The Cleveland Browns finished the preseason undefeated in the standings and for some people this was a sign of good things to come. Winning four meaningless games, in which starters never play a full 60, somehow brought upon heightened expectations for a single win team just one season ago. I apologize to those who got fooled, but don’t feel bad, I also fell susceptible to hope and belief. I wasn’t thinking playoffs, but at the same time, I wasn’t thinking about the potential of another winless season.
Now, we are 12 weeks into the season and the Browns appear to be a lock for the first overall draft pick as they remain without a victory. Any fan could tell you that this is a rebuilding process with a young offense, so struggles were expected. DeShone Kizer has experienced extreme highs and lows, being everything but consistent. After playing a decent game against Pittsburgh in the home opener, he turned around and threw three interceptions and lost a fumble versus the Ravens. The offense played well against the Colts if you exclude Kizer’s three second half interceptions. The offense struggled for the next two games, that is until Kizer was benched for Kevin Hogan and he seemed to spark the offense. Enough to at least earn the start against Houston.
Ever since the rookie was benched, he has played better minus the Tennessee game. He passed for 232 yards and registered a career high 73.6 QBR versus Detroit. Kizer struggled against Jacksonville, but hey, they’re the best defense in the league right now and we could have won that game. He bounced back in the rematch against the Bengals as he passed for a career-high 268 yards.
Now it’s no coincidence that Kizer has played well when the running game is going. Against Minnesota, Isaiah Crowell racked up 64 yards on 11 touches and Duke Johnson added 33 yards on six carries. The offense looked good until they got pass heavy in the second half. The same thing happened against the Detroit Lions. The game was tied at 24 when Cleveland started leaning more on the air attack even when Cody Kessler had to replace an injured Kizer. Crowell finished with 16 carries and 90 yards while Johnson registered 54 yards on 10 carries.
Earlier in the season, the big question was why Crowell and Johnson weren’t being used enough? The flow of the game is part of it. It’s tough to commit to the run when you fall behind early and often as the Browns do. However, things seem to be getting greener on the other side. Over the past four games, Cleveland has averaged 133.8 rushing yards. This type of production has a positive impact on the offense, opening up more plays downfield in the passing game.
If you compile the improving ground attack with the return of Corey Coleman, the offense has looks more fluid. It’s no secret that the Browns wanted to get Crowell and Johnson more involved and that has been more apparent, but it also appears they want to get Coleman more involved. The receiver has caught nine passes for 144 yards since his return to the field. Kizer has actively been looking to get his go-to guy the ball. That is what good quarterbacks do and now another option is returning. Josh Gordon is expected to play on Sunday and this is potentially great news. No one knows exactly how Gordon’s 2017 debut will play out, but even him being on the field will make defenses game plan for him. More attention on our receivers will alleviate the pressure off the running backs.
Now, I’m not saying that Cleveland has an intimidating offense just because of Josh Gordon, but it just seems like things are starting to fall in place. The cogs in the run game are churning, the rookie quarterback appears to be settling down and our top two receivers are back and healthy. I don’t expect the offensive ranks to shoot to the top on the league, but there is potential for more improvement. Cleveland has a tough task ahead of them as they travel to Los Angeles to take on the Chargers who have three defensive touchdowns in their past two contests.
Good Luck Cleveland and remember to protect the ball.
Follow the author: @CST_Max_Gold