I’m impressed with Cleveland Browns rookie QB DeShone Kizer
His ability to handle blitzes and make throws shows he’s fearless, though not perfect
This year, like last year, I decided to break down the Week 1 coaches film and evaluate a rookie quarterback’s first start. Predictably, the Cleveland Browns lost, but I was awed by their rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer.
According to Browns head coach Hue Jackson, hope is what Kizer gives the Browns. Based on the game plan Kizer was expected to execute, faith is what Jackson gave Kizer. You might think Jackson showed he had faith when he named Kizer the starter. But every coach has to name somebody the starter, which doesn’t mean he has confidence in the starter (see the Houston Texans’ Tom Savage).
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Last season’s Week 1 rookie quarterback darling, Carson Wentz, won and had impressive statistics. But when I watch the film, I realized the Philadelphia Eagles didn’t have a lot of faith in him to sit in the pocket and make decisions. The Eagles won because of defense, special teams and great O-line play. The passing plays they called had Wentz leave the pocket or make basic reads between two options.
That was far from the case in Kizer’s first start. His offensive game plan was indistinguishable from that of most NFL veterans. The offense wasn’t simplified. There was no great running game for him to rely on. He didn’t run any bootlegs or sprint-outs. He sat in the pocket, surveyed the field and made good decisions.
On the first play of the game the Pittsburgh Steelers were in Cover 4, and rather than work the zone-beating combo on the left, Kizer threw an incomplete to the single receiver side on the right. He probably assumed the Steelers would be in a run-stopping defense, but he was wrong. That might have been the only time he seemed confused. They went three and out on that series. On the next offensive series, Kizer found himself in third-and-11. Backed up in their own territory, many teams would concede the series, call something conservative like a screen pass, then punt. Kizer dropped back, checked the safeties, determined they were in 2-deep, recognized that it was man coverage underneath and delivered a perfect strike to tight end David Njoku for a first down.
Good against the blitz
His stats against the blitz were almost identical to his stats when not facing a blitz, which is uncommon, especially for a rookie in his first start. The Steelers blitzed him from everywhere. He never appeared surprised or flustered. Kizer showed a complete understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of his protections. Even experienced quarterbacks get confused by the Steelers’ deceptive zone blitzes. Even when the Steelers showed blitz in the A gap away from the O-line’s slide protection, Kizer repositioned the back closer to the line and pointed out his responsibility, snapped the ball, scanned the field and completed the pass.
Kizer was fearless in the pocket, showing patience and a willingness to take a hit to complete a pass. But his fearlessness has its drawbacks. Like a lot of young quarterbacks, Kizer doesn’t know when to give up on a play. He was sacked seven times and hit five other times, in part because he often held on to the ball for too long waiting for someone to get open. And although he would prefer to stay in the pocket, he is a good athlete and ran the ball effectively. But he needs to learn to slide.
I was really impressed with Kizer’s mental maturity Sunday. And he made some difficult throws, although he was inaccurate at times. The accuracy issue isn’t a huge concern. Even Hall of Famers miss a couple of open receivers each week. He did make two pretty bad throws. One was intercepted, and the other should have been.
Overall, Browns fans should be ecstatic. Kizer probably won’t have a season like Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott did last year, but it’s not because he isn’t good enough. With continued development, consistent play and an improved supporting cast, you’re looking at a Pro Bowl-level talent. I could be overreacting to one statistically mediocre game, but Kizer showed more command and football IQ than several starting veteran quarterbacks did. So I am gonna go ahead and buy a little stock in Kizer before the price gets too high. Next Sunday, he and the Browns go into Baltimore to face the Ravens, who are coming off a shutout of the Cincinnati Bengals, making Andy Dalton look like the worst quarterback in the league. If Kizer performs well against the Ravens, in Baltimore, I am going to convert my entire portfolio over to Kizer stock.