NFL1000 Week 5 Notebook: Is It Time for Browns to Move On from DeShone Kizer?
There are certain irrefutable truths in the NFL. One of them seems to be that at least once per game, Aaron Rodgers will do something no other quarterback can possibly do. The addendum to that is if he's playing the Dallas Cowboys, he'll probably do three or four of them.
Rodgers' jaw-dropping touchdown throw to receiver DaVante Adams with just over a minute left in Sunday's game against Dallas was one such play. Rodgers threw a fadeaway jumper from the Cowboys' 12-yard line, giving Adams the perfect arc and touch on the pass to jump up to grab it. The coverage from cornerback Jourdan Lewis was letter-perfect until he forgot to jump when Adams jumped, and that was that: 35-31, Packers. It was perhaps the day's most thrilling game, and nobody knows better than the Cowboys what Rodgers can do to a defense when he's on point.
We also saw the Jets keep their unlikely winning streak going, the Seahawks somehow get ahead of the Rams in the NFC West, the Bengals continue to succeed with a new offensive coordinator and the Browns struggle to stay competitive no matter who their quarterback is. The Giants' season is just about over, while the Eagles have the NFC East in hand—right now, their offense looks as good as anybody's.
It was a fascinating Sunday, and B/R's NFL1000 scouts were all over the tape.
Lead Scout: Doug Farrar
Quarterbacks: Mark Schofield
Running backs/Fullbacks: Mark Bullock
Receivers/Tight Ends: Marcus Mosher
Offensive Line: Ethan Young
Defensive Line: Justis Mosqueda
Linebackers: Derrik Klassen
Secondary: Ian Wharton
Here's what stood out to our scouts during Sunday's Week 5 action.
Is It Time for the Browns to Move On from DeShone Kizer?
The transition to the NFL was always going to be difficult for Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer. The second-round pick from Notre Dame had to learn how to deal with NFL coverages and blitzes while he was dealing with his own relative inability to read the field and make quick decisions based on those reads.
Through his first four games, Kizer had completed just 51.4 percent of his passes (73 of 142) for 764 yards, three touchdowns and eight interceptions. Head coach Hue Jackson had said he would roll with Kizer though the rookie's growing pains, but after Kizer had two red-zone turnovers against the Jets in the first half Sunday, Jackson changed his mind and inserted quarterback Kevin Hogan for the second half. Hogan proved the wisdom of that move by throwing two touchdown passes, though the Browns still lost, 17-14.
Kizer's foibles were mechanical, preventable and ultimately inexcusable. His failed option pitch to running back Isaiah Crowell from the Jets' 3-yard line happened because he shoved the ball in front of Crowell. A simple pitch is not a play on which a quarterback can be inaccurate—that should go without saying.
The interception was just as troubling. At the snap, Kizer ran to his right as tight end Seth DeValve ran an out route off motion. The idea was to get DeValve outside of the Jets' red-zone coverage, but two Jets defenders—linebacker Freddie Bishop and safety Marcus Maye—were in front of DeValve. Kizer should have checked his original read and adjusted based on what he saw, but he didn't. He made the throw anyway, and Maye had an easy interception.
As a head coach and offensive play-designer, Jackson is caught between developing his young quarterback and giving his team momentum. Right now, Kizer is making bad decisions far too often, and the move to Hogan—who isn't all that impressive but at least knows what he sees—made sense for this game. We'll have to see whether the benching is a long-term move. If Kizer doesn't begin to develop beyond where he is now, it's hard to argue for him keeping the starting job.
—NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar
The Jets Are in First Place in the AFC East—What?!
Perhaps the surprise through five weeks of the 2017 season is that the New York Jets—a team so bereft of talent that they appeared to be tanking the season to get a better 2018 draft pick—now stand in first place in the AFC East with a 3-2 record and a three-game winning streak.
It helps that the New England Patriots, perennial owners of the division, can't figure out their defense. And to be fair, the Jets did beat up on the Dolphins, Jaguars and Browns to hit their current mark. Regardless, there's something else going on here. Perhaps we underestimated the roster general manager Mike Maccagnan put together and head coach Todd Bowles is leading.
Journeyman quarterback Josh McCown has played over his head through the winning streak. He isn't playing outside himself and trying to do too much, but he has been highly efficient, completing at least 70 percent of his passes in the last three games. Meanwhile, the trade that sent defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson to the Seahawks for receiver Jermaine Kearse was a net gain for the Jets because they couldn't seem to play Richardson at tackle where he belonged, and they desperately needed a receiver with Kearse's big-play athleticism. McCown has just six deep completions in 13 attempts for 220 yards this season, but Kearse has one of those deep catches and receiver Robby Anderson has two. Kearse leads the team with three receiving touchdowns overall.
