Previewing the opposition: Cleveland Browns

Heading into this season, the Browns and their bevy of talented youngsters were finally projected to start being competitive after several seasons in the cellar. In the last nine years, they'd only won more than five games once, but would surely soon start to reap the rewards of some pick-heavy draft classes, right?

Four weeks in and things don't seem to have changed much as they're 0-4 once again. Two of their losses - to the Steelers and Colts - were by just three points, although on each occasion they scored late to make it sound closer than it really was. The other two were comfortable losses, including a 31-7 loss to Cincinnati on Sunday.

The Jets went in to Cleveland and won 31-28 last year, although once again that was closer than it sounded because the Browns scored a touchdown with 12 seconds left. However, they gave the Jets plenty to handle early on, leading 20-7 at halftime.


The Browns opted to give the starting role to rookie Deshone Kizer but he's been struggling so far. He's thrown eight interceptions in four games and has struggled to anticipate and deal with pressure.

The Browns seem content to let Kizer go through his growing pains this year. Look for the Jets to try and exploit this by dropping players into the passing lanes to try and force him into a mistake. He has some good mobility, so they will also make containing him in the pocket a priority.

Kizer missed part of the Ravens game in week two and the Browns offense looked better than it otherwise has all season with Kevin Hogan temporarily at the helm. Hogan had a 100-yard rushing day last year, but he impressed in that game with some downfield passing.

In the loss to the Jets last year, it was actually Josh McCown who started, passing for 341 yards and two scores, but also two interceptions. Cody Kessler is currently the number three.

Offensive Line

The Browns' offensive line is quite impressive, although some of that is offset by Kizer's lack of poise in the pocket.

The Browns have invested a lot on their line, with only the Raiders spending more money on offensive line salaries this year. Four of their eight highest 2017 cap numbers comprise 80% of the starting line with Shon Coleman at right tackle the only one still on his rookie contract. Coleman is perhaps the weak link, especially in pass protection.

Joe Thomas is still one of the best left tackles in the NFL at 32 and the Browns signed former second round pick Joel Bitonio to a $47.5 million contract extension in March to shore up the left side of the line at guard. They then added veteran free agents Kevin Zeitler and JC Tretter to play right guard and center respectively during the offseason.

The bench includes Spencer Drango, who did a solid job in nine starts last season, mostly at left guard, although he can also play tackle. Back-up center Austin Reitler also made one start in 2016.

Running Backs

Isaiah Crowell fell just short of a thousand yard season last year, but did contribute seven rushing touchdowns and 40 receptions. However, he's struggling so far, averaging under three yards per carry in 2017.

Crowell's back-up, Duke Johnson, is the third down back and has already caught 20 passes, including nine last week. He's also averaging 5.7 yards per carry in limited touches. He showcased his pass-catching abilities against the Ravens with a one-handed catch on a deep throw.

Danny Vitale is the fullback, while rookie Matthew Dayes sees some action as the third running back.


The Browns passing game took a hit with the loss of Terrelle Pryor and Gary Barnidge, leaving them hoping some youngsters would step up. After a disappointing rookie year, Corey Coleman has already been placed on injured reserve, but they're hoping Rashard Higgins or Ricardo Louis will develop into their best young pass catcher.

Higgins was a fifth round pick last year but only played in three games due to injury. He had seven catches for 95 yards against the Ravens, but just two catches in the two games since then. Louis has 10 catches so far, along with a catch rate of over 60%.

Veterans Kenny Britt and Sammie Coates add experience to this unit, although Coates has been dealing with injuries and Britt has dropped four passes and has a catch rate below 40%. Britt is injured now, so Coates will probably take his spot in the rotation tomorrow.

At tight end, Randall Telfer is listed as the starter but Seth DeValve and first round rookie David Njoku have been getting more reps than him. Njoku isn't much of a blocker at this stage of his career, but could be a match-up nightmare and already has two touchdowns.

Defensive Line

The Browns look set to unveil first overall pick Myles Garrett tomorrow. The rookie is keen to make his NFL debut having suffered a high ankle sprain last month. If he makes an immediate impact like Joey Bosa did with the Chargers last season, that would instantly make the Browns defense a different proposition to deal with.

The Browns do already have a lot of young talent on their defensive line, though, beginning with Emmanuel Ogbah, who led them with 5.5 sacks last year and already has two strip sacks in 2017. Carl Nassib - a third rounder last year - is also listed as a starter, while former second rounder Nate Orchard comes off the bench.

Former first rounder Danny Shelton anchors the interior at nose tackle, although he missed the last game. The other starter is Trevor Coley, who didn't play at all last year as an undrafted rookie.

Jamie Meder is listed as a reserve, although he made 15 starts last year and started last week in place of Shelton. Rookie reserve Larry Ogunjobi has also made a good early impact against the run.


Despite losing Demario Davis, the Browns seem content with their linebacking unit but have been missing pro bowler Jamie Collins for the last few weeks and he looks set to miss tomorrow's game too.

Chris Kirksey, their leading tackler last year, and Joe Schobert, who made four starts last season as a rookie, have played every snap so far this season. Quarterbacks have a rating of over 130 when targeting either of them, though.

James Burgess, an undersized youngster, has been getting reps over the past few weeks.

Defensive Backs

The Browns lost veteran Joe Haden but were hoping signing Jason McCourty would help fill the void. So far, that's working out well, as McCourty is having a good season. Unfortunately, the other starter - Jamar Taylor - who was good last year, is off to a poor start, struggling particularly with TY Hilton in week three.

Briean Boddy-Calhoun, who tied Taylor and Haden for the team lead with three interceptions last year, gets plenty of playing time, including the bulk of the slot reps.

Rookie Jabrill Peppers has been starting at safety but has had some growing pains so far. He's paired with Derrick Kindred - a 2016 mid-round pick who beat out 2015 mid-round pick Ibraheim Campbell for the starting role.

Special Teams

The Browns drafted rookie Zane Gonzalez in the seventh round but he's only attempted three field goals so far, missing one. Punter Britton Colquitt is a solid veteran but he's had one blocked and gave up a 40-yard return last week.

Peppers is the primary punt and kick-off returner and he has had a 25-yard punt return but otherwise hasn't done much. Coates is listed as his back-up.

Finally, in kick coverage, Schobert led the team in tackles last year, but undrafted rookie BJ Bello is setting the pace so far in 2017.