NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Titans return to Nissan Stadium on Sunday to take on the Cleveland Browns.
The Titans (2-3) are coming off a 30-17 win over the Dolphins. The Browns (0-5), meanwhile, lost 33-13 to the Patriots.
This week, I caught up Mary Kay Cabot, who covers the Browns for Cleveland.com. Mary Kay's work appears in the Plain Dealer, and she's also an analyst for WKYC-TV and NBCSN. You can follow Mary Kay Twitter @MaryKayCabot.
Let's get to our conversation about the Browns:
Wyatt:** Hey Mary Kay. Thanks for taking the time. Right out of the gate I want to ask you about the mood surrounding the Browns. At 0-5, they're the NFL's only winless team at this point. They've lost two games by a touchdown or less, but they're coming off a pretty one-sided loss to the Patriots. What's the feeling around the team?
Cabot: Well, the mood was actually really good up until they lost big to the Patriots. Up until that point they felt like they could have won most of the games they played. In the first four games they had opportunities to win those games, and some fluky things happened. So I think they felt like they were on the right track. The Patriots game took the wind out of the sails a little bit, though, because it kind of showed them just how far they do have to go. And by the same token they lost another quarterback in that game – Cody Kessler was knocked out in the first quarter and he actually started out pretty well in that game.
Wyatt: So what's the deal with Kessler for this week's game against the Titans? Do you expect him to be back behind center, and if not, who might it be?
Cabot: They're hoping Kessler is back, and that's the plan. But he took a really good shot to the ribs/chest area. He really wants to start this game and he really wants to go out on Wednesday in practice and be ready to go, but I think they're going to have to see how it goes, and he is going to have to see how he feels. Because when I saw him on Monday in the locker room, he still appeared to be in a significant amount of pain to me. Josh McCown is preparing to start if Cody can't go. I really think even though Josh has not technically been cleared to play yet, since they are letting him go out there and practice on Wednesday, I am guessing he could go out there and start the game if he has to. I'd say it's a little bit up in the air right now until we get through Wednesday's practice. Now they've also promoted Kevin Hogan, the rookie out of Stanford, from their practice squad, so he'll be ready to go if necessary.
Wyatt: One thing is for sure, and that's the Browns have sure had some tough luck at the quarterback position. Is it getting tough keeping up with all the guys in and out of the lineup?
Cabot: I've seen a bunch of different stats going on, but one sticks out. The Browns are the first team since 1968 to have five different quarterbacks attempt at least five passes in the first five games of a season. The season was supposed to be a really good look at Robert Griffin III to see if he could become their franchise quarterback. And head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton were doing a really nice job with Robert and helping him become a pocket passer, and he said himself in that first game he felt better than he'd ever felt playing the position. So who knows how things would have gone had he not gotten injured, and then Josh McCown broke his collarbone in the second game. Charlie Whitehurst played last week, but (he was waived Tuesday with an injury settlement). So that has kind of been the story of the season for the Browns. And it's kind of hard to say where they'd be right now had all this not happened.
Wyatt: Looking at the stat sheet, it sure looks like the strength of the Browns on offense centers on their run game with running backs Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson. And I know receiver Terrelle Pryor has been a playmaker all over the field. Safe to say that's the strength on offense?
Cabot:* *Yes. The running game had been very good until they ran into the Patriots. They fell behind 23-7 in that game and they just weren't able to run it. But Isaiah Crowell is running really well, and with a vengeance. … And Duke Johnson is having a nice season running and catch the ball out of the backfield. Sometimes you'll see those guys on the field together. They provide a nice changeup. Isaiah is more of a power runner, and Duke is more the shifty, elusive type back who will bounce it outside. And Terrelle, he has established himself as a viable NFL receiver this season, and he has been a multi-purpose guy. Against the Dolphins he accounted for 200 of the Browns' 430 yards, and 144 of those came on his eight receptions, and he also completed a long pass and he rushed for a touchdown out of the Wildcat. He played 14 Wildcat snaps that game. He hasn't played as many since, but it was effective. … Depending on what happens at quarterback this week, if Cody is out there and he's not 100 percent healthy, they'll roll Terrelle in there, and they'll do that again. They'll use that Wildcat and take the pressure off of Cody.
Wyatt: I want to ask you about the defense as well, under former Titans defensive coordinator Ray Horton. I notice they've allowed 148 points in five games. What's going on there, and how is Horton handling the defense now that he's back in Cleveland?
Cabot: Well, they're really struggling to stop the run, and they're giving up big plays. Tom Brady completed passes of 63 yards, 43 yards, two 37s and a 36. He threw for 406 yards in that game on Sunday. And they're also struggling to cover tight ends over the middle -- that's been a real area of vulnerability. And they are not getting a pass rush. They have a lot of young guys on defense … and they just don't have that guy who is regarded as a fearsome pass rusher. When I look back to 2013 when (Horton) was here, he had pass rushers, and a more talented defense. Ray is trying to hold it together right now really with smoke and mirrors. He just has a lot of young guys, and they're kind of waiting for them to step up. I will say nose tackle Danny Shelton, their 2013 first-round pick, is having a nice season. He is playing much better, and has been one of the bright spots on defense.
Wyatt: **OK Mary Kay, last thing from me. And this is more of a mood of the city question. The Cavaliers just won the NBA title with LeBron James leading the way, and now the Indians are in the ALCS after sweeping the Red Sox. Are the fans in Cleveland willing to be patient with the Browns while they celebrate the success of those teams, or has the success of those teams made fans even more hungry for a winner on the football field?
Cabot:The Indians have kind of kept that Cavs fever going here, so it has been an exciting time to be a Cleveland fan. I will say I know Hue Jackson wants to jump in there and be a part of it and give the fans a football team they can also be proud of, too. So I know this has really been hard on him that they are 0 and 5 right now, and I think it is worse than he anticipated. I think he really believed he was going to be able to come in here and surprise some people. But when you think about it, in addition to the quarterbacks going down, their first-round pick, (receiver) Corey Coleman, broke his hand after a really nice start, so he has not been in there. And (receiver) Josh Gordon was supposed to be here and he left to check himself into rehab. So this explosive offense that they could have had isn't really coming to fruition, so they are kind of just working through it. But it's been a tough time, no doubt. These guys think it's more challenging than they thought it was going to be. I think fans are realistic, and I think they knew this was going to be another losing season and a rebuilding season with a lot of young guys. But I actually think it's a little rougher than Hue thought it was going to be at this point.