This is the 3rd straight year the Titans and the Browns have faced each other. I had forgotten that until I saw Chris’s response to my 5th question. I’m not sure how I forgot the debacle from 2 years ago, but somehow I did.
A huge thanks to Chris for taking the time to answer my questions. You can see his questions with my answers here.
1. I really, really wanted the Titans to hire Hue Jackson this offseason. How happy are Browns fans with him to this point?
You might find some fans a little miffed at the moment about him bringing Baylor's Art Briles in as a guest consultant, but everything else has been pretty positive. On the surface, an 0-5 record might lead outsiders to believe that there is some doubt Hue Jackson's second stint as a head coach. That isn't the case. For the first time since 1999, the organization and fans entered this season with a full acceptance that the Browns are trying to re-build this team from the ground up, brick-by-brick. The majority of veterans were purged from the roster in favor of young talent. The team's final win-loss record in 2016 does not matter -- this season is about ensuring that more than a handful of the team's young players show a lot of growth from the start of the season to the end of the season. A few unfortunate injuries have hindered that process a little, but overall, we see players believing in the process and wanting to get better. Also, outside of last week's blowout loss to the Patriots, the Browns were oh-so-close to winning against the Ravens, Dolphins, and Redskins for three straight weeks, but an awful officiating call, three missed field goals, and then untimely fumbles, respectively, cost them late. For Hue Jackson to even have had a club as raw as the Browns are competing with other NFL teams is a tribute to the job he's doing.
2. The Browns defense has struggled. Is that a talent problem or a Ray Horton problem?
We had Ray Horton for one year as our defensive coordinator in 2013, so we're familiar as a fan base with his flaws, especially when it comes to third down defense. While some are quick to criticize Horton for the team's defensive struggles, I think we have to give him the benefit of the doubt because of the team's talent problem. We gutted the safety position and basically chose not to address it heading into the season (there were so many areas to address, and we couldn't address them all in one year). The result is below average play at the position, with the inability to defend tight ends being a major weakness of the defense. The inside linebacker play has exceeded expectations so far, but they are also not well-versed in coverage, which compounds the issue of defending tight ends. The team also started over at the outside linebacker position -- they willingly rid themselves of players like Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo so they could give draft picks like Emmanuel Ogbah and Joe Schobert a chance to shine. They, along with many other players on defense, are still trying to get better acclimated to playing in the NFL.
3. The new front office has taken a lot of heat in the media. Are you happy with the moves they have made so far?
This goes back to the first question and the acceptance that fans have given the organization: we're along for the journey. The number one thing that has helped make that acceptance so easy, in my opinion, is the fact that the Cleveland Cavaliers (NBA team) ended the city's championship drought this year, and the Cleveland Indians (MLB team) are in the middle of a postseason race. This city, overall, is on cloud nine from a sports fan's perspective, so the Browns' rebuilding effort couldn't have come at a better time. You said that the Browns' front office has taken a lot of heat in the media -- if that's still happening, we're not really paying much attention to it. I know there was some criticism about the team's analytical hires and approach back in February, but after all the losing the Browns have had, the consensus among the fan base was, "It sounds innovative, so why not give it a shot?"
4. One of the more fascinating players of the 2016 season so far has been Terrelle Pryor. Talk about his development as a receiver. Do you think he will play some quarterback on Sunday even if Cody Kessler is healthy for the whole game?
Maybe this will express how much potential I think Terrelle Pryor has: through 5 games, he has 24 catches for 338 yards and 1 touchdown. To outsiders knowing this is his first year as a receiver, that probably seems impressive. Seeing how stunningly polished he looked in camp, the preseason, and now on gameday, I think it's surprisingly that his stats aren't way higher. Pryor's route running has been great, something I don't think anyone could have forecasted improving so quickly when you look at his Week 17 game against the Steelers last year (he was a late-season addition by the Browns, and their receiving corp was depleted). There was some fear that he wouldn't be able to handle press coverage in the NFL, but that hasn't been an issue. He's also a solid run blocker on the outside. If we're looking for flaws, I still point to two things. First, we know he has the speed to run routes downfield, but I think cornerbacks are able to force him to run too close to the boundary on those go routes, making it difficult for quarterbacks to hit him downfield. Second, there have been a handful of crossing routes in which Pryor is coming back toward the ball as he makes the catch. His long strides on these routes means he loses any momentum he had going upfield, which defeats the purpose of a crossing route (being able to catch and use your speed to turn upfield). There's a good chance we'll see Pryor take some snaps at quarterback. It worked best against the Dolphins in Week 3, but the team shelved the concept in Week 4 because they believed (rightfully so) that they didn't need a gimmick to beat the Redskins' run defense. I think we were poised to see it more last week against the Patriots had Cleveland's defense not opened the game allowing three straight touchdown drives to Tom Brady.
5. Write the headline in Sunday's Tennessean.
You've asked me this question three straight years now, so I thought it'd be fun to look back at the answer I gave the previous two years.
In 2014, I said: "Down With the Titan[ic]." That was when Brian Hoyer led the largest road comeback in NFL history.
In 2015, I said: "Duck Hunting." The Browns sacked Marcus Mariota seven times en route to victory.
I wish I could be so boisterous with my headline prediction this year too, and for a couple of weeks, this has been the game we circled in which Browns fans have said, "this could be our one shot at a win." The extra shuffling on the offensive line this week makes me nervous, though, so I'm going to bit ambiguous with my headline for now:
"A Bunch of Mularkey."