It's that time of week again, and Chris Pokorny from SB Nation's Cleveland Browns blog, Dawgs By Nature, agreed to stop by and answer my questions ahead of this Sunday's matchup between our own Miami Dolphins and the Browns.
1. The Miami Dolphins' offense has stalled in the red zone so far this year. These is some speculation that, with the emergence of Daniel Thomas last week, the Dolphins could be looking to bring in the "Wildcat 2.0" to get Reggie Bush and Thomas on the field, together making plays. Since they would be doing this with former Browns' offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who holds the same position with the Dolphins now, is there anything you can tell us about how Daboll runs the Wildcat that's different than what the rest of the league does?
Here's the thing: fans were very frustrated with the Wildcat in Cleveland last season. It was not successful for a couple of reasons.
First off, to give a little bit of backstory, the 2010 offseason included the signing of backup quarterbackSeneca Wallace, who was scheduled to play behind starter Jake Delhomme. For the entire preseason and throughout training camp, the Browns ran so many plays out of a formation called the "Cyclone," which basically featured Cribbs and Wallace in the game together at the same time for a dual threat. In Week 1 of the 2010 season, the Browns ran the package for maybe two plays, which was a surprise given how much it was practiced. Then, Delhomme got hurt and Wallace needed to start at quarterback. That killed the Cyclone idea, because we couldn't risk our "starting" quarterback being a wide receiver/trick play option.
We thought the Wildcat would be brought back, and it was for a couple of plays here and there. The timing of when to run the Wildcat never seemed to fit the context of the game, and Cribbs seemed to be injured all season and could never get the same amount of steam he had going for him back in 2009. In terms of how Daboll operated the Wildcat, it usually involved Cribbs fielding the snap from Shotgun, faking like he was going to go one direction, and then going the other way (i.e. like a counter play). It never really worked last year, but that very well could have been due to Cribbs being hurt because he couldn't do anything explosive on kickoff or punt returns either. Daboll might have understood this and decided to limit the usage of the Wildcat.
2. I got to see Colt McCoy play at a university of Texas game in 2009, and I was impressed. After hearing all of the negativity about how he couldn't be an NFL QB, I went in with that thought, and came away sure he could actually make it. He's bigger than Drew Brees, and Brees seems to have made it in the league. McCoy looked good last year, throwing for over 1,500 yards and having a 70+ passer rating, in just 8 games played. This season, he's over 200 yards per game passing, and has 3 TDs to 1 INT. Without havign see much of the Browns this year, what can you tell use about how McCoy is looking and how he is developing. Is he capable of being the franchise QB Cleveland has been looking for?
He had a very good preseason and seemed to pick up the West Coast Offense very well. I'd say the key for him is that he is pretty confident in his second year, and you can just tell that in the "little" things. We have had issues at the right tackle position the first two weeks with our starter being out, but any time a pass rush has come, McCoy has seemed to have a good internal clock of knowing when to throw the football away. For whatever reason, McCoy has been awesome in the second quarter of games through two games.
I'd still like to see him go through his progressions a little better at times. While he has been making accurate throws, he sometimes locks into a receiver down the field and passes up what would be easy yardage underneath to a running back or tight end. It's too early to deem him the franchise quarterback we've been looking for, but this is one of the best starts to a season we've had for a Browns quarterback. I think part of the key is that this is the first year since 1999 where there really was not any form of a "quarterback controversy" or "quarterback competition." The organization made it clear that McCoy was "the guy," and I think that improves chemistry on offense significantly.
3. Josh Cribbs seems to be, well, Josh Cribbs so far this season. In a year where kickoffs are supposed to result in touchbacks, Cribbs seems to have missed the memo. Id he taking the ball out of the endzone as often as it seems, and is he still a weapon out of the endzone, or has the new rule curtailed this threat?
I don't know the exact amount off the top of my head, but I think Cribbs has seen four kickoffs that have not gone out of the end zone. The ones that stayed in play were close to the back of the end zone, and I think he has taken all but one of those out. Two of those returns have gone for big gains, and he's definitely proven to be a weapon.
You're right when you say that Cribbs is back to being Cribbs this season, because those two returns were more than he did in the return game all of last season. If anything, I think the new kickoff rule has helped him a little bit. Last year, teams got creative and would kick it to the upback to limit the damage, or they would execute the squib kick very well for a shorter return. This year, Cribbs is getting more opportunities at "straight up" returns. If he could regularly return kickoffs 40+ yards under the old rule when healthy, then being deeper in the end zone shouldn't change his ability to still bring kicks out to around the 35 yard line.
4. With the Jake Long, the best left tackle in the game (Joe Thomas who?), coming in to Cleveland this week, one of the surprising weaknesses Miami has had so far has been the offensive line - including Long, who had his own struggles last week. Who should we as fans be worried about when it comes to the Miami o-line vs. Cleveland's front seven?
If my users at Dawgs By Nature ever heard you declare Jake Long > Joe Thomas, that would be the end of you. There are three players to watch in the front seven: rookie defensive tackle Phil Taylor, rookie defensive endJabaal Sheard, and linebacker D'Qwell Jackson. Taylor has played very physical and has made several key stops against the run. Sheard had a breakout game last week, including a strip sack and recovery toward the end of the game to help seal the victory. Right now, Pro Football Focus lists Taylor and Sheard as No. 3 and No. 6, respectively, in their rookie of the year candidates.
Jackson plays the middle linebacker position and will end up having a career year if he keeps his production up. He basically missed the past two seasons due to injury, but the new coaching staff still put a lot of faith in a guy who was "good, but not a playmaker" up until this point. So far, it looks like that decision is paying dividends.
5. Peyton Hillis isn't having the success early this year everyone saw from him last year. Is he just rusty still from the lockout, or is there something else happening in Cleveland that is limiting Hillis from getting going?
It's the offensive line situation. Hillis is not going to run past people, his game is built on making physical contact once he gets to the second level. Too many times, he has been stopped in the backfield or cut down from the side before he can even get going. We lost our starting left guard, Eric Steinbach, for the season due to a back injury. Our right tackle who excels in run blocking, Tony Pashos, has missed the first two games with a foot injury.
The Browns basically have rookies starting at left guard and right guard now. Pashos might come back this week, which would be a huge boost.
Overall, you can see the talent that our offensive line has, but they just don't have the chemistry down pat. If the Browns find themselves contending near midseason, you might see Hillis start having a higher YPC average if the offensive line is more in sync. Until then though, I still expect him to continue making defenders which they didn't have to be the first person to initiate contact with him.
I would like to thank Chris for taking the time to answer all my questions. Head over to Dawgs By Nature later today to check out my answers to Chris' questions.