Week Three Report: Five Questions for the Cleveland Browns
After two weeks, two losses and numerous injuries, it would be hard to say the Browns could be in a worse position right now. Robert Griffin III is done for another 9-11 weeks, who knows how long Josh McCown is going to miss, and now rookie receiver Corey Coleman is done for 4-6 weeks with a broken hand.
Coming up against the Dolphins this weekend, in what is likely one of the team’s few chances for a win this season, I ask the questions that are on the mind of many Browns’ fans heading into this weekend’s matchup.
1. What will Cody Kessler look like in his first career start?
This is much earlier than anyone in the Browns organization likely wanted to see Cody Kessler on the field, but such is life on a team with the top two quarterbacks down. The fear is that Kessler is still that same rookie who ran himself out of the endzone in the preseason, and quite frankly, there’s no reason to think he isn’t.
What should be the biggest concern of the team though is that Kessler, behind an incredibly weak offensive line that will be going up against a dominant front seven, will be the third quarterback in three games to be injured. That Charlie Whitehurst could become the team’s 27 starter since ’99, and their sixth in six games.
All-in-all, I anticipate Kessler to hold his own. While there will likely be a heavy emphasis on the run game, and even with the loss of Coleman, he still has weapons to throw to. As long as he can avoid pointless turnovers or safety’s, there’s no reason he couldn’t play a part in helping this team to a victory.
2. What does the loss of Corey Coleman mean for the team?
This one hurts. Really hurts. The Browns spent their first round pick on Coleman hoping he would turn out to give them the deadly target they have longed for, and until he broke his hand Wednesday he was impressing in his first two games of the season. He had two of the team’s three total touchdowns this season, both coming last week against the Ravens.
This means Terrelle Pryor will likely take his spot, and start alongside Andrew Hawkins. Thankfully though, the team drafted three other receivers this year, and will have still have rookies Ricardo Louis, Rashard Higgins and Jordan Payton behind those two.
Losing your top receiver is never going to help a team, but it shouldn’t hurt as bad as it might seem it would. Pryor has shown quick improvement and acclimation to receiver, and despite his rough start to the year, Hawkins prove a viable option offensively. Cleveland has a depth a receiver that they have not had in a long time, and while the loss of Coleman along with the already suspended Josh Gordon will not win them any extra games, it shouldn’t lose them anymore either.
3. The run defense has proven the more effect aspect of the defense through the first two weeks, how long can that be expected to continue?
Since Ray Horton’s initial departure from Cleveland after the 2013 season, the Browns’ run defense went from one of the best in the league, to one of the worst during the Pettine era. Through his first two games back in Cleveland, it appears he brought his defensive prowess back with him, as Cleveland has given up only 106.5 yards per game on the ground, 20 yards better than their total average last year, and 40 better than in 2014, good enough for the 17th best run defense, and 19th best overall defense at this point.
That success should likely continue this week as the Dolphins lead back Arian Foster, will miss this Sunday’s game, leaving Jay Ajayi and Kenyon Drake in a running back by committee type system this weekend. Moving forward though, with games against teams with strong rushing games, this will be something to keep a close eye on, especially while impressive rookie Carl Nassib is out with a broken hand.
4. Is Joe Haden “back” after his two interception game last week?
Before this season, a lot of questions were being thrown around about whether Joe Haden was still one of the game’s best cornerbacks like he used to be, and with good reason. Haden has been plagued by injuries in recent years, and when he was on the field, his production was taking a big hit.
Last week against Baltimore, Haden secured two interceptions, and nearly had a third that was just barely dropped. That then begs the question, is Joe Haden “back” to his high-level status he used to hold after this impressive performance? The answer is absolutely yes… for now.
Granted it’s just two games, but the way Haden has played in the first two games of this season made him look like a brand new player. The only caveat remains the same thing that was mentioned earlier: his health.
Should Haden remain healthy and continue at this pace, his name will likely begin to be thrown around with the likes of Patrick Patterson, Josh Norman and Richard Sherman again. To do that though, Haden would have to jump over the injury hurdle that has followed him his whole career.
So yes, two weeks into the season, Joe Haden looks like the Joe Haden of year’s past. Let’s hold off on calling him a Pro Bowler just yet, but he is a much needed bright spot a defense and team that needs as much light as they can get.
5. Can the Browns go down to Miami and walk away victorious?
I wish nothing more than that I could say that Cleveland will win this game. Looking at their schedule this is genuinely one of, if not their best chance to win a game this season. It will be the youth this team is emphasizing, in addition to their myriad of injuries that will be their downfall this week.
Cody Kessler will be feeling the pressure all day from the Dolphins d-line led by Ndamukong Suh, which will also put a sizable damper on the running game. Defensively, the loss of Carl Nassib will truly be seen, and unless Haden has another multi-interception game, the Dolphins receiver are too talented to be kept quiet all day.
The Browns can hope to keep this one close, but in Cody Kessler’s Browns debut, Cleveland will drop to 0-3, and inch one week closer to a top-five draft pick.
Score Prediction - Miami Dolphins: 35, Cleveland Browns: 20