Cleveland Browns: Thumbs up, thumbs down at the halfway point

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

The Cleveland Browns are enjoying their bye week while sitting at 0-8. Here is what has gone right, and wrong, through the first half of the season.

The Cleveland Browns embark on a day off today as they (and their fans) are enjoying the bye week.

If there was ever a team that needed a break it is the Browns, who are sitting at 0-8 for the second consecutive season and are 1-23 since head coach Hue Jackson arrived to that manufactured standing ovation at team headquarters in Berea.

Jackson has told anyone who will listen that the fact that the Browns have even won one game is a miracle as the front office has created a roster filled with the worst talent ever assembled in the history of the NFL.

Those who have been paying attention, however, as well as those who are not intimated by smart people realize that is not the case. Since the beginning of 2016 the Browns have put a solid foundation in place and are poised for a transformational weekend at the 2018 NFL Draft.

The Browns have to make it through the final eight weeks of the season, and owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam have to come to their senses, before we hit the offseason, of course, so before the second half of the season kicks off, let’s take a look at what’s right and wrong with the Browns so far in the 2017 season.

Cleveland Browns
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

Thumbs up: Defensive end Myles Garrett continues to show why he was the No. 1 overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft. Garrett scored a sack on his very first play and has been disruptive every time he has been on the field.

For a team that “can’t draft,” Garrett is the type of difference maker than can help transform a franchise.

Thumbs down: That sack on his first play? It didn’t come until Week 5 as Garrett missed the first quarter of the season after suffering a high-ankle sprain in practice. He also missed last Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings with a concussion.

Injuries and going to happen, and there is no way to prevent against a concussion, but it has been disappointing that Garrett hasn’t been on the field more so far this season.

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Thumbs up: After being the league’s punching bag for longer than we care to remember, the Browns run defense is finally hitting back.

Cleveland is tops in the league as the Browns are giving up an average of just 2.9 yards per carry on the ground. The run defense also checks in at No. 5 in rushing yards as the Browns are allowing an average of 84.2 yards per game.

Those numbers will be tested in the second half as the Browns will face three teams in the Top 10 in rushing in the Jacksonville Jaguars, Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens, but it is hard not to like what the Browns are up in defending the run.

Thumbs down: Four of the Browns losses this year have come by just three points, including an overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans where the Browns had the ball twice in overtime, only to accumulate minus-10 yards of total offense.

Keeping the games close is good, but not being able to pull out a victory is a sign that this is a team that is still learning how not to lose as much as it is learning what it takes to win.

Those close losses mask the fact that Cleveland has given up 30 or more points in four of their last six games. The Browns are 27th in scoring defense as they are allowing an average of 25.2 points per game, and they trail only the San Francisco 49ers and Indianapolis Colts in point differential.

Some of that can be placed at the feet of the offense, but if the defense can’t keep the other team under 21 points there is no way the Browns are going to win.

Thumbs down: Garrett isn’t the only starter to miss time as injuries have ripped through the starting defense. Defensive tackle Danny Shelton, linebacker Jamie Collins, cornerback Jason McCourty and safety Jabrill Peppers have all missed games through the first half of the season.

If nothing else, the bye week should hopefully help everyone heal up for the second half of the season.

Cleveland Browns
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

Thumbs up: Quarterback DeShone Kizer’s moxie. The rookie quarterback should never have started the season as the starter, but you have to give him credit for giving it his best through three separate benchings and a head coach that has no idea how to work with a rookie quarterback.

Thumbs down: Quarterback DeShone Kizer’s actual play. He may not be getting all the help that he would like, but Kizer’s play has been nothing short of dreadful through the first half of the season.

Kizer is ranked 32nd in completion percentage, 32nd in yards per attempt, tied for 33rd in touchdown passes, leads the league in interceptions, and is 32nd in quarterback rating.

If anyone watches Kizer play and believes the Browns are not selecting a quarterback in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, then they need to start paying attention.

Thumbs up: The offensive line has bounced back from a rough 2016 season to be one of the league’s better units this season.

The return of left guard Joel Bitonio from injury, and the subtraction of center Cam Erving from the roster, would have been enough to earn a positive nod, but the Browns also added center C.J. Tretter and right guard Kevin Zeitler in free agency, which helped put the line back on track.

Right tackle Shon Coleman has also rewarded the team’s faith in him by holding down the right tackle slot after essentially spending his rookie season as a red shirt while recovering from a knee injury.

