In a few weeks, there’s a chance we’ll look back on the Browns’ performance Monday night and see where the seeds of improvement were planted. While far from a dominant game, especially offensively, they played as a team, more than in week 1. Lost in the excitement of the talent acquired over the last two off seasons is the fact that this is a young squad.
Baker Mayfield is 24.
Myles Garrett is 23.
Denzel Ward is 22.
Nick Chubb is 23.
David Njoku is 23.
Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry are considered old heads at 26.
No one involved in this organization has won with any amount of consistency. Freddie Kitchens is 44 and a head coach for the first time at any level.
Is this being stated as an excuse? Absolutely not. Young teams, quarterbacks, and coaches win all the time in the NFL. It’s only a call for patience. What we saw out of the Browns on Monday was not pretty. The offense sputtered unless the ball was in Beckham’s hands. His explosiveness was unleashed for the first time as a Brown, showing why the optimism for this team exists. He is one of the five most gifted players in the league. He is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. Teams design their game plans around stopping him. He is a player who wins championships.
This win was important for the fans and the players. Building a legitimate contender for years to come starts with talent acquisition and ends with those pieces gelling together on the field. They made the first step in that process on Monday. Kitchens’ and Mayfield’s successes from last year are long gone. While Freddie is learning how to manage a 53 man roster, Baker needs to settle himself and his offense.
The first two weeks for the franchise quarterback have not gone well. On Monday, he looked as uncertain in the pocket as I’ve seen in his pro career. Holding the ball, scrambling too early, throwing late to receivers, and general inaccuracy plagued him throughout the night. A bad overthrow to Beckham was his most glaring mistake, but he also threw late to Njoku on a play in which the tight end sustained a concussion and a broken wrist. Njoku will miss extended time.
Mayfield is thinking too much in the pocket. Maybe the interceptions are getting to him, effecting his psyche. These are things that affect young quarterbacks. It’s up to Kitchens to help him fix his issues.
Give him more slants, like the touchdown to Beckham, and quick crossing patterns early in games to get him in a groove. His confidence looks to be waning; do things to get it back. Use your running back more, or at least the threat of him.
The Beckham touchdown was on an RPO, or a run pass option play. The quarterback can opt to hand the ball off, or pull it back and throw. It’s also a version of play action, which they need to run more of. Defenses worry about Nick Chubb, and play action passes will freeze defenses, allowing Mayfield that extra half second he needs to find open receivers. According to Football Outsiders, in 2016 the average play action play across the NFL netted 7.8 yards, while non-play action plays gained 6.2 yards. In 2017, those numbers were 7.4 and 6.0, respectively.
The Browns line up mainly in the shotgun and rarely use play action. Kitchens would be wise to add more of it into his play calling repertoire.
The defense shone on Monday, no one brighter than Myles Garrett. He dominated Jets left tackle Kelvin Beachum, going around and through him, registering three sacks and taking the NFL lead in that category. Garrett has a better-than-average chance to lead the league in sacks and a shot at Defensive Player of the Year. However, he needs to curtail the penalties. Three unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in two games will not cut it. However you feel about the way NFL officials are calling roughing the passer, it will be flagged. Garrett must become more disciplined or he will hurt the team at an inopportune moment.
Both linebackers, Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey, played outstanding Monday. They were around the ball relentlessly, keeping Le’Veon Bell in check in the run and pass games. Bell totaled 31 touches for 129 yards. Kirksey made plays against Bell on screens, a concern coming into the game. Schobert forced Bell to fumble on his biggest catch and run of the night. Looked at as the biggest weakness on defense, the linebackers played a large part in stifling the Jets offense. Unfortunately, Kirksey may miss the rest of the season with a chest issue, possibly a torn pectoral muscle. The rookies, Mack Wilson and Sione Takitaki, will now get a chance to shore up the middle of the defense. Wilson played 11 snaps Monday after Kirksey left and tallied 4 tackles. Here’s hoping for more of that.
Denzel Ward was underwhelming again, allowing Robbie Anderson a few of the only big plays the Jets hit on Monday night. He must get better. He is an essential part of the success of this defense. With the Rams coming to town, he cannot afford another ‘meh’ game. Could the Browns be in on Jalen Ramsey? Ian Rappaport of the NFL Network reports that the Browns are in the mix. We’ll see if John Dorsey is ready to give up a first-round pick and Greedy Williams for Ramsey.
