Bye weeks in the NFL are normally used for regrouping not only the mind but the body as well. They’re normally used for allowing your players to relax and enjoy their first week without a game since early August.
But for the winless Cleveland Browns, this bye week should be used to figure out how to not carry the first half of the season into the second.
Yes, days off are needed, especially for a young team, but the Browns should be spending this time relaxing in front of a chalkboard or their iPads refining their play-calls and answering any questions these young players have.
If the winless Browns want to take the ‘winless’ part out of their name, here’s what they need to do to turn it around.
DeShone Kizer Needs to Play the Whole Game
First of all, this shouldn’t be a concern for an NFL team but here the Browns are having already replaced Kizer for either Hogan or Kessler in three games (Cincinnati, New York, Tennessee) and benching him altogether against Houston. The number one thing all winning teams in this league have is consistency not only at the quarterback position, but for the team as a whole.
Is Kizer going to struggle? Yes. But not every quarterback comes out of college and has a first half like Deshaun Watson did before his injury. Most year one starters come out of the gate slow, but continue to develop. Browns Head Coach Hue Jackson has not allowed for this.
What Jackson and Kizer need to work on this bye week is getting Kizer to understand when to throw the ball and when to throw the ball away. Eleven interceptions on the season is tied for the league lead heading into the bye week with only Carolina’s Cam Newton matching that number. The kicker here though is that Newton has thrown the ball 50 more times and has a completion percentage of 63.1% compared to Kizer’s 52.1%.
Arguments can be made for Kizer that he has no one to throw to, and that might very well be true. But just because his receivers can’t make plays doesn’t mean he needs to force balls to receivers that aren’t open. Playing the game from start to finish and allowing Kizer to look back at these throws on film will help him develop and learn what works best and what doesn’t.
Kizer completing a game may lead to more interceptions, but if anyone expects him to grow as a quarterback and if Jackson expects Kizer to come close to a franchise quarterback, which is why he drafted him as “his guy,” he needs to keep him in the game.
Players learn from mistakes and build on it, especially in their rookie year. What players don’t learn from is preparing all week to start and then getting benched at halftime in three straight starts because they turned the ball over.
Let Kizer develop, let him learn. Because if you don’t, it’s going to be the same quarterback carousel we’ve all seen since 1999 and another quarterback added to ‘the jersey.’
Duke Johnson Jr. Needs to be a Bigger Part of the Offense Going Forward
Johnson Jr. is by far the most explosive part of the offense and may be their only viable threat on the team besides Tight End David Njoku.
In the 2017 campaign, the most touches coming from either the air or on the ground came in weeks four and seven against Cincinnati and Tennessee with 13, both games Kizer was benched at halftime or shortly after.
During the game against the Bengals Johnson Jr. put up nine catches for 47 yards and rushed the ball four times for 13 yards averaging out to a nice 4.6 yards per touch. Against the Titans, Johnson Jr. caught six passes for 45 yards are rushed seven times for 26 yards, averaging out to 5.4 yards per touch.
Lead back Isaiah Crowell going into the bye week is averaging 3.4 yards per rush and 9.5 yards per catch, averaging out to 4.3 per touch on the season.
The numbers are the same as far as averages and that’s what the simple math tells you. But the difference between the averages is that Duke has a quarter of the rushes for half of Crowell’s yards and leads Crowell in receiving yards by almost double with 20 more catches.
Johnson Jr. is the playmaker. He’s the back that’s going to catch the ball out of the backfield, and with Joe Thomas out for the year with a torn triceps injury, that’s the kind of back of quarterback with defenders in his face needs. What a quarterback also needs is a guy you can throw to and expect plays from. Johnson Jr. is that guy.
If Cleveland wants to look remotely close to a competent offense, they include Duke in almost every play. That doesn’t mean they give him the ball every time, that just means Hue makes him an option.
Learn How to Focus for Sixty Minutes
Finally, Cleveland’s young group of players, both on offense and defense, need to figure out how to keep their head in the game for sixty minutes.
Whether it’s the coaching, preparation or a mix of both, it needs to happen.
This topic could go back to DeShone Kizer turning the ball over on 2nd and short instead of running the ball or when they do run the ball, Crowell or someone else turning it over close to the red-zone.
It could also go to the coaching, not playing to win but playing not to lose. Or it could go to the coaching for benching their starting quarterback four separate times forcing him to, already in his eight-game career, start looking over his shoulder waiting to get pulled.
The topic could also be given to the defense who gives up at least one big pass play a game because a defensive back loses their man and lets him run wild through the middle of the field.
When focus is the topic of discussion, we’ll look at the offense who ranks 31st in points and 26th in yards.
Cleveland’s turnover margin is at a -12 at this point in the season and they’re on pace for -24. Taking care of the ball plays into staying focused and keeping your head in the game from whistle to whistle.
When a team gives the ball away inside the 30-yard line as much as the Browns do, there’s nothing you can do but shake your head and wait for the defense to attempt to hold them to a field goal.
Yes, the team is young. That’s been covered. But these are still professional football players with coaches that aren’t new to the whole thing of coaching. Focus starts at the top and right now for whatever reason it’s not being drilled into their heads. Focus on the play ahead, make the smart decision and move onto the next one. An interception or fumble every now and then happens to every team in the league. But no team in football averages two-plus turnovers a game besides Denver and Cleveland, and Denver has the defense to make up for it, Cleveland does not.
So, will the bye week help? To keep it short, it can’t hurt.
If the coaches and players can take this season game-by-game, focus on the small victories, and continue their progression as an organization and football team, they might have a chance to scrub that ‘winless’ title that took them 15 weeks to wash away last year.
But until the draft and free agency, all we can do is wait.
Zach Harley is a freelancer from Parma, Ohio.