Cleveland Browns
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

Thumbs down: Left tackle Joe Thomas was lost to an injury during the Week 7 game against the Tennessee Titans.

After taking every offensive snap since being drafted in 2007, it was indeed strange not to see Thomas line up last Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.

Related: Browns reportedly give Joe Thomas a new deal

While there have been whispers that Thomas would consider retiring, the news came out on Saturday that the Browns have reworked Thomas’ contract to make him the league’s highest-paid lineman in 2018, so it looks like we will have at least one more season with Thomas anchoring the line.

Thumbs down: Running back Isaiah Crowell came into the season disgruntled because he could not work out a new contract with the Browns.

A lucrative payday following the season continues to look pretty remote for Crowell, however, as he has rushed for just 351 yards, averaged just 3.4 yards per carry and took until Week 8 to score his first rushing touchdown.

Crowell still has time to turn things around as the Browns will face four of the worst rush defenses in the second half a they still have the Jaguars (No. 32), Los Angeles Chargers (No. 31), Ravens (No. 30) and Green Bay Packers (No. 27) left on the schedule.

Cleveland Browns
BALTIMORE, MD – SEPTEMBER 17: Tight end David Njoku #85 of the Cleveland Browns celebrates his touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens in the second quarter at M&T Bank Stadium on September 17, 2017 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr /Getty Images) /

Thumbs up: Running back Duke Johnson and tight end David Njoku. During a season where the cries of “no playmakers” echo every time the Browns have the ball, Johnson and Njoku continue to make plays when given the opportunity.

Johnson leads the team in receptions and yards and has 500 yards of combined offense. Njoku leads the team in touchdown receptions, and Njoku and Johnson have combined to score six of Cleveland’s 13 offensive touchdowns. Add in tight end Seth DeValve, and three players have combined for more than half of the Browns touchdowns on offense.

Maybe the offensive coordinator should try getting them the ball more often.

Cleveland Browns
INDIANAPOLIS, IN – SEPTEMBER 24: Kenny Britt #18 of the Cleveland Browns catches a pass during the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 24, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

Thumbs down: Wide receiver Kenny Britt. Signed as a free agent over the summer, the deck was stacked against Britt because of the false narrative that the Browns “chose” him over wide receiver Terrelle Pryor.

Britt hasn’t done anything to quiet the noise, however, as he has been injured, ineffective, was sent home early from the road trip to Houston for violating curfew, and was extremely crabby about making the trip to London for the game against the Minnesota Vikings.

It wouldn’t come as a surprise if Britt was a healthy scratch the rest of the season and the Browns then moved on from him in the offseason. Of course, it should be noted that despite everything Britt still has as many touchdown receptions this season as Pryor does in Washington.

Cleveland Browns
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

Thumbs down: The Hue Jackson “Woe is Me” misinformation campaign. Just as he did in Oakland when things went south, head coach Hue Jackson is telling anyone who will listen that nothing is his fault.

Jackson has used his press conferences to push the myth that no one could win with a roster as void of talent as the current Browns, went behind the front office’s back to sell a trade for Cincinnati Bengals backup quarterback A.J. McCarron to the Haslams, and leveraged his friends in the media to let everyone know where Jackson believes the finger should be pointed.

The pro-Jackson PR campaign conveniently forgets that Jackson was on board with not drafting quarterback Carson Wentz, didn’t want quarterback Deshaun Watson, has mismanaged the quarterback position from day one, and continues to make questionable decisions during games on a weekly basis.

You have to give Jackson credit where it is due: he has fully grasped the first lesson of crisis communication, which is to get your message out first.

Where that ultimately leaves the Browns remains to be seen.

Thumbs down: The “blow it up again” crowd. We’ve all been through this before: the Browns struggle, the Haslams hit reset, and then two years later they repeat the process.

Everyone knew that the latest rebuild was going to take time and the idea of a “quick turnaround” is just nonsense. Yet, a year-and-a-half into it and people are ready to start all over again, especially when it comes to the front office.

Much of the hard work has already been done and with five draft picks in the first two rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft, the Browns have a chance to build on the solid foundation put in place the past two years and set the franchise up for success.

Why the people responsible for putting that all into place deserve to be thrown out because of things outside their control remains a mystery.

Next: Time to silence the quarterback whisperer

The Browns open the second half of the season next Sunday on the road against the Detroit Lions. It will be the first of what could be the final eight chances for Jackson and the front office to prove that they deserve to see this thing through to the end.

If the Haslams believe the same way is anyone’s guess.