It’s Deja vu all over again. We saw the Cleveland Browns on Christmas Eve, but this is the playoffs and it is an entirely new ballgame. This is particularly true since C.J. Stroud and Will Anderson missed the first matchup. We caught up with Chris Pokorny again to ask him if there have been any updates with the Browns since we saw them a few weeks ago.
Battle Red Blog: Kevin Stefanski and DeMeco Ryans are likely the top two candidates for coach of the year. What is your best case for Stefanski?
Chris Pokorny: The case for Kevin Stefanski has to be the level of adversity this team has faced with injuries on the offensive side of the ball, including four starting quarterbacks (technically five, but we’re not counting last week’s game where we purposefully rested Joe Flacco).
Our All-Pro right tackle landed on IR immediately, then our rookie backup right tackle (who was stellar) landed on IR a month or so ago, putting us on our third stringer James Hudson. Our starting left tackle is gone. Running back Nick Chubb, arguably the best in the league, suffered a season-ending injury in Week 2. Deshaun Watson was 5-1 when he played, but also is out for the season with a shouler injury. And yet, this team found ways to win games with the likes of P.J. Walker and Dorian Thompson-Robinson, and now, stumbled into some unbelievable play by Joe Flacco that helped propel the team to where it is now.
For the offense to not have completely fallen apart, and for the team to have stayed motivated and confident through all of that, earns Stefanski a lot of credit as the leader.
BRB: Should the Browns win on Saturday they will likely have to run through Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen. Does Joe Flacco have what it takes to make a run like that?
CP: I assume the question is in relation to whether Flacco can go toe-to-toe with an elite caliber quarterback. In his four wins, the Browns averaged 31 points per game and Flacco averaged 340 yards passing and 3 touchdowns. That is good enough to get it done against anyone.
The one thing I will say, though, which bit the Browns in Flacco’s first game (a loss to the Rams) is that if the team suddenly gets behind big and has to pass, I think teams are more likely to just rush him no matter what, and while he is savvy with his pocket awareness and presence, if teams have no respect for a possible run game, then the sacks will start piling up. But that’s why it’s on our defense to lessen the effectiveness of those top quarterbacks, and allow Flacco to have his gunslinger mentality when the came isn’t out of reach or something.
BRB: The Browns didn’t see Stroud last time. How do you see the Browns defending him? Does he worry you?
CP: The Browns will play man defense against the Houston Texans’ receivers, so it’s less about what they’ll do against C.J. Stroud. The Browns’ defensive approach won’t be too different than what we saw against Case Keenum, because Cleveland trusts their cornerbacks against anyone. Nonetheless, of course Stroud worries me to a degree, because he minimizes turnovers and has had some insanely good stretched throwing the ball this year, playing far better than your typical rookie quarterback would.
BRB: The Browns’ fate was actually sealed in week 17 and they rested a number of regulars against the Bengals. Are you worried about rust or was that just a blip on the radar?
CP: The Bengals game wasn’t even a slight worry. We could have been blown out 500-0 and no one would have cared. The only things that mattered was our depth players also staying healthy. In that regard, the week was a success, although we may have lost one wide receiver (Cedric Tillman) to a concussion. But it allowed a guy like Amari Cooper to continue to rest his heel, so that it feels better when it goes up against the Texans again after his record-breaking performance a few weeks ago. The rust doesn’t worry me either; Joe Flacco was signed off the street and was far better than any quarterback we’ve had, so a week off shouldn’t phase him, especially in a place where weather isn’t a factor.
BRB: The Browns open up as 2.5 point favorites according to DraftKing Sportsbook. Do you think the Browns cover that? Are there any other prop bets you feel comfortable recommending?
CP: I’m expecting the Browns to win, and usually my predictions are by at least a field goal, so I like them to cover the 2.5 points. For the Browns, I like the Over on Amari Cooper having 73.5 receiving yards (-115). I didn’t see anything last game from the Texans to say they could stop him when he had 265 yards receiving, and Houston doesn’t seem like the type of team that would drastically change their approach (i.e. double teaming Cooper).
We want to thank Chris again for taking the time to answer our questions even though we did this a few short weeks ago. There have been enough changes and enough intrigue to make this game completely different from the one played on Christmas Eve. We invite you to go to Dawgs by Nature for all your Cleveland Browns news and commentary. We want to wish Chris and the Browns the best of luck in the future.