It's a Black Friday edition of the Browns Mailbag, and we're answering three questions to get you through the remaining three days of this holiday weekend.
Do you think the Browns should use Josh Gordon as soon as possible or wait until next year when he is more familiar with his team and the plays? -- Patrick E., San Jose
The Browns are planning to utilize Gordon as soon as they can, which is next Sunday in Los Angeles against the Chargers. The advantage Gordon has compared to, say, Bryce Treggs, who joined the team a few weeks into the season, when making this kind of transition is the time he spent with the Browns last year. Gordon was with the team through all of training camp and played in the penultimate preseason game at Tampa Bay, catching two long passes for 87 yards and a touchdown. Many of the pieces around Gordon have changed but the concepts haven't. He got some work with the Browns during team drills on Wednesday and that will only increase next week, when preparations ramp up for the Chargers. How many snaps he's used remains to be seen. Cleveland's receiving corps is in need of a jolt. It started with Corey Coleman's return last week and promises to get another with Gordon coming back to the field.
Despite the loss of Joe Thomas, the offensive line hasn't seemed to live up to the "hype" of the offseason. Is this just perception or where do they stand in the league? - Elmer L., Bangor, Maine
Here are the basic stats that can help us assess the performance of the offensive line.
Rushing offense: 23rd (101.2 yards per game)
Yards per carry: T-8th (4.3)
Sacks allowed: T-26th (32)
These only go so far to tell the story, of course. A number of the sacks, for example, fall on the shoulders of the quarterback, particularly when you take into account the seven DeShone Kizer had in his NFL debut. Until last week against the Jaguars, when the Browns surrendered five, sacks haven't been a persistent issue.
The yards-per-carry average shows the Browns have been able to pick up good yardage when they're able to commit to the running game. That's been a problem throughout the season, though, because the team is far too often trying to overcome significant deficits. Last week against the Jaguars, when the Browns trailed by one possession for the majority of the game, it simply wasn't feasible to commit to the run, coach Hue Jackson said.
"In order for a playcaller to keep running the ball, somebody better inspire the play caller to keep running – a runner, blocking, whatever that is," Jackson said. "That wasn't happening."
The loss of Thomas is a significant one. There's no way around it. Spencer Drango has battled in the perennial Pro Bowler's place, but the Browns have had to make some offensive adjustments without the cornerstone left tackle at his usual spot.
"That is what we do on offense, and we are doing it better," Jackson said. "Our quarterbacks are not getting sacked at a merciful number. Our guys are doing a good job that way."
How about one more from Elmer?
Comparing stats for punts, field goals, kickoffs, returns, blocks, and coverage, where do we stand vs. the league? Onside kicks can occur anytime, as the Browns found out, and they were saved by an offsides. This unit seems to be caught off guard, even ignoring trick or unexpected plays. Do coaches "remind" them to "be aware?"
Here are some special teams stats to digest.
Punt: 5th (48.9 yards per punt)
Punt coverage: 6th (5.5 yards per return)
Punt return: 8th (10.1 yards per return)
Kick coverage: 1st (13.9 yards per return)
Kick return: 7th (23.9 yards per return)
Not bad, right?
The Browns have a number of moving parts and young players in their special teams units, but the numbers have been, as a whole, pretty good for the group. Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor will be the first to say it hasn't been perfect, of course. The Browns have committed a number of costly penalties on special teams and have been inconsistent, at times, on field goals.
As for last week's onside kick, here's how Tabor assessed it Friday.
"You just have to see the ball kicked. Don't leave early. Can't get caught leaning and anticipate those things. That is really all you can do," Tabor said. "Those are, for the two guys up front right there, that can always be somewhat of a tough play because they are in charge of that and usually when teams do that, there are more people than just two guys coming after them. You can't commit everyone up to the ball and then you will have zero return. We just have to be on our toes better."