Browns Week 14: Summary Report and Player Playoff Run Thoughts

December 14, 2023

Andy Billman Tony Camino

Browns Reflections: Will Injuries Hurt Playoff Opportunity

With all the injuries the Browns are dealing with, let’s break down how the end of the season will go and, possibly, a playoff run.

1 – Offense

Andy –

It is incredible how much the Browns have had to handle on this side of the ball.  No Nick Chubb, Deshaun Watson, Jack Conklin, and Jedrick Wills Jr., and yet it feels like with the play of Joe Flacco, this side of the ball should be good with his leadership and ability to pass the ball down the field. Flacco has brought calm and confidence to the Browns offense, something I’m not sure would have been possible two weeks ago.

Amari Cooper is also essential, the wide receiver room needs Cooper as he is by far and away the best receiver. The running back room must also keep Jerome Ford and Kareem Hunt healthy; both are now dealing with injuries.

And then there’s the offensive line which one might argue is the group that can not handle any injuries from anybody, especially with the tackle position. Thankfully, the Browns have Bill Callahan, a huge asset with all the injuries. 

The Browns offense should be good moving forward because of the quarterback, but there are some problematic spots in the position groups with the injuries.

Tony –

The offensive injuries this season are unlike anything I’ve seen in football for a team still finding ways to win. They are onto their third-string right tackle, a backup left tackle who was signed on Halloween, backup running backs, and their fourth starting quarterback who was signed weeks ago. It is truly remarkable how Kevin Stefanski can manage to produce points out of a group this battered and struggling.

The offensive line remains the biggest concern for me because they struggled to get a consistent run game going all year. Now, with Geron Christian and James Hudson penciled in as starters for the rest of the year, that only gets more difficult. In addition to the run game, pass protection is bound to have more breakdowns as the unit continues to change to deal with the injuries.

Surprisingly, the quarterback room is likely in the best shape of any right now as they have two capable starting options. Receivers are in a good spot now, but one injury, and it’s going to be interesting to see how they create separation. They desperately need Amari Cooper, Elijah Moore, and David Njoku, and hopefully, someone else can step up consistently as well.

2 – Defense

Tony –

Before this last week, the silver lining of the offense being so beaten up was that the defense was intact for the most part and could dominate consistently, as we saw earlier this year. However, Maurice Hurst, Grant Delpit, and Ogbo Okornkwo are likely lost for at least the regular season, which is all massive blows. At defensive tackle, they are well-equipped to deal with the Hurst injury, despite how well he was playing, as third-round pick Siaka Ika has been inactive most weeks and will finally get a shot.

Delpit is a major loss right after his extension, and it means that we will see more of undrafted free agent Ronnie Hickman, who has played most of the backup reps at strong safety. They need Juan Thornhill healthy because, without him and Rodney McLoed, they would have to start either UDFA from 2022 De’Anthony Bell or newly-signed veteran Duron Harmon at free safety.

Okronkwo is technically the edge rusher but plays so many snaps because of how much Jim Schwartz loves to use three at once. Isaiah McGuire and Alex Wright are in line to see more time, and they need to be effective so the line doesn’t take too much of a step back.

Denzel Ward and Thornhill need to get back, but the young guys who have already filled in have looked good. If the others who haven’t played as much can contribute as well, they still should be one of the NFL’s better units.

Andy –

The defense has taken a lot of hits to their starters as well. The loss of Grant Delpit, in particular, is a gut punch for how well he played throughout the season. 

The Browns still have their two key players, Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward, which gives the defense a lot of hope and promise.  Lose either one, and it is a much different story.  With the D-line, the Browns need to see more from Za’Darius Smith and Dalvin Tomlinson moving forward. 

Cleveland also needs to get Juan Thornhill back ASAP, as he can help with the safety position, which has taken hits with the loss of Delpit and Rodney McCleod.  What gives the secondary group hope is the play of Martin Emerson, who is having a good season and has become a staple lockdown corner. 

The play of defense has been a big talk throughout the season. Jim Schwartz must get creative and dig deep to get this group to perform at an elite level. This group still has elite-level capability, but the depth has taken a hit. Losing Delpit is big, but they still have Garrett and Ward.

3 – Special Teams

Andy –

Cleveland’s special teams have been a positive influence throughout the season and have made a significant impact.  This group that rarely gets talked about has been solid all season.

Both of the Browns kickers are having great seasons and have significantly positively impacted throughout the season. Kicker Dustin Hopkins goes without saying that Hopkins will need to keep making kicks in big spots as the Browns will likely play in close games.  P Corey Bojorquez has been booming kicks and, on Sunday, made a punt that flipped the field in favor of the Browns against the Jaguars.

The Browns could use James Proche II to take some kicks back to the house to help out.  Proche has improved each game.

Tony –

Luckily, the kicker and punter are healthy as of right now, and both are playing at very high levels. Dustin Hopkins is as close to automatic as it gets, and Corey Bojorquez has a fantastic leg. While it would be nice if Bojorquez could pin more punts back and have more success kicking near midfield, his ability to flip the field is undeniable.

The under-the-radar impact of all these injuries will be on special teams, though. If the depth continues to get tested as it has been this year, players whose role is on special teams could become more a part of the defense/offense, resulting in someone else having to take their snaps on special teams.

Nonetheless, Hopkins and Bojorquez need to continue playing at a high level, as all of these games are decided by inches. Helping the defense out with more pinned kicks and covering the absolute bombs are the only complaints for now about what has been a really good unit this year.

4 – Will the Browns make the playoffs?

Tony –

Yes, I still believe the Browns will make the playoffs. They currently have a leg up on the rest of the wildcard teams and have a favorable schedule left. This game against the Bears will be more difficult than most are giving credit for, and all games will be tough with the injuries we are dealing with. However, other teams are dealing with their struggles and have more difficult schedules to end the year.

If they could somehow secure at least one home playoff game, that would be huge, as it’s obvious how much better this team performs at home. It’s going to be a fight every week, but as long as they focus on the task at hand and how they can win each week, I see the Browns overcoming all odds and making the playoffs.

Andy –

In short, yes I do believe the Browns can make the playoffs and will make the playoffs.  They have handled adversity well all season, and Stefanski is good at keeping the team thinking about how they can control the game rather than feeling sorry about players who have been lost. 

Add the lift that Flacco has given to the team, along with possible defensive MVP Garrett, and it gives Cleveland an excellent opportunity to make the playoffs, even with the injuries.

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