We know the Cleveland Browns are 0-11. What, though, do we REALLY know about the New York Giants’ opponent this Sunday? Let’s find out more about Cleveland from Chris Pokorny of SB Nation’s Dawgs By Nature, who answered our “Five Questions” this week.
Ed: It's been a miserable year for the Browns, of course. Did you see this coming or was there optimism the team was on the right path when the year began?
Chris: Typically, every year a lot of fans will fantasize about the Browns being a surprise team that could contend for the playoffs. With the magnitude of the rebuild that was put into place this past offseason, though, even the most optimistic Browns fan wasn't thinking about contending. We knew there were a lot of talent deficiencies on defense, and that the quarterback position remained a question mark as always. There was a lot of optimism about the Browns' offense, though, due to the wide receiver corps. Terrelle Pryor had a fantastic camp and preseason, Corey Coleman was the team's first-round pick, and Josh Gordon was set to finally return after countless suspensions. The feeling was that even if the Browns' defense sucked, with three No. 1-caliber receivers and a good receiving tight end (Gary Barnidge), Cleveland would be a fun offense to watch and could compete in some shootouts.
Unfortunately, Coleman broke his hand during practice before Week 3, and then right before Gordon's suspension was set to be lifted in Week 5, he decided to enter rehab. As this was going on, the offensive line started to get banged up, and the losses just kept on mounting. So, I think our optimism about the offense and the receivers was warranted, and at that point, I wouldn't have thought the Browns would be winless heading into Week 12. But, looking at the overall picture, we knew the wins would not be plentiful in 2016, and that knowing whether this club was on the "right path" or not couldn't really be evaluated until the 2017 NFL Draft, where Cleveland has set themselves up to be the most loaded team in the league by far when it comes to early draft picks.
Ed: Thoughts on Hue Jackson. Could he be one-and-done as Cleveland head coach or do you think the franchise will give him time to try and get the team pointed in a winning direction?
Chris: There's no chance he'll be a one-and-done. I've said this a few times to blogs that have asked us this question: although the losing is painful and frustrating, Hue Jackson (and the team's front office) really entered this season with the rarity of a "free pass." In other words, this current group of coaches and front office personnel were basically given permission to tear down the team to set the franchise up for an infusion of promising young talent in 2017 and 2018. I think Jackson did a lot of good work in his one year as the Raiders' head coach, and in the years he was the Bengals' offensive coordinator. I don't think you just deteriorate into a bad coach overnight. It's been a rough season for the club, but everyone wants to see how he coaches this roster when it actually has a respectable amount of talent on it.
Ed: We know about Terrelle Pryor, Joe Thomas, Joe Haden, Danny Shelton and Jamie Collins. Are there a few young players who have shown the potential to be good players for the Browns beyond this season?
Chris: Not really, and that's part of the problem. The confidence is there that wide receiver Corey Coleman will be a good player, but he only recently came back from his broken hand, and he came back to an offense that was really struggling with other issues (no running game any more, pass protection issues, quarterbacks not confident). Running back Duke Johnson, who is in his second year, is a very good receiving back, which is a bit of a niche role. Left guard Joel Bitonio is on injured reserve, but he's a Pro Bowl-caliber player who is in his third year. On defense, inside linebacker Christian Kirksey has shown some nice growth each season he's been in the league since 2014. This is his first year as a full-time starter, and he's responded by being the league-leader in tackles. The upside with Kirksey is that year-to-year growth, but the downside is that I still see him as a bit of an average player. He does his job well enough, but doesn't make the type of impact plays that makes me think he could ever be a Pro Bowl or All-Pro type of player.
Ed: If you could pick one player from the Giants NOT NAMED ODELL BECKHAM JR. and put him in the Browns' starting lineup who would it be? Why?
Chris: Without question, I would pick Landon Collins. The Browns gutted their safety position this offseason by not re-signing Tashaun Gipson and by cutting Donte Whitner. Their third safety from a year ago, who became a starter this year, has been on injured reserve for awhile. Cleveland made no real effort to address the position in the offseason, which basically left them with unproven mid-round draft picks or undrafted free agents at the position. The results were not pleasant. For the majority of games this season, I've believed that the safety play has been so bad that it's the single reason the Browns' defense has struggled as much as it has. They can't cover tight ends, don't offer the correct help or are ten steps behind on long passes, miss tackles, and are just out of position in general. The Browns have gone back-and-forth with four different safeties in recent weeks, and over the past two weeks, one of the guys, Ed Reynolds, has at least shown a shred of stability. If you insert Collins into the defense, though, so many things can change (for the better) with his play-making ability.
Ed: We have seen some Browns' fans actually rooting for 0-16 and planning a commemorative parade if that happens. I don't care how bad any team I have ever cared about has been, I can't stomach fans rooting for their team to lose. What's the feeling at DBN and where do you stand on the whole "lose games/get a higher draft pick" thing?
Chris: The parade idea is stupid, but I also think that it's a bit tongue in cheek. With respect to 0-16, I've never rooted for tanking, and I still won't call for the Browns to lose. However, every week, I write a post that discusses the benefits of the Browns losing for draft position purposes. We've already been spoiled with a Cavs Championship this year, so a winless Browns season isn't going to hurt this city's pride as much as it would have without that. Do we really want to see the 49ers picking No. 1 overall instead because Cleveland pulled off one meaningless win in a dreadful season? That would be way more painful actually finishing 0-16. We'd like the best of both worlds: for the 49ers to pick up another win or two soon, so that the Browns can get a win without us having to worry about how it impacts the draft. Either way, it's a position that I wouldn't wish on any other teams' fan base ... well, except the Steelers' or Ravens.