“Hogwash,” you say. “The old Browns lost. These supposedly new Browns lost. They’re still the same ol’ Browns.”
But here’s the thing. That’s not true. The front office isn’t the same, the coaches aren’t the same, and the majority of the players aren’t the same. Moreover, the players aren’t old. The Browns 53-man roster is the second youngest in the NFL.
“We have seen new coaches before, and we have seen new quarterbacks,” you stubbornly allow, “but we never see anything on Sunday except the same ol’ Browns.”
There is a lot of validity to this point, which makes it difficult to argue with, so let me just do this–let me tell you what I saw this past Sunday in Philly: a lot of potential. And, difficult as it might seem, Browns fans (and you may need to remind me of this as my cynicism grows throughout the season) need to remember that this season is all about evaluating the new, young talent this team acquired during the offseason. This season is about the new, young Browns.
Joe Schobert (OLB), Emmanuel Ogbah (OLB), and Carl Nassib (DE) are all new and young. They are also all starting this coming week, and they all deserve it, especially Carl Nassib. All three players recorded batted passes and at least one tackle in their first NFL start. Nassib went above that, recording three tackles and his first NFL sack. Derrick Kindred is also new and young, and despite not starting, the rookie strong safety recorded six tackles in his NFL debut. But the numbers don’t really do justice to the amount of pressure the rookies on the Browns defense put on Carson Wentz. From Nassib on the edge to Kindred on the blitz, the pressure from the rookies, and the defense in general, was a noticeable improvement over last season. Unfortunately for the Browns (and potentially other teams this season), Wentz was able to get the ball out of his hands quickly and looked fearless in the face of pressure.
Danny Shelton is not new, but he is young. In Ray Horton’s new defensive scheme, the second year defensive tackle did a much better job of getting into the backfield to create pressure. He also looked much better defending the run, recording 4 tackles. I am excited to see whether Horton and his staff have truly unearthed the Danny Shelton the Browns drafted out of Washington last year. That dude is an exciting football player.
On offense, both starting wide receivers, Corey Coleman and Terrelle Pryor are new, at least to the wide receiver position, and both had phenomenal catches on Sunday. Coleman’s longest reception was 58 yards between three Philly defenders. Pryor’s longest reception was 44 yards over the top of a Philly defensive back. Both receivers looked great locating and securing deep passes. Adding Josh Gordon to this receiving corp could truly make it one of the most talented in the league.
Our young running backs also had decent games against Philly: Isaiah Crowell averaged 5.2 yards/carry, 8 yards/reception, and scored the Browns’ only touchdown. Duke Johnson continued to look fast and elusive with the ball in his hands. Frankly, it would have been nice to see the run game used more.
That said, one area where I hope to see improvement this coming Sunday is play calling. Our running backs, despite success with the ball, didn’t get to touch it enough, especially Johnson. And there were too many gimmicky plays called on offense that didn’t pay off: the first play of the Browns’ second possession when Pryor took the snap and handed it off to Crow for no gain; the reverse to Hawkins that was poorly blocked and lost yardage, and worst of all, the fake punt that failed miserably and led to a Philly field goal. Hue Jackson and his offensive staff have enough combined experience to do a better job than that.
And Tramon Williams and Joe Haden have enough combined experience to be better cornerbacks. Both were badly burned on touchdown plays, and Williams did a pretty awful job of managing punt returns. I am actually pretty surprised to see him starting in that role again this week. As members of the aforementioned and much deplored “same ol’ Browns,” these guys probably have the rest of this season to prove they deserve to start for the Browns. If they can’t, you can expect the Browns to draft cornerbacks next year the way they drafted wide receivers this year. (Then again, considering the Browns’ lack of depth at defensive back, you may see that anyway.)
Unfortunately, cornerback isn’t the only position where the Browns appear to be lacking talent. The right side of the offensive line did not have a good game. Pazstor was run over by Philly defenders several times during pass protection, and Greco was run over by his own RB in the second half because Crowell apparently grew tired of waiting for him to get out of the way. And, whether it was pressure from the right side, constantly being backed up against his own end zone, or something else, RGIII did not play well. Other than the two impressive passes to Coleman and Pryor, the majority of his passes were overthrown. Unfortunately for the Browns (or fortunately?), his broken shoulder will keep him out for most of the season. Hopefully McCown looks better this week.
And no, I have not forgotten about the bad snap and the safety. Yes, it was a really bad snap. And yes, it did seem to shift the entire momentum of the game. But Cameron Erving is talented, athletic, and young, and he was making his first NFL start at center. So I am choosing to be optimistic that we will see improvement from him as the season progresses. And like I said, that’s what this season is about–evaluating the new, young players on this team, figuring out what positions need addressed going into next season, and taking the first step away from being the same ol’ Browns.