Answering four of your questions before the Browns make their second-longest flight of the season to Los Angeles ...
Zane Gonzalez has struggled his rookie year. Is that normal? Do NFL kickers generally see significant improvements in years two or three? -- Duane A., Katy, Texas
Gonzalez, the former seventh-round pick, is 11-of-16 on field goals and has made all but one of his extra point attempts through the first 11 games of his NFL career. It’s not been an ideal start for the rookie, but his misses have been substantially magnified because of Cleveland’s struggling offense. The Browns have desperately needed every one of the field goals he’s missed. Cleveland’s coaches have maintained their support for Gonzalez, who has been appreciative of it. He bounced back nicely after his miss last week, and the Browns are hoping he does the same Sunday against the Chargers.
As for rookie struggles, here are the rookie stats from a handful of the game’s best kickers. The results are certainly mixed. We’re only including field goals because up until a couple of years ago, extra points were gimmes.
Adam Vinatieri (1996) - 27-35 (77%)
Stephen Gostkowski (2006) - 20-26 (77%)
Justin Tucker (2012) - 30-33 (91%)
Sebastian Janikowski (2000) - 22-32 (69%)
Dan Bailey (2011) - 32-37 (87%)
Considering that without any WRs, we had eight in the box facing us a lot. Now we have had two games with Corey Coleman. With Josh Gordon and Coleman, the defense will have to respect the pass more. That should help. The real concern to me is we aren't closing it out in the red zone. This could be the lack of experience, but the bottom line is we need better offense at the goal line/red zone. -- James S., Hamilton
Let’s start with the second part. You absolutely nailed it in terms of the Browns’ offensive struggles, especially in recent weeks. Cleveland has moved the ball well between the 20s but has labored once it enters the red area. DeShone Kizer has cut down on his red zone turnovers, but turning the golden opportunities into touchdowns remains an unfulfilled conquest. Last week in Cincinnati, the Browns entered the red zone four times and came away with points just once, when Kizer plunged into the end zone on a quarterback draw. Kizer has just one red zone touchdown pass in his past seven games, a 19-yarder to Kenny Britt against the Lions.
As for the relationship between the run game and the return of Gordon, who will start Sunday against the Chargers, Browns coach Hue Jackson tackled this exact question Thursday. In sum, Gordon’s return can only help every aspect of the offense.
“He is a different guy. He is a different player. He is talented,” Jackson said. “I have seen teams have to put two guys on guys like these and play a different style of defense to account for these kind of guys. When he is rolling and playing like we all know he can play, he is a force. That is a good situation to have as an offensive coach.”
Why hasn’t Kenny Britt been playing lately? He’s healthy and on the bench, but not on the field? -- Zach C., Prospect
After not playing a single snap in Cleveland’s Week 8 loss to the Vikings in London, Britt has played 55, 20 and 18 snaps, respectively. The return of Coleman has had a lot to do with that, as Coleman has played nearly every snap since returning Week 11 against the Jaguars. Ricardo Louis has maintained his high percentage of snaps on the opposite side of the field. The return of Gordon will only make things tighter for this group, which has struggled throughout the season.
Britt, who caught two passes for 52 yards in his limited snaps against the Bengals, has 16 catches for 223 yards and two touchdowns this season.
When are the Browns going back to Kevin Hogan? He played well outside of most of the Texans game and currently is the best QB in almost every statistical category on this team. Why isn't he getting another shot? -- Eric S., Claremont, North Carolina
The Browns are going to roll with Kizer through the highs and lows through the rest of the season. Jackson made that clear after Kizer struggled against the Jaguars, and Kizer redeemed himself nicely last week against the Bengals.
Hogan has been inactive since his start against the Texans. That could change this week against the Chargers if Jackson makes a change at the No. 2 spot. As of Thursday, Jackson said he was still mulling that decision.