A huge challenge awaits Sunday night. The NFC champion Rams will be one of the two or three best teams the Browns will play this year. A good performance by the defense could still mean surrendering 24-30 points. Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, and the stable of receivers they employ will challenge the defense on all levels. The defensive line must get pressure on Goff, causing quick throws. Goff struggles when pressured. Schobert will need to be at his best to contain Gurley.
Offensively, any success will depend upon slowing down Aaron Donald. He is a one man wrecking crew against the pass and the run. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year, he has what Myles Garrett wants. He will disrupt the Browns offense. You will get sick of seeing him in the Browns’ backfield. Mayfield must get rid of the ball or they will shut the offense down. Their corners, Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, are one of the best duos in the league. An exciting matchup with Beckham and Landry awaits. The Browns wide receivers need to run precise routes to aid their quarterback. It could be another tough week for Baker. Kitchen’s game plan will be paramount. If the Browns have any chance of pulling out a victory, Freddie must show some of the creativity that lead to success for the offense last year. And yeah, some play action passes.
The Whip Around
1.The penalty flags are an epidemic. During Week 2, the accepted penalties per team were 7.9. The game is becoming unwatchable. Rarely are three plays run before another flag gets tossed. The NFL needs to clean it up, or it will drive away fans faster than any concussion controversy could. It drags the action to a halt. 41% of the league’s referees are in their 1st or 2nd year in the NFL. They need to learn that infractions not affecting the play can be overlooked. There’s a reason traveling isn’t called each time down the floor in the NBA. Let these guys play.
2. The Vikings have as much talent as anyone in their division, and Dalvin Cook is showing he’s one of the best backs in the league. Kirk Cousins’ play will drag them to the depths of the also rans if he doesn’t get better, however. An unconscionable interception thrown into double coverage off his back foot in the end zone on Sunday killed any hope for a Vikings comeback. I’m guessing the front office is regretting his 3 year, 84 million dollar contract.
3. Mike Brown needs to look toward Miami when deciding the best course of action for his Bengals. They are semi-talented, yet turned Paul Brown Stadium into the world’s largest dumpster fire on Sunday, getting thrashed by a spry-looking 49ers squad. A. J. Green, Geno Atkins, Joe Mixon, Carlos Dunlap, Dre Kirkpatrick and Andy Dalton are assets that could fetch draft picks on the open market. This team will not win many games, may as well start the long rebuild now.
4. It’s been said many times, but Khalil Mack is a destroyer of offenses. Whether he or Aaron Donald is the best defensive player in the league can be debated; Mack’s effect on games cannot. He is a disruptive force, regardless of what the stat sheet says. He won the game for Chicago in Denver on Sunday. Offenses must account for him on every play. While Mitch Trubisky struggles, Mack will single-handedly keep the Bears in the playoff hunt.
5. Lamar Jackson dropped an absolute dime to Marquise Brown along the sideline to seal the Ravens win against Arizona on Sunday. Still not sold that he’ll remain healthy, or that he’ll do what he’s doing against better defenses, but he has looked the part against inferior competition.
6. Again I was impressed with Kyler Murray. He moves well in the pocket, creating throwing lanes for himself. He gave them a chance at the upset in Baltimore.
7. The Jacksonville defense was a force in Houston and at home against Tennessee. Calais Campbell reigned over the Titans’ O-line. The Jalen Ramsey trade rumors may change this, but they could make noise in that weak division. Gardner Minshew has made some impressive throws in two games this week, lighting Twitter aflame in the process. Kudos to Doug Marrone for going for 2 and the win against Houston, but keep the ball in your hot rookie’s hand on that play.
8. Patrick Mahomes is a buzz saw. Quiet in the first quarter, he threw for 278 yards and 4 touchdowns in the 2nd, putting the Raiders in their place. The Patriots look like world beaters, but if these two teams meet in January, there will be no question who the best quarterback on the field will be.
9. The end of the Denver-Chicago game will not be shown in Canton. Joe Flacco, somehow, took a delay of game penalty on the two point conversion. The Broncos went for the tie after being backed up five yards. The Bears then jump offside on the extra point try, giving the Broncos the chance to go for two again. Confused? So was I. Cue the circus music.
10. Pittsburgh and New Orleans caught tough breaks when each of their Hall of Fame quarterbacks got injured. While I had little faith in the Steelers anyway, the Saints are still talented and in a weak division. Brees may only miss 6 weeks. Teddy Bridgewater should be able to hold the fort during that time. He’s been to a Pro Bowl, and with the offense his for the foreseeable future, he should be able to keep them afloat. After games the next two weeks against the Seahawks and Cowboys, the schedule lightens up. New Orleans will still have a say in who makes the Super Bowl from the NFC.