For whatever reason, Bowles couldn't seem to put Richardson in the right place, playing him at edge-rusher and outside linebacker too often. But with him out of the picture, the Jets defense is more coherent and assignment-correct. Nose tackle Steve McClendon and end Leonard Williams have been great, the secondary has surprised with Morris Claiborne and Buster Skrine as the primary outside cornerbacks, and the safety tandem of Marcus Maye and Jamal Adams combines good coverage with necessary aggression. This is the kind of defense Bowles prefers, where everyone executes their assignments in hybrid defenses, and it's working despite Bowles' inability to reconcile his talent with his schemes in 2016.
Are the Jets a fluke? They face the Patriots next Sunday and then have a beatable Dolphins team after that. If they're able to deal with the Falcons on October 29, the team everyone thought was the league's worst may end the first half of its season with a winning record. Coaching and fundamentals are the key; the advantage of easy opponents during the winning streak will fade in time. It will then be up to the Jets to prove themselves as one of the more unlikely winning teams in recent NFL annals.
—NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar
Cam Newton Back on Track with Funchess, Benjamin and Company
After a week where he became national news for his treatment of a female reporter during a press conference, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton will find himself in many stories tomorrow, but this time thanks to his play between the lines.
Newton was nearly perfect on Sunday in Detroit, completing 26 of 33 passes for 355 yards and a trio of touchdowns, in Carolina’s 27-24 victory over the Lions. The first scoring play came as a result of great design from offensive coordinator Mike Shula, but the other two were all a function of great execution from the quarterback.
On the first, the Panthers put Newton in the shotgun flanked with running back Jonathan Stewart to his left. Rookie Christian McCaffrey lined up in a wing to the right. After the snap, Newton and Stewart raced to the left edge in a speed option look, but rather than pitch to the veteran, Newton flipped the ball forward to McCaffrey on a shovel pass, and the rookie from Stanford cut through the interior of Detroit’s goal-line defense for his first professional score.
Newton’s second touchdown pass, a 10-yard scoring strike to Devin Funchess, resulted from pristine execution of the scramble drill. Newton initially wanted to throw to his right, but with solid coverage and pressure from that side as well, the QB rolled to his left to buy time in the pocket. Then, he spotted Funchess breaking to the back line of the end zone, and Newton delivered a rocket right where it needed to be for his receiver to high-point the football and come down with the score.
Finally, Newton hit Benjamin with a 31-yard strike for the third TD toss. Carolina ran a two-man sail concept, with Benjamin running a go route along the left sideline and the inside receiver running a deep out pattern. Newton saw the man coverage outside and dropped in a perfect bucket throw into Benjamin’s outstretched arms for the score.
This is the kind of execution Ron Rivera and Shula were hoping to see from Newton this season. After a slow start, perhaps because of ongoing effects from his offseason shoulder surgery, his performance against the Lions was his best of 2017. Shula’s creativity was the main cause of the first TD, but it was the play from his quarterback that won the game—and will dominate the headlines come Monday morning.
—NFL1000 QB Scout Mark Schofield
Leonard Fournette Leading Jaguars Ground ‘n’ Pound Offense
While fellow rookies Kareem Hunt and Dalvin Cook received all the praise during the first quarter of the season, Leonard Fournette has quietly gone about his business. Against the Steelers, however, Fournette deservedly took center stage. Fournette finished the game with career highs in yards (181), yards per carry (6.5 average), touchdowns (two) and carries (28). However, it wasn't as easy as that 6.5-yards-per-carry average might suggest.
Going into the fourth quarter, Fournette had a total of 14 carries for 42 yards and a touchdown. He only managed more than three yards on four of those 14 rushes. The Steelers did a good job containing him, with their defensive lineman spending large parts of the game in the Jaguars backfield. His only success came on a drive that started late in the first quarter and carried over into the second quarter.
The Jaguars mostly used inside zone runs, both from under center and from the shotgun. These give Fournette a quick and easy read to the front side with the ability to cut it back to the back side of the line if the front side defensive tackle plays with outside leverage on his blocker. It was on an inside zone to the left that Fournette was able to find a cutback lane and break off a 12-yard run. On the next play, Fournette cut back again on another inside zone play for four more yards.
He then took an outside zone play for another four-yard gain before running another inside zone carry, this time from the shotgun, up the middle for five yards; all while fighting through contact to maximize the run to its fullest potential. Two plays later, Fournette showed off his athleticism, leaping over a pile from about the 4-yard line into the end zone for a touchdown to take the lead.
After an extraordinary third quarter in which Ben Roethlisberger threw two pick-sixes, the Jaguars looked to Fournette to control the game. On the Jags' first drive of the fourth quarter, they ran the ball on 12 straight plays, with Fournette getting eight of those carries. He picked up 43 yards on those eight carries at 5.4 yards per carry, breaking tackles and stiff-arming defenders while doing so.
