Amidst the rain and humidity of Tampa Bay, DeShone Kizer got his first start as a Cleveland Browns quarterback in an audition of sorts to enter the 2017 regular season as QB 1. In alignment with what Kizer has shown throughout the preseason, his performance was mixed, but the former Notre Dame signal caller continued to show flashes of the skillset needed to play on Sundays. When the smoke cleared, Kizer had been named the starter for Week 1 against Pittsburgh. Here's how it happened.
Kizer's Brilliance on 3rd Down
You probably wouldn't take Kizer's final numbers to prom (6-18 for 93 yards and a pick), but the rookie quarterback was deadly efficient on third down. Kizer went 5-9 on the all-important down, good for a 56 percent completion rate.
On the Browns' first drive of the game, Kizer faced a 3rd & 8 from his own 25, a theme that would persist all night as the Browns started almost every single drive backed up in their own territory like a retreating army. Kizer dropped back, got great protection and roped a pass to the boundary to Kenny Britt, fitting the ball perfectly into the window provided by the Bucs Cover 2 defense.
Three plays later, facing a 3rd & 5, Kizer made the type of throw that has you dreaming of the playoffs, the AFC Championship, and damn it, a Super Bowl. First climbing the pocket, then rolling out of it to his left, Kizer threw the ball across his body and on the run to Corey Coleman, who was streaking down the left sideline. With a cornerback shading Coleman's right shoulder, and a safety closing in quickly over the top, the only place Kizer could put the ball that would result in a completion was high enough to get over the cornerback's shoulder but low enough so it wouldn't be an overthrow. Reading that back, it sounds impossible. And Kizer placed it perfectly.
Here's another 3rd down laser from Kizer, this time on a 3rd & 9 from his own 13 yard line. If you're nitpicking, you could say the ball was thrown a tad bit high. But Kizer places it where either Coleman snares it or no one does, and Coleman, who had an fantastic night and showed off some honest to god chemistry with Kizer, went up and got it.
Kizer's Rookie Struggles
While Kizer thrived on third down, he also displayed the inconsistencies that come with being a rookie quarterback in his third, not-even-real NFL game. After a horrendous offensive pass interference call against Coleman on a pass that would've resulted in a 1st down, Kizer instead faced a 3rd & 16. Instead of dumping the ball off to either David Njoku or Isaiah Crowell, who both released underneath the Bucs zone defense, when he realized nothing was there downfield, Kizer tried to force a pass to Rashard Higgins. It did not work.
Later, Kizer tried to get off a quick throw to the boundary to Coleman, but waited a tick too long and didn't place the ball far enough outside. The corner read the quick route perfectly, leapt in front of Kizer's pass and almost picked the ball off.
While Kizer was only able to account for one scoring drive, a field goal in the first quarter that put the Browns up 3-0, it could've easily been 14. Britt dropped a pass inside the five on third down on Kizer's first drive, and Duke Johnson fumbled inside the red zone on another drive that was recovered by Tampa Bay. These are ifs and buts, of course, but as always, the box score never tells the full story.
-Myles Garrett doing Myles Garrett things: The Browns' no. 1 overall pick continued to look like a stud, displaying the sort of terrifying, off-the-snap speed that is going to give offensive linemen fits for much of his career. Garrett can beat you on a speed rush, he can beat you on a power rush, and he can bend around you before you know what's happened. We can't wait to see him in Week 1.
-Don't forget about Larry Ogunjobe: The third round pick out of Charlotte has been overshadowed by the (justified) hype surrounding Garrett and Jabrill Peppers, but he's quietly starting to show flashes when given the chance to get after the quarterback. Watch him blow through his offensive lineman to slow down Tampa Bay's running back, then turn the other way and chase him down for a loss.
-Jabrill Peppers is everywhere: Peppers' lack of a definitive position at Michigan scared off a lot of NFL teams. The Browns faced their fears, and it's paid off immediately. Peppers has balled out ever since he took over the starting safety job when Ibraheim Campbell went down with a concussion, and picked off Jameis Winston at the goaline on Saturday night for one of the biggest defensive plays of the game. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has given Peppers a ton of freedom to roam as a safety, and Peppers has thrived.