CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – When the Browns surprised everyone by selecting USC quarterback Cody Kessler 93rd overall in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft head coach Hue Jackson asked to be trusted on the move.
Kessler continues to validate that trust by playing well and exceeding expectations but Jackson’s decision to go for 2 with 2:05 left on the clock and down 9 raised a few questions as the team dropped to 0-6, the worst start to a season for the franchise since an 0-7 beginning in 1999.
After Pryor caught his second touchdown of the day late in the fourth quarter, Jackson elected to go for the 2 to try to make it a 7 point game rather than kick the PAT to ensure a 1-score game and an 8-point deficit. The conversion attempt failed and the Browns remained down 9 and in need of 2 more offensive possessions to tie or win the game in 2:05 instead of needing just 1 possession to force overtime.
The odds against recovering 2 onside kicks or getting a defensive stop, then scoring a touchdown followed by recovering another onside kick and scoring again in 2:05 are slim to none.
Jackson’s argument is that the Browns needed a 2-point conversion regardless, but failing to convert essentially sealed their fate instead of keeping hope alive. If there was more time on the clock than 2:05, then Jackson’s decision to go for 2 would not have had dire consequences.
The Browns actually recovered the first onside kick, and had Jackson gone for 1, the drive that ended with Duke Johnson’s TD with :27 seconds to play would have set up the 2-point try to force OT. Instead, it was a moot point because they still needed an additional possession they didn’t get after failing to recover a second straight onside kick.
As for Kessler, he is not the reason the Browns are 0-6. Their defense, special teams, inconsistent balance offensively and penalties are.
The Browns were flagged 11 more times for 69 yards.
Kessler turned in another fine performance that saw him complete 26 of 41 passes for 336 yards and a pair of touchdowns to receiver Terrelle Pryor in the 28-26 loss to the Titans in Tennessee.
Despite being sacked 6 times and hit numerous other times by Titan defenders, Kessler hung tough all afternoon. He overcame a few drops from rookie receiver Ricardo Louis, who still caught 5 of 9 targets for 65 yards, as well as adverse field position all afternoon that saw the Browns start 5 drives inside their own 20 and 3 inside their own 10.
Kessler extended several plays by buying time with his feet and making perfect throws down field, something we haven’t seen a lot of in his first 3 starts. The highlight throw saw him move to his right to buy time before he tossed a perfectly thrown ball to Louis, who helped turn it into a 42 yard gain.
Pryor caught 9 of 13 targets for 75 yards including touchdown catches of 7 and 5 yards.
The Browns run game was non-existent for a second straight week. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota out-rushed the Browns with his first carry that came on the first play of the game – 41 yards. Isaiah Crowell netted 16 yards on 9 carries while Duke Johnson, who scored the last TD of the day with 27 seconds left, finished with 18 yards.
Cameron Erving struggled mightily in his return to center after missing 3 games with a bruised lung. The Browns need to consider moving him to tackle. Contrary to what Jackson said a few weeks ago, Erving, who is listed at 6 foot 5 and 313 pounds, is too big for the position and it shows. Maybe Jackson is sticking up for and showing faith in Erving, but for Cam to succeed in the NFL, it won’t be at center. The Browns have gotten better center play from Austin Reiter, who is on IR but played very well less than 2 weeks after being signed from Washington’s practice squad, and John Greco.
Conversely nose tackle Danny Shelton had arguably his best game as a Brown. Shelton swarmed the ball and was in the backfield regularly. He finished with 5 tackles and his first career NFL sack. Unfortunately there wasn’t much else defensively outside of an interception by Tramon Williams.
For the fourth time in 6 games the Browns defense surrendered over 400 yards in total offense as Mariota carved the secondary for 284 yards and 3 touchdowns.