Two for Tuesday: Browns’ Execution and the No. 1 Overall Pick
After the holiday week, the Orange and Brown Report’s Brent Sobleski and Jared Mueller decided to argue with each other instead of family members.
What better way to relieve stress than a discussion about a winless NFL team?
The 0-12 Cleveland Browns are in the home stretch toward a “perfect” season. As such, the only two things to talk about this week are the coaching staff’s approach and what to do with the top pick in the 2017 NFL draft.
Let’s start in with the rest of the regular season before looking into the future…
Where could Ray Horton and Hue Jackson improve as play callers?
SOBO: When Hue Jackson assembled his staff, previous NFL experience abounded, particularly among his coordinators.
Ray Horton, Pep Hamilton and Kirby Wilson have spent 45 combined seasons at the professional level. Of course, Jackson, who calls the offensive plays, has been part of NFL staffs since the 2001 campaign.
Despite all of this experience, even they didn't appear prepared for the complete overhaul the Browns decided to undertake this fall. At times, flashes of good play manifested, but those have been far too fleeting.
For Jackson, he's dealt with a quarterback carousel and constantly rotating offensive line due to injuries. However, he still needs to concentrate on improving in three key areas.
First, the Browns need to be more creative on first down. The offense is often placed in 2nd-and-long situations and forced to play behind the chains.
Second, the running game cannot be abandoned. The Browns enjoyed some early-season success with a physical brand of football. Neither Isaiah Crowell nor Duke Johnson have eclipsed 50 yards since Week 7 against the Cincinnati Bengals--when rookie quarterback Kevin Hogan provided 104 rushing yards.
Finally, Jackson gets far too cute after big plays.
For example, a deep completion to Terrelle Pryor--as seen in Sunday's loss to the New York Giants--shouldn't be followed by a fullback screen being ran for the first time all season.
Horton, meanwhile, is aggressive by nature. Dick LeBeau served as his mentor for seven seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers before the assistant became a defensive coordinator.
That same aggressiveness hurts the Browns.
With such a young squad, the coordinator needs to scale back his scheme, and everyone saw him do so in recent weeks. Instead of always being aggressive, Horton should pick his spots to maximize effectiveness.
Less is more in this case.
JM: Horton was the whipping boy for many Browns fans early in the season but has since helped the defense, with a severe lack of overall talent, to look respectable. I still struggle with his 3rd and medium/long playing calling. His defense, with sending pressure and dropping others deep, often leaves wide open receivers on crossing routes and in the middle of the field.
The Browns are not able to get pressure and don't have much talent in the secondary. Horton's defense, especially how he is calling plays, requires pressure and players who can lock down in coverage but he continues to call plays as if he actually has that kind of talent.
When the team adds more talent next year, Horton can truly be judged.
As Sobo notes, the combination of going away from the run and getting too cute is problematic for Jackson. The offensive line, specifically Cam Erving and Austin Pastzor, struggle in pass protection but are okay to good in run blocking. Linemen like to move forward and feel like they are dominating but Jackson takes that away from them in most games.
Given his history with the Bengals, I have been shocked at the lack of WR screens and the amount of plays called for limited players, like the FB screen. Jackson, like Horton, seems like he is running plays as if he has talent that isn't there.
One other issue that has been frustrating has been which direction Jackson has run plays. He continues to run wide oriented plays to the short side of the field, where there is less room to work. Running those plays to the wide side of the field would give more room to get outside or cutback lanes.
All and all, while neither Horton or Jackson has impressed, there is hope they can develop with more talent added in the off-season but I'm not sold at this poing.
What player should the Browns select with the No. 1 overall pick in April's NFL draft?
JM: Myles Garrett is the best player in the upcoming NFL draft.
That said, the Cleveland Browns should draft whatever quarterback they have at the top of their list for the following reasons:
They have not had the No. 1 overall pick since the year after The Return.
They rarely, if ever, have had their choice of quarterbacks in the draft, usually picking from the third, fourth or fifth quarterback selected.
There are a few teams—San Francisco 49ers, New York Jets, Chicago Bears, Jacksonville Jaguars and Arizona Cardinals--possibly interested in a quarterback currently slotted between the Browns’ first draft pick and wherever the Eagles pick eventually falls.
There is very good depth on the defensive side of the ball in this draft, especially at positions of need (edge, defensive line, defensive back)
The Browns will have three more selection in the Top 50 picks to add impact players after taking a quarterback. (If they can't find impact players with those three picks, might not matter what they do at No. 1!)
Gambling the quarterback they want will be there with the Eagles pick, or in the second round, is quite risky.
They already have Robert Griffin III under contract for another season and Cody Kessler will be in his second season, which allows the team not to rush a rookie quarterback if he isn't ready.
Drafting a quarterback brings hope for the future, something to build around and can put their young weapons to use instead of wasting them.
If I'm the Cleveland Browns, I draft whichever quarterbacks Hue Jackson prefers between Deshaun Watson (my pick) and Mitch Trubisky.
What about you, Sobo?
There are two ways to develop a consistently successful team:
Consistent quarterback play
Make the opposing quarterback’s lives a living hell.
It’s quite simple. If a team can’t land the ever-elusive franchise signal-caller or one isn’t available, the best option is to develop a defensive front that will keep opponents up at nights.
The reigning Super Bowl champions, the Denver Broncos, are a perfect example. Peyton Manning no longer dominated in his final year. Manning gave his team just enough to win; a team built around a stifling defense.
Garrett is a monster.
Consider for a moment that’s he played his last seven collegiate games with a high-ankle sprain. Instead of sitting out and cruising into the draft process, he wanted to be on the field for his teammates. Clearly, his game suffered. The edge-rusher hasn’t been as explosive or productive. Yet, he’s made an impact every time he stepped onto the field.
Even hobbled, he ranks among Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded defenders.
At 6-6 and 260 pounds, he’s the prototype. When healthy, his flexibility off the edge and first-step quickness is exceptional. He’s already posted better broad and vertical jumps than Jadeveon Clowney during his predraft performance. And Garrett supposedly runs in the high 4.4-second 40-yard-dash range.
He’s productive, too. In three seasons, Garrett posted 144 total tackles, 48.5 tackles for loss, 32.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles.
His presence would create a ripple effect throughout the Browns’ entire defense. Emmanuel Ogbah would shift to his natural spot at left defensive end. Carl Nassib could be used at both end and 3-technique. The increased pressure will help a talent-deficient secondary. And Horton wouldn’t be forced to run dogs or blitzes to apply pressure on the quarterback.
Plus, there aren’t any questions about Garrett’s attitude or work ethic.
This addition would make the Browns defensive front very talented and immediately provide the team with a much-needed identity.
What’s not to like?
The only answer anyone can give is Garrett doesn’t play quarterback. But that doesn’t make the defensive end a consolation prize.
Even if Garrett isn’t the selection, Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Jonathan Allen is the only other option for a lot of the same reasons just listed.