Cleveland Browns Pregame Scribbles: A test for Hue Jackson’s coaching — Terry Pluto (photos)
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Scribbles in my notebook as the Cleveland Browns prepare to face the Minnesota Vikings this morning in London:
1. This game could be a test of Hue Jackson’s leadership. I’m not talking about the results. The 5-2 Minnesota Vikings are a heavy favorite to beat the 0-7 Browns. But in the three games in London this season, the average margin of victory has been 30 points.
2. Here are the scores of the first three London games: Rams 33-0 over Arizona, Saints 20-0 over Miami, and Jacksonville 43-7 over Baltimore.
3. The results of those games reveals one team is interested in playing, the other mentally checked out over the Atlantic Ocean. How will the Browns react? Will this game be over before halftime? Kenny Britt wasn’t the only Browns player complaining about the trip. The Browns had to leave their 5-star resort hotel for a while early in the morning because of a gas leak.
4. The excuses and obstacles are in place: The Browns are without star left tackle Joe Thomas (triceps surgery), Myles Garrett (concussion), Jason McCourty (ankle). Some others may be out, but those are three of the Browns best players. Add in the flight to London and few guys acting as if they traveled by sailboat, and this game could be a real mess.
5. Garrett has played only three games. According to Profootballfocus, he has four sacks, two other quarterbacks hits and six quarterback hurries in 65 pass rushing snaps. That’s outstanding. With Garrett out, it is time for Carl Nassib and/or Nate Orchard to make an impact. Both were drafted as pass-rushers, neither has done much. Orchard is in his third season, Nassib is a second-year player.
6. Spencer Drango takes over for Thomas at left tackle. He will face Everson Griffin, who has nine sacks for the Vikings. The Browns must give him some help with a tight end or H-back doing some blocking.
7. The Vikings are without star rookie running back Dalvin Cook (knee surgery). They are starting Case Keenum, their third-string quarterback. He is 3-2 as a starter with the Vikings, five TDs compared to two interceptions. He is a game-manager type.
8. Former Browns head coach Pat Shurmur (2011-12) has done an excellent job as Minnesota’s offensive coordinator. He was hired in 2016 when Teddy Bridgewater was supposed to start at quarterback, but Bridgewater suffered a major knee injury and he’s still out. The Viking brought in Sam Bradford, and they were 7-8 with him as a starter last season.
9. Bradford played in two games this year, both wins. Then he was injured. That led to Keenum taking over. His career record was 9-15 before being 3-2 this season. Shurmur has adapted his offense to the different players.
10. I wrote about the pressure that Jackson is feeling. DeShone Kizer told the media something I never heard before from an NFL quarterback. He said one of his goals was to “Doing whatever I can to complete the game.” Yikes! I don’t blame him. He has been pulled from his last two starts. But that reflects the rookie’s mindset along with Jackson’s handling of the quarterback situation.
11. How about the coaching staff doing a better job on offense early in the game. In the six games started by Kizer, the Browns have had one first down in their first series. Chris Pokorny (Dawgs by Nature) broke it all down … it’s ugly. Isaiah Crowell has carried the ball 13 times for 27 yards. Kizer is 0-for-3 passing. There is some other bad stuff.
12. Even bad teams usually have something ready early in the game to score some points. The Browns have only 10 points in the first quarter. They scored a TD in the opener against Pittsburgh. They kicked a field goal in Houston. That’s it. They have been outscored 34-10 in the first quarter.
13. The Browns do need to run the ball to keep pressure off Kizer. But Minnesota has allowed only one rush TD this season. The Browns have only four rushing TDs this season, and two belong to Kizer.
14. Crowell is having a miserable season with 287 yards in 91 carries — a 3.2 average. The Browns longest run by anyone is 19 yards by Duke Johnson. The running game has been one of the biggest disappointments this season.
15. There has been some discussion of Shon Coleman perhaps playing some left tackle. He did so in training camp and the preseason when Joe Thomas was resting. Coleman has been starting at right tackle.
16. Coleman was a left tackle at Auburn. But a lot of NFL offensive linemen played left tackle in college because it is the most demanding position. Drango was a left tackle at Baylor, although he has played mostly guard in the NFL. Left guard Joel Bitonio was an outstanding left tackle at Nevada.
17. Bitonio has been a guard for all four of his NFL seasons. Probably not smart to move him. The Browns would prefer Drango to show he can do a decent job for the rest of the year at left tackle.
18. Coleman has started at right tackle. He has been flagged for eight penalties this season. That’s the second most in the NFL. David Njoku has four penalties. No other Browns player has more than three.
19. In the 12-9 overtime loss to Tennessee, the Browns were flagged for 12 penalties. Six of them were either false starts or offsides, the dreaded pre-snap penalties.
20. My prediction: Minnesota 20, Browns 10. My record is 5-2.