Browns Bits: Are We Being Too Hard on Cody Kessler?

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Time takes time. There are no shortcuts and it’s not a race. Forget about speed, and instead worry if the Cleveland Browns front office is getting it right.

For too long, the Browns have been bad at being a bad football team and are just now succeeding at being the worst. For too long, the Browns have won just enough games to not get the top pick in the draft, sometimes even playing their way out of the Top 5 with a few meaningless wins, for players who would soon be cut, traded or just allowed to leave along with the coach, who won just enough to lose his job.

For the Cleveland Browns to get good they had to get really bad first, and judging by what is the product on the field, they have arrived.

The front office could have tried to improve in the offseason, after hiring Hue Jackson to be the head coach, by adding a few players in free agency and using their draft picks to further bolster the roster, which seems like a much more pleasant option in hindsight, but the Browns would have been stuck where they always are. Stuck with four to six wins in a season. Stuck with stop-gap players, caretaker quarterbacks and short-term coaches with long-term plans. Stuck with players chosen by former GMs for former coaches with different schemes. Just stuck.

Instead, the Browns demolished the ramshackle, rotted and decayed foundations laid on top of each other by previous GMs.

They gutted the roster of overpriced players that were underperforming and cleared spots for younger and hungrier players with something to prove. Meanwhile, they used their draft picks on players they thought they could develop. This was an excellent theory that was immediately strained by the excessive amount of injuries the Cleveland Browns have suffered this season. Basically, that overpriced talent that was cut and the players that were allowed to leave in free agency were a protective a layer of depth that the already talent-shallow Browns lost. The injuries merely exposed the inexperience and lack of depth throughout the Browns roster.

“Cody has done some good things, too. Maybe, we’ve been a little too harsh on him that way.”

Have We Been Too Hard on Cody Kessler?

Recently, Jackson has come under fire for benching rookie Cody Kessler for failing to throw the ball downfield. And some, even Jackson himself, have questioned if he was being too tough on the rookie. It seems like Jackson is quite aware of his roster limitations; weak offensive line, lack of depth/talent at receiver and a spotty running game. With this group of players, Jackson is starting Kessler, who was supposed to “redshirt” for at least a year in the system as he worked on readying himself for the NFL.

The Browns offensive line has Joe Thomas, an injured Joel Bitonio and not much else. Of the wide receivers, Terrelle Pryor has been the only one noticeable on the field for weeks while waiting for Corey Coleman to return from his hand injury.

To combat Kessler’s inexperience and the aforementioned problems, Jackson tried to protect Kessler with motion and bunch formations, by moving the pocket and trying to emphasize the run to help relieve some pressure on the rookie by giving him space and time to throw.

Now here’s where it gets tricky. Kessler’s refusal to throw the ball downfield has caused defenses to bunch up on the line of scrimmage, bumping receivers off their routes, changing timing and the location of the route, while not worrying about the deep ball that never comes.

In essence, Kessler’s play has undone all the time and space that Jackson’s formations have given him. The side effect is that it kills the run game when the whole defense is at the line of scrimmage, and once the opposing defense knows that Kessler has to throw, well he might as well wear a target instead of a jersey behind that offensive line.

One of the easiest ways to fall into bad habits is to keep making the same mistake. Chewing your nails, smoking, any habit takes repetition to form. The longer it goes unnoticed and unchecked, the sooner it takes hold.

Here’s Kessler saying “I need to throw the ball downfield and I will” to Jackson. Then, Kessler goes out and refuses to throw the ball downfield. As much as the Browns are steamrolling to 0–16 with a win seeming harder with every game, the same can be said for Kessler throwing downfield. As every game wore on and he continually refused to throw the ball farther than 10 to 15-yard range, it started to develop into a habit.

That is one of the reasons I believe Kessler was benched a few weeks ago. It was Jackson’s way of saying “don’t tell me what I want to hear, play the way we practice.”

We Don’t Need to Hear From Jimmy

As far as this recent movement of wanting to hear from Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, I fail to understand any good that can come from a Haslam interview. Should he lambaste the team and coaching staff for awful results, he’d look like a crazy owner that shouldn’t have signed off on a rebuild in the first place.

Do you want him to say Jackson and the staff are all safe? Why? If they are safe, he should tell them and owes nothing to the press. Should Haslam say “this isn’t working, next year the Browns are starting over,” what possible good could come from Haslam (a non-football player, non-talent evaluator, only an owner) coming out for a press conference? Nothing. Not one thing. The only thing to come from a Haslam interview will not be clarity, but criticism.

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David is a talented writer who has been covering the Browns for a few years now. He is a contributor to CSZ, and also writes for BrownsBeat.com and EverybodyHatesCleveland.com.

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