DeShone Kizer battling history and Steelers on opening day
By Thomas Moore
Cleveland Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer will be taking on recent history as well as the Pittsburgh Steelers in his professional debut.
The Cleveland Browns head into Sunday’s season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers with rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer in the starter’s role.
When Kizer takes the field he will become the 27th different quarterback to start a game for the Browns since 1999, and the first rookie to open the season as the starter since Brandon Weeden in 2012.
Kizer will also be the 10th quarterback that the Browns have drafted since 1999 who will start a game for the team, with none of the previous nine having won their debut.
Here is a recap of how those quarterbacks performed in their first game as starters:
- Tim Couch, who the Browns selected with the first overall selection of the 1999 NFL Draft, made his first start in Week 2 of that season. Couch finished the game 12-of-24 for 134 yards and a touchdown pass, but was sacked seven times and only led the Browns to 173 yards of total offense as the Browns lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars, 26-9.
- Spergon Wynn took on the Jaguars on Dec. 3, 2000, in what turned into a historic disaster for the Browns, as Wynn led the offense to just 53 total yards and a franchise-record minus-nine yards of passing. Wynn finished the day five-of-16 for 17 yards, helping to explain how the offense only achieved two first downs and never crossed midfield during the 48-0 loss.
- Luke McCown was the starter Dec. 5, 2004, as the Browns faced the New England Patriots. The Browns lost that day, 42-15, but McCown actually had a decent game, finishing 20-of-34 for 277 yards and a pair of touchdown passes to Antonio Bryant. The good was offset by McCown having two of Cleveland’s four turnovers.
- Charlie Frye took his turn on Dec. 4, 2005, against the Jaguars. Frye finished the game 13-of-20 for 226 yards and the two touchdowns, but took five sacks as the Browns had just 39 yards of total offense in the second half on the way to a 20-14 loss.
- Brady Quinn received his first start in a nationally televised game against the Denver Broncos on Nov. 6, 2008. Quinn ended the night completing 23-of-35 passes for 239 yards and the two touchdown passes while leading the offense to almost 400 yards of offense. But it wasn’t enough as the Broncos scored 21 points in the first quarter to hand the Browns a 34-30 defeat.
- Colt McCoy grabbed everyone’s attention when he made his debut on Oct. 17, 2010, against the Pittsburgh Steelers. McCoy completed 23-of-33 passes for 281 yards that day, but also threw two interceptions and was sacked six times while only leading the Browns to 10 points.
- Brandon Weeden was the opening-day starter on Sept. 9, 2012, against the Philadelphia Eagles. He celebrated by throwing four interceptions, leading the Browns offense to just over 200 total yards, and finishing the game with a passer rating of 5.1 as Cleveland lost 17-16 to the Eagles.
- Johnny Manziel set the standard for pathetic quarterback play when he made his starting debut on Dec. 14, 2014, against the Cincinnati Bengals. Manziel finished the game just 10-of-18 for 80 yards with two interceptions and three sacks. The Browns were just one-of-10 on third down, only had five first downs all game – two of them came on penalties – and amassed 107 yards of total offense.
- Cody Kessler almost broke streak against the Miami Dolphins in a Week 3 start in 2016. Kessler finished 21-of-33 for 244 yards, but took three sacks and was done in by three Cody Parkey missed field goals in an overtime loss.
So the bar for Kizer, at least in terms of rookies making their first starts for the Browns, is pretty low, so he has that going for him.
But the fact that he is facing the Steelers makes Sunday’s task more difficult as the Steelers like nothing more than facing a rookie quarterback.
Since 2004, according to ESPN (and updated by us), the Steelers are 18-3 against rookie quarterbacks (with Weeden being one of the rookie quarterbacks to beat them), have posted 64 sacks in those 21 games, have allowed an average of 174 passing yards, and picked off 23 passes.
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So that sounds like Kizer is in for a rough day at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Kizer does have a few things in his favor, however, that some previous Browns rookies did not.
First off, he has the comfort of playing behind what should be one of the league’s best offensive lines – as long as left guard Joel Bitonio and right tackle Shon Coleman hold up. Having a line that keeps the opposing defense at bay should go a long way toward making Kizer feel more comfortable.
Working in tandem with the offensive line is a running game that should be very effective, especially with running back Isaiah Crowell working for a new contract.
Kizer also has a rebuilt defense backing him up. Stopping the Steelers from scoring at will for a change will make it that much easier for head coach Hue Jackson to keep calling running plays and take the pressure off of Kizer.
The best think that Kizer has going for him is that he is not those other quarterbacks. He is going to struggle this year as all rookies do, but this is a different Browns team, with a different mindset, that is slowly but surely coming together.
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That might not be enough for the team to pull out a win on Sunday, but when you look at where the Browns have been with rookie quarterbacks since 1999, it is clear that the hope for a better day may finally have some reality tied to it.