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Behind Enemy Lines: An Inside Look at the Browns

Posted Oct 19, 2017

TitansOnline.com Senior Writer and Editor Jim Wyatt gives an inside look at the Cleveland Browns with Tony Grossi, who covers the Browns for ESPNCleveland.com, 850 WKNR & Fox SportsOhio. The Titans face the Browns on Sunday on Cleveland.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Titans face the Browns on Sunday in Cleveland.

The Titans are coming off a 36-22 win over the Indianapolis Colts, which evened the team’s record to 3-3.

The Browns are coming off a 33-17 loss to the Houston Texans, and they’re 0-6.

This week, I caught up with Tony Grossi, who covers the Browns for ESPNCleveland.com, 850 WKNR & Fox SportsOhio. You can follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi, and join over 115,000 others.

Some big news came out of Cleveland on Wednesday, as the team announced it is going back to DeShone Kizer at the quarterback position. Kevin Hogan replaced Kizer last week in Houston, but not Kizer is back in the saddle to face the Titans.

Here’s how our conversation went…

Wyatt: The Browns are 0-6, and now Kizer is back in at quarterback. So what’s been the problem?

Grossi: Well, they have been trying to develop their rookie quarterback from Day One in Kizer, but he has suffered the usual growing pains. He has turned the ball over in the red zone a lot – five times in five starts. He’s had four interceptions and a fumble. He is the lowest in the league in completion percentage, and lowest in passer rating. He’s also thrown nine interceptions. He was given the day off in Houston, but his replacement in Hogan, who has experience but was making his first NFL start, stepped in and threw three interceptions. He also grounded the ball in the end zone for a safety. So it was a disaster replacement job there. Now Kizer has been plagued by a really bad receiving corps. Corey Coleman, their best receiver, broke his hand in Game 2 and has been out since. And no one else has been of help to this rookie quarterback. The receiving corps has been counterproductive – dropped passes, penalties. There was a game against the Colts when they had four offensive pass interference penalties. They’ve had balls bounce off their hands for interceptions, and have been terrible. Meanwhile, the coach keeps dialing up the pass, and not played to the strengths of the team, which is the offensive line and could be the running game. But he just doesn’t dial it up enough.

Wyatt: How has defensive end Myles Garrett, the No.1 overall pick of the NFL Draft, been so far? And what are some of the positives?

Grossi: Garrett has come on. He missed the first four games with a high ankle sprain, but the last two games he’s been back, and on a pitch count. He’s played limited snaps, but he already has three sacks, he has tackles for loss, he’s drawn a holding penalty, he’s forced a quarterback into an interception and had two others that were dropped. He’s been a legitimate impact player, and he is getting closer to 100 percent each week. Cornerback Jason McCourty has been a positive. He had the first pick-6 of his career against Houston last week, and he leads the team with three interceptions. He’s taken over for the released Joe Haden as a starting quarterback, and he’s been a team leader.  Another positive has been the Gregg Williams defense. While it hasn’t had a major impact on the pass rush until Garrett got back, it has shown a big improvement in what has been a historical weakness, and that’s run defense. They’ve been very consistent against the run.

Wyatt: From what you’ve seen of Kizer, is he capable of stepping in and leading the Browns to some wins?

Grossi: Well, we’re going to find out. The coach was hoping some time off would allow him to see the game from a different perspective, and not feel like all the pressure is on him. But it remains to be seen if he comes back any better. Remember, the receivers haven’t been helping out a lot, and the play-calling hasn’t been helping him because they haven’t run the ball. Until they dedicate the offense to helping the rookie, he’s going to have a hard time. But he has what the Browns have not had at that position – a strong arm, a big body, but he is still learning the ropes. The other problem here he there is no real veteran quarterback for him to lean on. The Browns opened the season with three quarterbacks who have never won an NFL game, and that is still the case. They have three quarterbacks, and none of them – two second-year guys and a rookie – have never won a game.

Wyatt: You mentioned McCourty, a former Titan. So how’s another former Titan, Kenny Britt, doing so far with the Browns?

Grossi: Kenny Britt has been an absolute disappointment. He was signed to a four-year, $32 million deal. He was given the offer that Terrelle Pryor turned down, and he was going to be the No.2 wideout to Corey Coleman, and when Corey went down there was even more pressure on Kenny to provide leadership and production, and he has really failed on both. When he was in there, he dropped passes, had penalties, had balls deflected off him for interceptions. Now he has missed several games because of a hamstring injury.

Wyatt: Looking at the Browns results, I see they’ve lost three games by three points each. Their other three losses have come by at least two touchdowns. What do you expect to see from the Browns on Sunday?

Grossi: They are in danger of doing what the team did last year, and that’s get into the habit of losing. Last year’s team didn’t win a game until the 15th game, and this team has not shown consistent progress to convince me they are ready to win a game yet. And with the uncertainty at quarterback and the situation at wide receiver, if they are going to win a game it is going to have to be a super effort by the defense, producing turnovers and a short field for the offense, and contributions from the kicking game, and the kicking game has been a weakness most of the year. So to accommodate its struggling offense, those two parts of the team are going to have to save the day, and so far they haven’t.  

Wyatt: Lastly, what’s the patience level of the fan base in Cleveland?

Grossi: Well, it is very thin. There isn’t much patience. Everyone knew this was going to be kind of in a three-year rebuilding program, and they are in the second year of that with this regime, this coach and its front office, which relies more than any team on analytics to make decisions. They tore this team down, and made the team too young, in my opinion. The last two drafts they’ve passed on Carson Wentz for future draft picks, and they passed on DeShaun Watson for future draft picks, and people are fed up with that. They still have five picks next year in the first two rounds, so they haven’t completely blown their first two years, but they are 1-21 in those two years and that is the worst stretch in Browns history. Since 2016, the Browns have made 15 or 17 trades, somewhere in that range, and they have one win to show for it. So Browns fans are not too patient at this point. And unfortunately the Indians lost sooner than expected, and they were supposed to provide a nice cover for the rest of the month. The Cavs have started back, but Browns fans definitely aren’t happy and with how things have gone, that’s for sure.