Immature: not mature, ripe, developed, perfected, etc.
One word describes the Cleveland Browns to this point in the season; the only word able to make sense of them. The definition comes from Dictionary.com, but it could have come from the team’s Wikipedia page. There is no predicting their performance week to week, especially against good teams, and in hindsight it’s obvious. The youth of the coaches and players will not change without experience; 2019 will be a season of lessons.
Residing in a poor division, this does not prevent the Browns from winning it. The schedule eases in a few weeks and wins will be easier to come by. Above all, this year they must develop habits of consistent winners.
Much went wrong Monday. Mack Wilson has played well subbing for Christian Kirksey, but got lost on the first two touchdowns of the night. On Matt Breida’s 83 yard touchdown run he freelanced, gave up his gap assignment, and Breida housed it. On Breida’s touchdown reception, Wilson bit on an outside fake, the running back turned inside. Easy touchdown catch.
Time after time in the first half, the offensive scheme called for a tight end to block Nick Bosa. This cannot happen. The offensive design has to match up offensive linemen against the other team’s best rusher. It is malpractice to leave tight ends on players of Nick Bosa’s caliber. The results speak for themselves.
Antonio Callaway was light years away from being prepared to play a football game Monday night. Each time the team broke the huddle, he was asking either Jarvis Landry or Baker Mayfield where to line up. On the best drive of the game he false started and dropped a sure touchdown, which turned into an interception that ended the Browns’ chances of a victory. The coaches and Callaway deserve blame. They put too much on his plate, but Callaway was ill prepared. The team has made it clear they will stick by him, yet he has shown no desire since they drafted him to mature. He should be cut, though his draft status, and Dorsey’s desire to hit on his picks will prevent that from happening.
Nick Bosa razed Joel Bitonio in the third quarter on a play that epitomized the night for both teams. The 49ers beat up the Browns on offense and defense. The Niners’ lines dominated. It was a setback for the organization. This should now be the expectation for the rest of the season. Poor performances will follow good ones. The hope is by December, some consistency will develop and the softer schedule will put the team in a position to win the division.
The Seahawks present as stiff a test as the 49ers, if not a more capable one. Russell Wilson is an upper echelon quarterback in the NFL; if the MVP vote occurred this week, he would finish second to Patrick Mahomes. He is lethal in the pocket but more dangerous if he escapes from it. The defense did a serviceable job keeping Lamar Jackson’s running in check. They should apply those same principles again this week.
While Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams missing the last three games has yet to affect the defense, this would be a nice week for them to return. Both practiced on Wednesday, but it sounds iffy either will suit up. Tyler Lockett, D.K. Metcalf, and Will Dissly present a formidable challenge as a pass catching group, the best the Browns have faced this year. If they are open, Wilson will find them. With the defensive line unlikely to rack up sacks on Rusty, the coverage on the back end must be airtight. The Browns could use their full complement of defensive backs.
At their heart, however, the Seahawks want to run the ball. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer commits to the run, so much so he is criticized for it. Seattle is fifth in the league in run play percentage at 47.7%, according to teamrankings.com. With the Browns getting gashed by the 49ers on the ground, look for a steady dose of Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny on Sunday. Both backs are big and physical. The tackling issues from Monday night need cleaned up.
Defensively, the Seahawks rank in the middle of the league in most categories, yet struggle to generate a pass rush. Their sack percentage is only 4.9% according to teamrankings.com, and they give up 270 yards per game through the air. This seems as good as spot as any for Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham to take advantage of a team’s weakness. For the Browns to begin showing some consistency, these two need to get on the same page. This week presents an opportunity for that.
With things looking dire after Monday night and the 4-1 Seahawks coming to town, a tough week is in store. Will the Browns fix the many areas exposed by the Niners? Seattle will present many of the same problems. While they may lose Sunday, I expect a better effort in Cleveland. It can’t get much worse.
The Whip Around
1. Although the score tightened in the fourth quarter, the Packers man handled the Cowboys in Dallas before softening coverages on defense and allowing Dak Prescott garbage time yards and points. The Cowboys are pretenders, again. A team built on running the ball and shaky quarterback play cannot win consistently against good teams in today’s NFL. Green Bay’s defense was impressive through three quarters, and Jaire Alexander was a big part of their success. The second year corner had a pick and three passes defended, reading Prescott routinely and stifling the Cowboys’ passing game. With the Packers running the ball well and defending at a level unseen in Aaron Rodgers’ time at quarterback, Green Bay is staking its claim as best in the NFC.
