TWICKENHAM, England --
- Hue Jackson came away encouraged Sunday by how his rookie quarterback responded to his latest opportunity to hold onto the starting job.
DeShone Kizer made a couple of big throws and, most importantly, protected the football against Minnesota's defense, one of the NFL's best, in a 33-16 loss at Twickenham Stadium. Moving the ball was a struggle at times, and Cleveland is looking to be better in the red zone than it was in Sunday's losing effort, but Kizer's overall performance was what Jackson was looking to see.
"I thought today was a better version of DeShone," Jackson said. "We thought he made some throws, made some plays with his legs, made some decisions. I'm sure there's a couple plays he'd like to have back, like any quarterback would, but I thought this was improvement from where we've been to where we're trying to go, so I was very happy about that.
"We're chasing winning. He knows that and I know that. We've got to get there, and we're not there. But I thought from his standpoint, he did some good things."
Kizer did a nice job early of taking what the Minnesota defense gave him. It all seemed to be part of the plan as Cleveland focused on quick, short throws to maximize its most consistent playmakers -- RB Duke Johnson and the tight ends -- while minimizing the loss of left tackle Joe Thomas.
There wasn't much consistent production, as the Browns ran into a bit of a wall after a quick-punch, two-play scoring drive following a turnover by the Cleveland defense. Kizer's best drive came late in the second quarter, when he connected with Ricardo Louis on a third-and-long for 38 yards and followed with a 38-yard shovel pass to Isaiah Crowell. He punctuated the drive with a 1-yard keeper to give the Browns the lead going into the second half.
It didn't last long, and yards were hard to come by in the final 30 minutes. Kizer finished 18-of-34 for 179 yards. It was his first NFL start without an interception and all three of the Vikings sacks came late in the second half with the game in balance.
"Just got to make a couple more plays," Kizer said. "I think that we obviously showed in the first half that we had a proper game plan for this defense we're playing against, and we weren't able to go out and execute our jobs the way we should the second half to be able to make the plays to stay up with the second half."
Kizer enters the bye week having finished what he started for the first time since a Week 3 loss to the Colts. This is the job he wants to keep for the entire second half of the season and beyond, and ,ore performances like Sunday will help him do just that.
It could ultimately lead to a victory or two as well.
"A small win is a small win," Kizer said. "That was an opportunity for me to go out there and prove to my teammates that I'm going to keep the ball out of harm's way, and that's what I was able to do. I'm going to build on that and find some consistency in that quarterback room, let my teammates know what they're going to get out of me. I was able to show them a little bit of that with some fiery moments, but now it's about finding more plays and doing more and continuing to push harder to get our first victory."
The Browns play the Minnesota Vikings in London in Week 8.
- Life without Thomas didn't completely hamper the Browns offense, as Spencer Drango largely held his own against one of the league's top pass rushers.
Drango didn't directly surrender a sack until the end, when Everson Griffen dropped Kizer for his 10th of the season. Jackson said the second-year lineman "hung in there tough."
"We did some things to help out on that side, but we thought he battled hard," Jackson said. "There's some things we had to do totally different. We almost made it through without having that be exposed, but again, that was different. This was different for the whole football team."
Earlier in the week, Jackson committed to Drango at left tackle for Sunday's game and left it open as to what the team will do after the bye week. Right tackle Shon Coleman has plenty of experience at the position and left guard Joel Bitonio played it in college. Austin Reiter and Marcus Martin, who were Cleveland's active backups Sunday, both play in the interior.
Whatever the case, Drango earned the respect of those around him with his performance Sunday.
"I'm really proud of Spencer," center JC Tretter said. "He's going against one of the best d-ends in the league and I thought he played well. He's only going to get better the more reps he gets at it. To go out there on a week's practice and start, I thought he did really well."
- Down four starters, including Myles Garrett, Jason McCourty and Jabrill Peppers, the Browns defense cobbled together an impressive effort in the first half. It was good enough to give Cleveland a 13-12 lead at halftime in a game in which a muffed punt and other miscues put the group in less-than-ideal situations.
Penalties were the group's demise as the Vikings scored touchdowns on back-to-back drives to put the game away. Jackson, though, remained encouraged by the overall performance considering the constant binds the unit found itself in.
"I'm very pleased with our defense. I still am," Jackson said. "We've still got to try to play
complementary football. We've got to help them out on offense and find a way to score more points and make more plays when we have opportunities to. I think that would take some of the pressure off of them."
It was a bend-don't-break effort that ultimately wasn't good enough for a unit that was on the field for almost 38 minutes as Cleveland's offense sputtered. Linebacker Joe Schobert shrugged off that dynamic, saying the Browns defense wants the opportunity to rise to such challenges.
"I know I can speak for the defense, like when we go out there, we're having fun. We're balling out and running around, loving to hit people," he said. "Like at the end of the game, when you look up and the score is not in your favor, obviously it hurts, but during the game I don't feel anything like that. We're rolling and having a lot of fun."