That drive set up the Jags for a field goal that all but secured them victory. But Fournette had one more big play up his sleeve. With two minutes left, the Jaguars handed the ball off to Fournette on a counter play to the left, looking to just run out the clock. Fournette approached the line of scrimmage and noticed the pulling guard kick out a defender, opening a hole for him. Fournette hit the hole and never looked back, running 90 yards for his second touchdown of the game.
—NFL1000 RB Scout Mark Bullock
Aaron Jones Won’t Give Up Starting Job Easily in Green Bay
The Green Bay Packers have been calling out for someone to make a strong claim for the starting running back job all season. Entering Week 5, the Packers were the 31st-ranked rushing team in the NFL, averaging just 74.5 yards per game. Ty Montgomery had been the starter, but he was only able to average 3.3 yards per carry through the first four games. On Sunday, Montgomery was inactive after suffering multiple broken ribs in Week 4.
Aaron Jones was given the opportunity to start over rookie Jamaal Williams, and he took full advantage. Jones ran for 125 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, giving the Packers their first 100-yard rusher since Week 15 last season. Jones didn't just have one big play that boosted his stats either; he was consistent throughout.
Late in the first half, the Packers trailed the Cowboys 21-6. On 1st-and-goal from the 7-yard line, Aaron Rodgers handed the ball off to Jones on a duo run play. Jones initially ran up the middle but felt a defensive tackle closing the gap inside, so he bounced the run outside to his right. While bouncing outside, he helped his right tackle by setting up a second-level block. He faked continuing his run outside to give his tackle leverage on the linebacker before cutting back inside and into the end zone for a touchdown to get the Packers back into the game.
In the third quarter, Jones started an eventual Packers touchdown drive with an impressive carry. He took a handoff from Rodgers in the shotgun on a zone run to the left. There was a lane to the edge, but as Jones approached the hole, he felt the backside defensive tackle cross the face of the right guard to get in position to close off the lane. Jones took an extra step toward the hole, forcing the linebackers to flow to the play side, before cutting back his run. He burst across the line of scrimmage and into the secondary, where he made a safety look foolish with a stutter-step before eventually being dragged down for 22 yards.
Even in the two-minute drill at the end of the game, Jones made a key play. He took another shotgun carry on a zone play to the right, finding a lane to get to the edge and bounce his run outside. Jones turned the corner and picked up a first down plus five yards before smartly stepping out of bounds to stop the clock. A few plays later, Rodgers found Adams in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.
With such an impressive outing against the Cowboys, Jones provided much-needed balance to the Packers offense. If he can build on this performance going forward, Montgomery might have a tough battle on his hands to win the starting job back.
—NFL1000 RB Scout Mark Bullock
What’s Next for Giants’ Depleted WR Corps?
It was a rough outing for the New York Giants in Week 5. Not only did they drop a very winnable game, but they lost their top four wide receivers in the process. Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard and Dwayne Harris all left the game and did not return due to injuries. And with Beckham likely out for the foreseeable future with a fractured ankle, the Giants are going to have to adjust their passing attack and their personnel to replace some of the talent that could be headed to injured reserve.
What adjustments can the Giants make? First and foremost, they could feature more of Evan Engram as a receiver. In Week 5, Engram was rendered useless, failing to catch a pass on four targets. However, they are going to need him to contribute in a big way if the Giants want to have any semblance of a passing attack.
Engram’s strength as a receiver is his ability to win after the catch, and the Giants might need to get creative in terms of scheming him open. Even if Marshall and Shepard return to the lineup in the next few weeks, Engram is their most talented option left on the roster, and they’ll need him to take a massive step to prop up this passing attack.
With an 0-5 record, the Giants likely won’t be making any push for the playoffs this season. So it may make sense for the team to take a look at some receivers with high ceilings on other teams' practice squads. They will need to grab a few other receivers to finish out the season, but it’s a brutal situation for the Giants in a year in which they had Super Bowl aspirations.
— NFL1000 WR Scout Marcus Mosher
Myles Garrett Shines in NFL Debut
For the second time in the last two seasons, the top pass-rusher in the NFL draft had to wait a month before he saw the field. Like the Los Angeles Chargers' Joey Bosa, the Cleveland Browns' Myles Garrett started his NFL career shot out of a cannon in October.
After missing the Browns' first four games of the season due to a high ankle sprain, Garrett made a splash against the New York Jets by recording one of his two sacks on the day on his first NFL snap. His second sack even featured the mimicking of JR Smith's celebration, which helped him move up the “fan favorite” totem pole. In many ways, that second play was similar to one he made his final year at Texas A&M against the UCLA Bruins. The 2017 first overall pick has been talented for some time; he just needed an opportunity to get on an NFL field.
