“Holding on to the ball a little too much in the pocket,” Kizer said. “That doesn’t put my offensive line in the best position to hold off, and a lot of those sacks go on to me. I have to do my best to make the proper adjustments and make sure I move the ball to the checkdown when I need to.”
Kizer was sacked seven times by the Steelers. He said he has to get better in a hurry — like by Sunday, when the Browns travel to Baltimore to face the Ravens, who sacked Andy Dalton five times and intercepted him four in their shutout win over the Bengals.
“It needs to happen fast,” Kizer said. “Obviously, in this last game, that changes the game. Those sacks are moving us out of field goal range. Those sacks are moving us to third-and-extra-long. It is my job to make sure that we at least throw the ball away and keep the ball where it is.”
In general, Kizer had a better-than-solid opener, completing 20 of 30 throws for 222 yards with one touchdown passing and one rushing. He did not fold when the Browns fell behind 7-0 early or when they were behind 21-10 late.
Kizer gave the Browns offense a different feel — one that said as long as he stayed composed and in control, he would give Cleveland a chance. Kizer did just that.
But as he progresses early in his career, he will try to learn from every game and every snap. The clear takeaway was that the sacks were too frequent and hurt the offense. He admitted there were short checkdowns available on some of the sacks.
“When you have the ability to run with your legs and extend plays, you never feel as if you ever should be sacked,” Kizer said. “Right now, I am trying to do my best to continue to get that feel that you need in the pocket to understand when it is time to go down and when it is time to escape the pocket and throw it away, or to find someone who is in an underneath spot where I can drop the ball off or at least throw it at his feet so I am not taking sacks.”
Examining some of the sacks shows how much they hurt:
On the game’s second drive (with Pittsburgh leading 7-0), Kizer was sacked on first down, which led to third-and-long and another sack, then a punt.
On the first drive of the second half (with Pittsburgh up 14-7), Kizer was sacked on second-and-8, again leading to a punt.
On the first possession of the fourth quarter (Pittsburgh up 21-10), he was sacked for a loss of 9 on first down. Kizer tried to throw his way out of it on second down, but Kenny Britt dropped the pass. It ended up being a three-and-out.
Pro Football Focus reports that on the sacks, Kizer held the ball an average of 4.4 seconds, which would have been the second-longest time to throw in the league in 2016. PFF reported that, including his scrambles, his average time in the pocket to throw was 3.05 seconds, the fourth-longest of the week.
Kizer was not sacked on his two touchdown drives, and on the second, he threw a short checkdown to Isaiah Crowell, who turned the short completion into an 11-yard gain and a first down.
“Repetition is the mother of learning,” coach Hue Jackson said. “Just keep doing it and do it better and keep getting better at it. And he will, there is no question.”
Kizer took accountability for other parts of the game, as well. He said his deep throw to Kasen Williams down the sideline in the first half went out of bounds because he didn’t throw it well.
“I put the ball 2 yards inside and he walks into the end zone,” Kizer said.
There were good plays. Plenty of them. Jackson mentioned a 29-yard pass to Ricardo Louis that set up the second touchdown, calling it “outstanding.” He also mentioned some checkdowns and short throws that resulted from Kizer’s going through two or three receivers to find the right one.
“It shows me he is not just playing pick a guy and throw the ball to him,” Jackson said. “He is working within our system, within our progressions and getting the ball to the right people.”
“Quite frankly,” Kizer said, “we are in a position now where I am just trying to learn from my mistakes more than being excited about all of the good ones. There is a lot of room for improvement. In that game, I think, were some things to key in on for this week. Obviously, a big thing we are focusing on is making sure that I’m getting rid of the ball as fast as I possibly can and trying to continue to have some drives that keep our defense off of the field.”