This week I was approached by Chris Pokorny about exchanging some questions regarding the San Francisco 49ers’ Week 5 matchup with the Cleveland Browns. I answered his questions over at our Brown's sister site, Dawgs by Nature. Chris was generous enough to give me some detailed answers to some of my questions as well. Here’s our conversation on the game.
Pat: Odell Beckham Jr. had 20 yards on Sunday against the Ravens, but Jarvis Landry stepped up in a huge way and made sure the Ravens paid for just covering OBJ. Now it looks like Landry may not clear concussion protocol . Who fills his spot if he can’t go on Monday and whoever it is, do you think they can have the same chemistry with Baker Mayfield in case OBJ gets shut down again? [Pat’s note: Shortly after I received an answer to this, Landry it was announced that Landry cleared protocol and will play on Monday. I decided to leave this in anyways.]
Chris: The answer to this question is very fluid right now -- there have been some some rumors that Jarvis Landry is OK, and is simply waiting for the normal procedure to be cleared in the protocol. But, since we can’t count on that, I’ll dive into the team’s other option, which is Antonio Callaway. Callaway was a fourth-round pick last year, and I know you wrote about the possibility of him filling Landry’s shoes. As a rookie, Callaway was plagued by a lot of dropped passes over the first half of the season. Miraculously, one week, he caught every pass thrown to him (despite being heavily contested). That trend continued for the rest of the season -- he caught everything that came his way. How he flipped the switch from dropping everything to catching everything in the middle of a season was something I had never quite seen from an NFL receiver. He has a lot of speed and has the reputation of a deep ball receiver, but he also proved to be a threat last year at driving his defender back and then doing a comeback route along the boundary.
In this year’s training camp, Callaway was suddenly running with the second- or third-team offenses. No one knew what the problem was, but then it became pretty clear once it was learned that the team knew he was facing a four-game suspension. The chemistry with Baker Mayfield is there from a year ago; I’d still much rather have Landry in that role, but I’m not too worried about the pair not being on the same page. The other factor at the receiver position is slot receiver Rashard Higgins. He suffered an injury half-way through the first game of the season, and has been week-to-week trying to return. Out of all the receivers on the Browns, Mayfield’s chemistry with Higgins is the highest. If Higgins is able to return as the slot receiver this week, it’ll be a far bigger boost than getting Callaway back on the outside.
Pat: Freddie Kitchens was hired as way to keep familiarity with the developing Baker Mayfield, but one of the question marks was his inexperience as an offensive coordinator before becoming a head coach. How have the fans responded to the hiring and is he seen as a popular coach or are people forcing themselves to like the hire?
Chris: When the Browns first hired Freddie Kitchens, the move went over very well among the fans. The offensive playcalling was smart and creative when Kitchens took over playcalling duties last year. I was a fan of the possibility of hiring Bruce Arians, who would’ve kept Kitchens on as offensive coordinator. However, the fear was that Kitchens would continue to do well, and then after a year, another team would steal him away from Cleveland. All of that “hype” about Kitchens might sound ridiculous for a guy who was just a running backs coach to start the 2018 season, but a little taste of success in the NFL can do wonders.
And then...the first three games of the 2019 NFL season happened. Browns fans were baffled because the offensive system that was on the field was not at all what Kitchens had shown last year. Despite the fact that Kitchens was still calling plays on gameday, it seemed like the offensive system completely became something that Todd Monken had installed (he came over from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers). It was very frustrating because I kept thinking, “The whole reason I wanted the Browns to hire Kitchens was so I could see that same offense from last year in full effect; and if we’re not running it, what the heck was the point of hiring Kitchens?” But then, last week against the Ravens, everything changed -- it was as if everything was 100% back to Kitchens’ offensive style from a year ago. There is still a lot that Kitchens has to get used to as a head coach. He made the jump very quickly, and Browns fans have some understanding that it’ll take a little time for him to get used to everything. Overall, he is a popular coach with the fans -- last week’s victory over Baltimore certainly helped boost that.
Pat: All those moves in the offseason, one team loaded with first rounders, there’s been high expectations for the Browns through national media. There’s no denying the Browns are good, but do you think they are Super Bowl good? If they aren’t how much more time does the organization need to field a champion-caliber team.
Chris: The thing that I like to tell people is that the Browns are built like a playoff contender, and they have such high potential. However, there are quite a few teams with a lot more years of experience playing together and finely-tuned systems, so the thought of making the Super Bowl doesn’t really cross my mind. Sure, it would be nice to fantasize about it, but the big goal I have for Cleveland is taking care of business in the regular season. If things go rather well in 2019, then 2020 should be the year that the team tries to take that next leap. They will still have all of their top players under contract, can make another splash or two in the draft or free agency, and will have that more finely-tuned system and experience that I mentioned earlier.
Pat: What do you think the 49ers biggest advantage is coming into this game?
Chris: Kyle Shanahan was the Browns’ offensive coordinator for a season, so we are familiar with how good of a gameplan he can come up with. I think of the 49ers has a smart and highly efficient team, and giving Shanahan an extra week to prepare (and rest his players) for this game seems like a pretty significant advantage to have. Even though Cleveland started clicking against the Ravens last week, there were a lot of flaws in the weeks leading up to that. Browns fans know Shanahan will have a great gameplan to exploit that; so then the question is whether the Browns have any surprises of their own in store for Shanahan (i.e. something they haven’t quite revealed yet), or whether Cleveland’s roster can still win out in the talent department.
Pat: Give me one player from the 49ers [you’d want], and what player(s) would you give up from the Browns (in a fair deal) to get them? No draft picks, try to be as straight across as possible.
Chris: I have wanted fullback Kyle Juszczyk for years, so I would be trying to trade for him. It’s tough to think of it as a realistic trade, because I feel like he is such a key component to what Shanahan does on offense -- the player I would ship over is Antonio Callaway, because Cleveland already has a surplus of top receivers locked up. But, I imagine Shanahan saying, “We don’t use wide receivers very much, and Juszczyk is involved with too many important things in our system.” And unfortunately, Cleveland doesn’t really have a low-key fullback to throw in to help soften that blow, so I would also throw in defensive end Genard Avery. Avery was a very promising pass rusher in 2018, and fans loved him. But for some reason, he has been a gameday inactive all season. Fans are jokingly asking, “What is going on; does he have pictures of our defensive coordinator’s wife or something?” It’s still a package that I’m not sure Shanahan would take, but it’s a fun exercise to think about.
Special thanks to Chris and Dawgs by Nature for collaborating with us on this! And also special thanks to the Dawgs by Nature community for the fun discussions we’ve had this week. Enjoyed interacting with all of you over there and vice versa. Good luck to you guys Monday!