One of the few bright spots for 0-5 Cleveland, which is on a 1-23 run stretching over three separate seasons, is the defensive line. Coming into the week, the Browns had the most valuable defense in the NFL in terms of limiting offenses' ability to get beyond the line of scrimmage in the running game. With the help of Garrett, 2015 first-round nose tackle Danny Shelton, 2016 second-round defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, 2015 second-round defensive end Nate Orchard, 2016 third-round defensive end Carl Nassib and 2017 third-round under tackle Larry Ogunjobi, they should be set up front for the next two years or so.
To say the absolute least, the Browns have invested heavily in their defensive line recently, after spending seven top-100 picks on the unit over the last three draft classes. Because of that depth, Garrett didn't play a starter's worth of reps this week. For the most part, he played in three specific situations against the Jets:
Third-down sub-packages, where he played more of a defensive tackle role than a defensive end role.
With the backup defensive ends. When he was on the field on early downs, it was often opposite Orchard, who saw more reps without Garrett and with Cleveland's starting ends (Ogbah and Nassib) than the other way around.
At the end of the half, which featured sub-packages very similar to the team's third-down sub-packages.
Garrett didn't play a lot in his debut, but he played well. He recorded two sacks and the Browns only allowed 1.9 yards per carry on the ground for the afternoon. Like Bosa's debut after his delayed start to his career, expect Garrett to ease himself into more and more snaps by the week.
Like DeForest Buckner and San Francisco's defensive line last year, many will bring up Garrett and Cleveland's young defensive line whenever the team manages to sneak itself into a conversation. You might as well get used to his name now. He's going to be here for a while.
— NFL1000 DL Scout Justis Mosqueda
Alec Ogletree Needs to Make an Impact Sooner or Later
Alec Ogletree was drafted by the then-St. Louis Rams at the back end of the first round in 2013. Since then, he has been integral to the Rams' defensive structure as a rangy, athletic middle linebacker. Ogletree’s athleticism gives him the speed to work the edge and the agility to pounce around in coverage. Now in his fifth NFL season, Ogletree has yet to properly turn that athleticism into production.
Poor run fits and a weak demeanor at the point of attack have plagued Ogletree’s NFL career. A team’s middle linebacker ought to be its smartest, most confident player at the second level of the defense. Ogletree has not shown he is either of those. Too often is Ogletree caught flat-footed in his initial position as the running back crosses the line of scrimmage. In coverage, Ogletree has the range to cover large tracts of ground, but hardly knows where to look or how route concepts intertwine.
This week versus the Seattle Seahawks, Ogletree looked lost again. Middle linebackers are often responsible for flying down to clamp on underneath crossers, but Ogletree failed to do so. When Ogletree was caught in space, he did not look decisive enough, allowing runners to scoot by him. It was maddening to see him regularly out of position. Ogletree’s primary value right now is as a blitzer, which allows him to freely use his athletic ability.
The Rams could do worse than Ogletree. He’s athletic enough to make up ground and he has the occasional splash play that gets you excited. Ogletree’s rookie deal expires after this year, though, and the Rams should not feel obligated to re-sign him.
— NFL1000 LB Scout Derrik Klassen
Green Bay Packers Secondary Holding It Together Despite Injuries
The thrilling 35-31 Green Bay Packers victory over the Dallas Cowboys was largely due to the brilliance of quarterback Aaron Rodgers and breakout performance of rookie running back Aaron Jones. The duo combined for 346 yards and four touchdowns. But what they accomplished doesn’t overshadow what the Packers defense overcame to help pull off their last-second road victory.
As a unit, the defense ranked near the top of the NFL statistically, allowing the fifth-least passing yards and only four touchdowns through the air entering the Week 5 showdown. Individually, though, the cornerbacks have struggled with their matchups, allowing 65.2 percent of passes to be completed for a 91.2 passer rating, both ranking in the bottom half of the league. It’s been a bend-don’t-break unit as young corners Kevin King, Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins struggle with their consistency in man coverage.
Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott had an efficient day, completing 25 of 36 passes for 251 yards and three touchdowns, in part due to a concussion to King on their second drive. This forced Rollins back into the rotation after being benched, and Josh Hawkins was thrust into more playing time as well. Instead of completely crumbling, the Packers mostly staved off big plays from the Cowboys offense, preventing Dallas from pulling away.
One of the key plays in the game occurred when Randall hauled in a dropped pass from Prescott and returned it for a 21-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. It wasn’t a banner performance in the mold of what the Denver Broncos’ or Jacksonville Jaguars’ secondaries do on a regular basis, but the Packers secondary overcame losing a unique talent in King, and their seemingly constant rotation of bodies on the back end would cause most units to completely fall apart. That deserves credit and recognition as the team fights to secure a top seed in the NFC playoff race.
— NFL1000 DB Scout Ian Wharton