This week the Colts face the Browns in what should be their toughest contest to date. Their defense will be tested, as will their offense. With myriad injuries, their depth and resilience are likely to be challenged as well. To get an inside view on what to expect from the matchup, I talked with Chris Pokorny of Dawgs By Nature to ask a few questions about the Browns team. Here’s what Chris had to say.
You can read my answers to his questions here.
The Browns have had a revolving door of head coaches, but are off to a good start this season with Kevin Stefanski. How are Browns fans feeling about the job he’s done so far?
Browns fans are over the moon right now. Other franchises may not be able to appreciate the level of ineptitude that Cleveland fans have had to witness, but this is the first time the team has begun a season 3-1 since the year 2001. That was the first year that I started paying attention to football when I was in middle school! Last year, the feeling was that the Browns had the personnel for this type of offense, but Freddie Kitchens ended up being a disastrous hire. I was behind hiring Kitchens because I was caught up in the potential he showed as a playcaller at the end of the 2018 season, but in 2019, it was clear that the jump from running backs coach to head coach was way too overwhelming for him.
Kevin Stefanski had a more natural rise through the ranking, and his offensive playcalling has fit the strengths of his personnel beautifully. Nick Chubb is obviously out for about a month now due to injury, but Stefanski found a great way to utilize both Chubb and Kareem Hunt behind the top-ranked run blocking offensive line in the NFL. Baker Mayfield’s efficiency has improved significantly through effective use of the playaction pass and timely designed rollouts to his left. The level of aggressiveness has been good in terms of in-game strategy, but the team also isn’t having the same dumb errors as last year (i.e. cheap shots or personal foul penalties left and right), indicating a much-improved level of discipline. The defense is cause for concern, but that area isn’t being attributed to a knock on Stefanski at all.
How has the rookie class for the Browns looked so far this season?
The Browns’ rookie class has been decent. The biggest selection was offensive tackle Jedrick Wills, the 10th overall pick of the draft. He played right tackle in college for a left-handed quarterback, but was taken to be the Browns’ starting left tackle. With the shortened offseason, there was some concern that he would get off to a really slow start with that type of transition, but he has held up quite well. For the lapses he’s had, he’s made up with it with his abilities. It doesn’t hurt that the rest of the Browns’ line is playing like Pro Bowlers too.
The team’s other key draft pick was supposed to be safety Grant Delpit, who was drafted in the second round. He suffered an Achilles’ injury in camp, though, and is out for the year. In terms of other draft picks, 3rd round defensive tackle Jordan Elliott has been good depth for the Browns up front, and is expected to make his first start this week with starter Larry Ogunjobi sidelined. Tight end Harrison Bryant, selected in the 4th round, is a good receiver, although he hasn’t received many targets. The surprising element of his game is that he’s been a solid blocking tight end.
If you were the Colts offensive coordinator, how would you go about attacking the Browns’ defense?
The Browns’ run defense is pretty solid, so don’t base the plan of attack on running the ball all game long when it is so easy to pass against this defense. From what I remember, Philip Rivers gets rid of the ball quickly, so that can help mitigate Cleveland’s pass rush. After that, take advantage of Cleveland’s linebackers and safeties — run crossing routes with receivers to get yards after the catch, and throw the quick hitters up the seams. The Browns’ outside cornerbacks aren’t bad in straight up man coverage on routes to the sideline or down the field. Pick up the tempo at times to keep Cleveland’s pass rush tired. And, most importantly, go after free safety Andrew Sendejo, because although he likes delivering big hits, he has been about two steps behind every play this year.
Who are the relatively unknown players for the Browns that Colts fans need to be on the lookout for?
The top player to be aware of is starting right guard Wyatt Teller. He was a 5th round pick by the Buffalo Bills in 2018. Seeing that Cleveland had issues at right guard in 2019, former general manager John Dorsey traded a 5th and 6th round pick to the Bills for him. Teller became the team’s starter in Week 9, and while he showed some potential, the assumption was that there would be a three-way competition for the starting right guard job in camp this year.
To everyone’s surprise, Teller showed up to camp having gained 15 pounds of lean muscle. Through four games, he has looked like an All-Pro player, and I’m not just saying that because I’m a Browns fan — through four weeks, Pro Football Focus has Teller ranked as the No. 1 guard in the NFL (and left guard Joel Bitonio isn’t too far behind him NFL). You can see a nice highlight reel of Teller’s effectiveness in blocking here.
It’s hard to pick other unknown players who are playing well, because everyone on Cleveland’s offense is a household name, and the defense has not played good.
If you could add one player from the Colts to the Browns roster, who would you take?
Cleveland really needs help at the linebacker and safety position — so even though he is out this week, I would take LB Darius Leonard. Note: I’d definitely love to have DeForest Buckner. However, this is a case where the Browns’ defensive line is currently the strength of the defense, so I would need to improve another area for the defense to get any better.