The Tampa Bay Buccaneers play the Cleveland Browns tonight, which means it’s time for another Questions With The Enemy installment. So we talked to Chris Pokorny of Dawgs By Nature about the Browns and tonight’s game.
1. What can we expect of DeShone Kizer, and will he win the starting job?
For all intents and purposes, DeShone Kizer has already won the starting job. As far as what to expect, one of his strengths compared to the other quarterbacks is the threat of the read-option, something that fits in with Cleveland's mentality of being a run-heavy team in 2017 to make up for their lack of talent at the receiver position. Kizer has made several good throws against the blitz when his receivers have been left in one-on-one match-ups.
When it comes to weaknesses, there have been a couple of plays in which he's taken too long to get the team out of the huddle and to the line of scrimmage. He's also held on to the ball too long a few times, leading to sacks. There are a lot of little things that will make you think he's not quite ready, but the potential he's shown out-weighs the best that the other quarterbacks on the roster can be (Cody Kessler and Brock Osweiler).
2. The Browns defense has looked pretty good in preseason. What's the secret to their success, and will they continue to look good against the Bucs?
I'd pin the drastic change on three people: defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and first-round picks Myles Garrett and Jabrill Peppers. Cleveland's 3-4 defense had been stale for so long, always lacking the proper personnel or impact players. Cleveland drafted two high-impact defensive players in the first round, and Williams has completely refreshed the team's defensive scheme.
They'll mostly operate out of nickel, having four down linemen instead of three. Garrett looks every-bit-the-part of a first overall pick -- the amount of times he will generate a pass rush will help everyone in coverage, and his teammates if teams start to double team him. On top of that, Garrett's run defense has been solid so far, which is something no one really talked about when he came out of college.
3. The Browns had three first-round picks this year. How have they looked so far?
I already touched on Myles Garrett in the previous question, but I'll expand a little more on his training camp work. From Day 1, he's been the ultimate professional and has a demeanor as if he's a long-time veteran in this league who shows up for work committed to doing everything possible to being the best player on the field. Most of training camp, our star left tackle, Joe Thomas, has rested because he's earned that luxury as a future Hall of Famer. Garrett has gone up against our rookie tackle, Rod Johnson, and a backup tackle, Cameron Erving, and has constantly dismantled both either around the edge, via a bull-rush, or with a little spin to the inside.
Jabrill Peppers' finest work this preseason has been as a punt returner. Maybe it's because opponents' special teams units aren't fully polished during the preseason, but the guy is ripping off 30-yard returns every time he touches the ball. Defensively, he worked his way into the first-team defense. The overall impression is that he'll have a multi-purpose role on defense, which seems to change week-to-week. One week, he's worked in the box. The next week, he's worked as the deep safety. His instincts are his best asset.
David Njoku has been the only semi-disappointing player, if you're comparing the three players. Early in camp, he had a one-week stretch that was filled with dropped passes or being stripped of the ball by defenders. Then, he tweaked his back, keeping him out of the first preseason game. He made his debut last week, logging one catch. There's no doubt about his speed and athletic ability, but for a team that is lacking other star-power at tight end, the coaching staff is clearly sending a message by not having him as the everydown tight end at this point. They are not souring on him at all; he's just not quite where he needs to be to play like the high-impact player we thought he'd be right off the bat.
4. Any under-the-radar Browns we should keep an eye on in this game?
The Browns cut veteran defensive lineman Desmond Bryant this week, and it's because this young, unknown defensive tackle named Trevon Coley has had a very impressive camp. He could end up starting in Week 1, and I only had his roster odds of making the team at 25% before the start of camp. The other player to look at is also on defense -- middle linebacker Joe Schobert. He was a fourth-round draft pick in 2016 who never really made much of an impact as an outside linebacker. In 2017, he's shed about 15-20 pounds and is finishing plays left and right. Middle linebacker won't be an everydown position in Cleveland's defense, but he's making the case that it should be.
5. Can you give us a season prediction for the Bucs and Browns?
I always hate making season predictions in terms of records, so I'll speak more in generalities: Cleveland's defense and offensive line have drastically improved, and I feel confident that those two factors will keep them in just about every game they play this season. Quarterback play will probably keep them from reaching contender status, but the team could meddle in that 6-to-7 win range. As for the Buccaneers, I haven't followed their offseason too much this year, but my impression is that they're a rising defensive team and that Jameis Winston in his third season should be ready for even bigger-and-better things.