2. I’m no fan of Jon Gruden and will never understand the reasoning behind signing him to a 10 year, 100 million dollar contract. To give him a say in personnel is just as baffling, but I digress. The Raiders have looked competent to this point, with Josh Jacobs providing stability to a shaky offense. Derek Carr isn’t turning it over and completes 73% of his passes. Jacobs is fourth in the league in rushing and looks to be the building block Oakland/Las Vegas needs to claw its way out of the AFC West cellar. The schedule stiffens in the coming weeks, however, and will test Gruden and his rigid, old school beliefs.
3. Each week I expect a come to earth moment from Christian McCaffrey, and each week he somehow tops the thrills of the game before. The do-it-all Panther running back is keeping Carolina alive in the NFC South with Cam Newton hurt, allowing Kyle Allen to remain efficient without turning the ball over. Sunday’s masterpiece was Carolina’s third in a row and murmurs of MVP have begun around McCaffrey. The league’s leading rusher also is 14th in catches, displaying his versatility. A running back isn’t winning MVP though. Right?
4. The Vikings are a roller coaster ride, much like other teams in the league with inconsistent quarterback play. One player who should be compared to a merry-go-round, however, is defensive end Danielle Hunter. Tied for sixth in the league in sacks, Hunter is building upon last year’s Pro Bowl season. He lived in the Giant backfield Sunday, sacking Daniel Jones twice and applied consistent pressure throughout the day. One of the best pass rushers in the league, the Vikings are better served allowing the steady Hunter and Dalvin Cook to carry the water while praying Kirk Cousins can stay afloat.
5. Referee Complaint of the Week
I’ve made this a weekly feature because the zebras are forcing themselves into these games. It upset Jason Garrett that he had to challenge an obvious Amari Cooper catch on Sunday, and he hurled the challenge flag into the ground while directing words in the official’s direction, who he tangled with earlier in the game. The ref got all up in his feelings, hitting Garrett with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. I can’t imagine Garrett said anything the ref hasn’t heard before. Embarrassed by the missed call and butt hurt over Garrett’s actions, the offending referee had to force himself into the action. Toughen up officials.
6. The Ravens did not trust Lamar Jackson in the closing minutes and overtime of their victory against the Steelers. The play calling remained conservative with a chance to win it with a touchdown in the final seconds, but the offense settled for a game tying field goal. Same in overtime, when a JuJu Smith-Schuster fumble handed Jackson prime field position. Having Justin Tucker as your kicker affords John Harbaugh with such luxuries. The Ravens defense is bad and will get worse. They’ve lost safety Tony Jefferson for the year with a torn ACL. Jackson must find the magic he performed against two of the worst teams in the league in the Dolphins and Cardinals, or he’ll be back to being a glorified running back.
7. Josh Allen is a turnover machine in Buffalo, but the Bills defense is dominant enough that it may not matter. Second in yards per game and third in points allowed, they will keep Buffalo in playoff contention throughout the year. No one jumps off the page at you; they are just solid at every level. At 4-1 and three more games on the schedule with the Jets and Dolphins, the Bills aren’t going anywhere.
8. The hangover Atlanta is on from Super Bowl LI is epic. After blowing a 28-3 lead against the dynastic Patriots, Atlanta went on a bender it still hasn’t recovered from. 7-9 last year and now 1-4 in 2019, the Falcons have too much talent to be this bad. Dan Quinn isn’t long for that job.
9. Ron Rivera, when you’re up 4 with the ball at the opponents 5 yard line in the fourth quarter, just kick the field goal. I’m all for aggressiveness, but I think the “Riverboat Ron” moniker has gone to your head. Coaching is a tough job, yet these guys make it more difficult.
10. The victory of the year to this point goes to the Colts. Entering Arrowhead on Sunday night and beating the invincible-looking Chiefs was no small feat. With T. Y. Hilton, Marlon Mack, an improved defense and stout offensive line, Jacoby Brissett is set up to succeed. If he can avoid turnovers, Indy is built for a long playoff run.