Our Interview with the Enemy series continues this week with Chris Pokorny from Dawgs by Nature. Chris joins us to answer a few quick questions before the Cleveland Browns take on the New Orleans Saints on Saturday.
TH: Deshaun Watson has struggled in his first few games back, after serving an 11-game suspension. What do you think is contributing to his issues?
CP: In his first game back against the Houston Texans, he looked beyond rusty. I know people were saying, “That’s what to expect for a guy who hasn’t played football in 700 days,” but it looked more like he hadn’t played football in his life, lol. He made enormous strides in the following week against the Bengals in the sense that he looked like an NFL quarterback and did not look fazed; his rust in the past two games has been more understandable (i.e. maybe a hair slow in recognizing some things or pulling the trigger). It has been very frustrating, though, to see Watson progress these past two weeks, and yet the team only has one touchdown per game in that stretch. Some of that has been related to the offensive struggles since an injury to our center, which has thrown off the productive offensive line and running game that was leading the team’s offensive attack all season. Watson will come around over time.
TH: Is there a Browns player who wasn’t on many people’s radars, that has really stood out to you this season and why?
CP: I would give a shout out to wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, who has proven to be a very reliable No. 2 receiver for the Browns. Peoples-Jones has 57 catches for 782 yards and 2 touchdowns, and also has one of the league’s few punt returns for a touchdown in 2022. Oftentimes, I would say that he doesn’t necessarily get the best separation on his routes, but he still is able to concentrate and haul in the tightly contested passes. Lately, though, the team seems to be giving him some more routes where he crosses the field or catches it over the middle with some space in front of him. Amari Cooper gets the most press among the Browns’ receiving group, but Peoples-Jones has been just as valuable to the offense. Of course, now that I talked about a receiver, Peoples-Jones will probably be rather useless in the context of Saturday’s game, given the weather conditions.
TH: The weather forecast for this game is insane... possible -10 wind chill, gusts from 30 to 50 mph and chance of snow. We can probably expect a heavy run game but with Nick Chubb on the injury report with a foot issue, do you think he will play and what will be the game plan, in the event of his absence?
CP: I know the team has been resting Nick Chubb with a foot injury, but I haven’t heard any rumblings about him not playing on Saturday. If he doesn’t play, though, then Kareem Hunt and D’Ernest Johnson are both fresh and ready from not having had big workloads this season. I’d expect both teams to rely heavily on the running game; as crazy as it sounds, I don’t know if you’ll see any passes by either team. I suppose if a team loads the box to stop the run, then you can try to audible and throw a one-on-one pass to a tight end, or some screen passes to receivers. This is a game where there wouldn’t seem to be a need to have safeties lined up 20 yards down the field. Field goals seem like they would be out of the question too, including on extra point tries, so I’m thinking teams will go for two if they reach the end zone.
TH: Other than the weather, what will be the biggest obstacle that the Browns will face in order to defeat the Saints on Sunday?
CP: Even though the Browns just held the Ravens to three points, the Browns’ biggest challenge will be to maintain their gap integrity against the run. The run defense has been very poor this season, due to a lack of talent at defensive tackle, and the team losing their top four linebackers to injury. Last week, Baltimore’s top two running backs had 20 carries for 180 yards (9.0 YPC). The Ravens’ issue was that they kept turning the ball over or going for it on fourth down and failing. For as easy as they were able to run the ball, it’s pretty ridiculous that they couldn’t turn that into more points. Maybe the Browns’ run defense can be better this week if they can commit more resources to stopping it (not having to worry about the pass due to the weather), but it’s still the main obstacle I think they have to overcome.
TH: According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Browns are currently 2.5-point favorites. What is your final score prediction?
CP: I am expecting this to be a game where both teams keep trying to run the ball, but neither team is able to muster a lengthy drive because the defenses will be keyed in on it. Maybe some bad punts will lead to shorter fields that teams can capitalize on? It’ll be key for teams to avoid holding penalties so that they don’t bury themselves in a hole. I will predict 14-6 as the final, with the Browns coming out on top and covering the spread.
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