together during the preseason, so the chemistry isn't quite there yet. I don't know if things will click as soon as this week's game, but when it does, Cleveland's running game should take off and take less responsibility off the shoulders of DeShone Kizer.
5. Where do the Browns matchup well with the Ravens? Where do the Ravens matchup well with the Browns?
The Ravens got their running game going a little in Week 1, but Cleveland did a tremendous job stuffing Pittsburgh's running game, assisted by the athleticism of their three starting linebackers and their defensive line play. The Ravens' best match-up should come with their safeties, Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson, going up against a rookie quarterback in coverage. An honorable mention goes to defensive tackle Brandon Williams against center J.C. Tretter. Tretter is more of an athletic center and not one who can hold his own against more powerful tackles.