In anticipation of this weekend's blockbuster showdown with the Cleveland Browns, we had questions that needed answers. What's wrong with my team? Can they get over on another team that is clearly as (or maybe more?) unfortunate than my own? Is it wrong to have an existential crisis over a football team?
Living in the heart of the South, it's not always easy to find kindred spirits so in touch with their misery of fandom. As a result, I often find myself bemoaning my team's fate to other likeminded fans.
One such fan and good friend is Pat Leonard. Pat just started writing this year for one of my favorite blogs of all time, the Cleveland-centric Waiting For Next Year. I asked Pat five questions about the Browns, and I then had him ask five questions of his own about the Jets. Read Pat's reciprocal post on WFNY and stop by to say hello in the comments. WFNY and their readers are good eggs.
Brian's Questions about the Browns:
Q: The Browns have had a tumultuous decade in terms of coaches and general managers, but somehow to an outsider this reboot feels different and maybe more stabilizing. Do you and other Browns fans agree with that assessment? Why or why not?
A: I do agree with that, and I think there are quite a few Browns fans who agree. It can be tough to see the forest for the trees when you have zero wins and you're terrified of rivaling the 2008 Detroit Lions as the worst team in the history of the NFL, but I do think most Browns fans realize that this team is not built to win right now. There's a lot of young talent on the team and they need to be allowed to make mistakes in their youth in order to be great players in their prime. We have seen flashes of the talent, but there are also still several places where this team needs an upgrade over the current starter.
Q: Hue Jackson comes to the Browns as a renowned optimizer of offensive talent. While it is still only half a season so far, what have you noticed about how he runs his offense that you like or dislike?
A: Hue Jackson has come just as advertised. The Browns' running game hasn't been this successful since they came back as an expansion team in 1999. Isaiah Crowell is averaging 5.2 yards per rush and Duke Johnson is right behind him with 4.8 yards per rush. The Browns' receiving corps is highlighted by a converted quarterback, Terrelle Pryor, who looks like a natural at wide receiver. Even Cody Kessler, a third-round pick from this year's draft, has looked like a quality option to lead this team. If it weren't for the offensive line getting all of our quarterbacks killed, we'd probably have a couple wins by now thanks to the genius of Hue Jackson.
Q: The offensive line has been a source of pride for Browns fans dating back for about 10 years. Do you approve of the way the team has handled this group in the last two years?
A: If we're going back two years, then the answer is no. Ray Farmer blew it. He had a chance to sign Alex Mack for several years, but decided to pass on giving him a high-dollar, long-term deal in favor of the transition tag. He also failed to lock up Mitchell Schwartz early, giving him incentive to test free agency.
Through the first several weeks of this season, the Browns' offensive line has been brutalized resulting in numerous injuries to the starting quarterbacks. You can put almost all of that blame on the center and right tackle positions. Cameron Erving, a first round draft selection of Ray Farmer, has been an absolute disaster. Journeyman right tackle Austin Pasztor has done well as a run blocker, but has allowed a continuous onslaught of pressure on pass plays.
I don't give much blame to the new front office for Mack and Schwartz leaving to find new teams. Their bodies were halfway out the door when the new regime was hired.
Q: Just like the 2016 Jets, the Cleveland defense has also struggled. What's the biggest flaw with the Browns unit? How should the HBT address it in the off-season?
A: The defense currently looks like a tire fire. The veteran of the defense, Joe Haden, can't stay healthy and might not be a realistic component of future teams. There is some obvious young talent that has performed well in stuffing the run this season, with the exception of last week's game against the Bengals. I think Browns fans are excited about rookies Carl Nassib and Emmanuel Ogbah, who have been able to pressure the quarterback a little bit in their first seasons. Danny Shelton is emerging to become the run-stuffing, disruptive nose tackle that the team has been missing for years. However, the team still needs a lot of help at cornerback and linebacker, particularly on the inside. There just aren't many playmakers on the defense at this point, and just about any team can find success passing against the Browns.
Q: Mets fans were gut-punched when Paul DePodesta left this past spring for the Browns. Do Browns fans yet appreciate what they have in the other Pauly D?
A: Honestly no, I don't think Browns fans know what they have yet. The team had an interesting approach to draft night, taking four wide receivers in the draft to address an obvious team deficiency. They also accumulated 14 draft picks and acquired starting CB Jamar Taylor during the draft, showing a willingness to throw everything they have at solving weaknesses. I think it's obvious that DePodesta's fingerprints are on the team's strategy, but at the same time, I think there is a lot more that he is going to learn in the coming years that he doesn't yet understand. This is a new role for him and his proficiency at creating processes is well known, but there are still a lot of details about the NFL game that he will need to learn.
Pat's Questions about the Jets:
Q: The Jets' run defense is currently sitting at second best in the league. Why have they been so successful in stopping the run and is there any way to run the football on the Jets?
A: I think it comes down to talent. While the team badly misses Damon Harrison this year, Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams have been an incredibly talented unit and they drag the rest of the defense along with them. My advice would be to run the ball at Steve McLendon or the young linebackers Mauldin and Jenkins when they are in the game as that has been the weak link. The other factor is that the Jets have been so bad at defending the pass that their success against the run hasn't helped all that much. Short passes to your receivers, Gary Barnidge and Duke Johnson might be enough to carry the day against this group.
Q: Last year Ryan Fitzpatrick had his best season as a pro. He passed for 3,905 yards and 31 touchdowns. This season has been a different story. What's the deal with Fitzpatrick?
A: He got paid? Most Jets fans do believe that is part of the problem. I think it was more of a "lightning in a bottle" situation for Fitz. He got extremely lucky with dropped interceptions. Brandon Marshall had an incredible season and both he and Eric Decker, who were the workhorses in this offense, were both healthy most of the season and I think it was some great luck.
I do think that the Jets schedule has been brutal through their first six weeks. I think that has had something to play part of the story and now with Geno Smith injured Fitzpatrick might be able to resume some part of the success he saw last season.
Q: The Jets have the third lowest average points scored per game in the league. Their offense just hasn't been able to get going. Is that all related to the quarterback position? Are there any bright spots?
A: Ever seen this old YouTube clip?
The Jets offense so far has been kind of like that. Last year it looked like this well-oiled machine but in reality it was just a cinder block away from total annihilation. Fitzpatrick has regressed to the mean, Marshall hasn't been able to be as efficient in his use, Decker's absence has hurt the team and they don't have the inside zone runner (Chris Ivory) that seemed to make everything else work last year.
Now they also have some talented younger receivers (Quincy Enunwa, Robby Anderson, Charone Peake) that are inserting themselves into the offense but are by no means workhorses yet.
Q: Where do the Jets go from here and what areas do they need to address in the offseason?
A: The Jets absolutely have to improve at cornerback and outside linebacker, but the most notable area has to be quarterback. Fitzpatrick was never a long-term answer and I think Christian Hackenberg is going to be a disaster. The Jets need to find their future quarterback and next year's draft is the time to do it.
Q: Todd Bowles is now in his second season as the head coach of the Jets after replacing the incomparable Rex Ryan. How are Jets fans feeling about Bowles' tenure compared to Ryan's?
A: I think we felt pretty good after the first season, but some less-than-aggressive play calling and no noticeable improvement there hasn't gone over well when paired with a defense that is not playing anywhere near as well as it did last season. There are already calls for the coach's head, but I believe it is far too soon. Continually bringing in new coaches does nothing to address the real problems the team might have or build the right consistency and continuity a team and/or regime needs. An improvement of talent in 2017 cures what is currently ailing Jets fans.