Highlights and lowlights: Looking back at the Browns' first half of 2017


CLEVELAND —**The Browns hope their bye week gives them a chance to refocus after an 0-8 start.

With the first half of the 2017 season in the books, here's a look at the highlights and lowlights as one of the league's youngest teams searches for its first win.


Run defense:With new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams at the helm, the Browns rank sixth against the run, allowing just over 84 yards per game. Notably, they shut down Tennessee's dynamic duo of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry two weeks ago and did the same against Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell in the season opener.  

Over the past two years, Cleveland's front office has invested in its front seven, trading for Pro Bowl linebacker Jamie Collins Sr. this time last year, extending Christian Kirksey last spring and adding defensive linemen Emmanuel Ogbah, Carl Nassib, Myles Garrett, Larry Ogunjobi and Caleb Brantley in back-to-back drafts.

Myles Garrett:Despite multiple injuries, the rookie defensive end has offered proof for why he was the No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick.

Garrett has collected four sacks in three games and given the Browns' pass rush an edge when he's on the field. In training camp, Garrett — the former Texas A&M star widely viewed as the best-overall player in the pre-draft process — quickly impressed his teammates with his humility and work ethic off the field.

Garrett is expected to play at Detroit on Nov. 12 after spending the last week in the concussion protocol. He missed the first month of the season because of a high ankle sprain.

Jason McCourty:The veteran, who joined the Browns this past spring in free agency, has been perhaps the team's most valuable player. The ballhawking defensive back and former Titan leads Cleveland with five takeaways, including three interceptions. A former captain in Tennessee, McCourty has been a welcomed presence inside the locker room, leading by example both on and off the field.

Duke Johnson Jr.:The third-year running back has been arguably the Browns' best offensive player, emerging as a threat in both the run and pass games. Johnson leads Cleveland in receiving (36 catches for 324 yards and a touchdown) and is second in rushing (34 carries for 176 yards).



Self-inflicted wounds:With little margin for error, the Browns have been partly undone by self-inflicted wounds. They lead the league in turnovers with 21 giveaways (four more than the second-worst team). Cleveland has also struggled with penalties, something Jackson pointed to as a sign of an "undisciplined" team after a loss to the Titans.

Red zone blues:The Browns have scored a league-worst 11 times (nine touchdowns, two field goals) on 20 trips to the red zone, a dynamic Jackson lamented earlier this season.

"I've told our quarterbacks I won't throw it down there if I don't have to," he said, referencing interceptions inside the 20-yard line. "If I can't trust you, if you're going to throw the ball to the other team, I won't throw it. If we end up kicking field goals, we end up kicking field goals. At least we have a chance to kick a field goal."

QB struggles:Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer has showed some promise in seven starts but has largely struggled to protect the football.

The second-round pick from Notre Dame is tied for the most interceptions (11) this season and hasn't been able to consistently help Cleveland's offense produce points. As a result, he's been benched three times, including twice for the majority of the second half, for those shortcomings. Kizer, who has stressed this season as an ongoing learning experience, took a step forward last weekend in London, passing for 179 yards and zero turnovers in a loss to the Vikings.

Losing Joe Thomas:After 10,363 consecutive snaps, Thomas suffered a season-ending triceps injury two weeks ago against the Titans. It was a crippling and devastating blow to watch Thomas — the 10-time Pro Bowl left tackle and face-of-the-franchise — go down for the first time in his 11-season career. In his place, Cleveland hopes second-year offensive lineman Spencer Drango can step up but understands no one can fill Thomas' massive shoes. Thomas, drafted third-overall by the Browns in 2007, had never missed an offensive play. He was placed on injured reserve last week.

Playmakers on the perimeter:In a young and largely unproven WRs room, the Browns are still waiting for a playmaker to emerge from the group. Only second-year player Ricardo Louis has caught more than 14 catches while he, Kenny Britt, Rashard Higgins, Kasen Williams and Bryce Treggs have combined for 64 catches for 747 yards and a touchdown. Britt, who was expected to be a major contributor after joining the team in free agency, has totaled 10 catches for 128 yards and a touchdown in five games. Meanwhile, Corey Coleman, the Browns' first-round pick in 2016, was placed on injured reserve after Week 2 with a broken hand. He's expected to return this month. The run game: With a fortified offensive line and re-commitment to the run game, the Browns haven't had quite the season they'd like on the ground. Cleveland ranks 24th in the NFL with an average of 95 yards per game while featured running back Isaiah Crowell is averaging 3.4 yards a carry.

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