Four game winning streaks are uncommon for the Cleveland Browns, as are 30 point scoring streaks. They haven’t won this many in a row since the end of the 2009 season, and they were 1-11 and winning out of the number 1 pick back then. Leroy Kelly lined up in the backfield the last time the offense scored 30 in four straight. So it’s been awhile. Kevin Stefanski deserves all the praise heaped upon him. A discombobulated organization for twenty years, the Browns have now formed the habits of winning teams. Few penalties, organized offensive and defensive units, and a concrete plan each week shows a competency the franchised lacked since Bill Belichick coached the team. There’s hope in Cleveland.
Though the defense is scatter shot, Myles Garrett is not. He’s dominating offenses, forcing quarterbacks into turnovers and poor decisions. His sack on Philip Rivers Sunday forced a field goal, and his bullrush of left tackle Le’Raven Clark into the Colts’ end zone and QB caused Rivers to launch the football out of bounds for a safety. The linebackers and safeties on the Browns defense are poor, but Garrett is masking his teammates’ deficiencies, not unlike how an NBA superstar raises the play of everyone around him. Garrett’s pressure gives opposing quarterbacks the yips, forcing them out of the pocket and into quick throws. When Myles isn’t strip sacking them (3 forced fumbles on the season, 1st in the league), he’s causing bad throws, leading to six picks by the secondary (third in the NFL). If the defense is going to give up yards, they have to force turnovers. Garrett’s vandalism of offenses leaves them hurried, causing turnovers.
He has every move. Teams are sending two, sometimes three blockers at him. Teams need to allocate that attention to slow Garrett, but it allows his teammates to flourish, too. The Browns are fourth in the league with 46 quarterback pressures, a 12.8% hurry percentage. Olivier Vernon has 5 hurries in 3 games. Sheldon Richardson has 5. Larry Ogunjobi has 2. Garrett is opening lanes for his line mates to pressure the opposition into mistakes.
His go to move is to align himself wide of the offensive tackle, explode on the snap, get lower than the blocker, and use his speed to beat his man to the quarterback. Garrett overruns the pocket a lot, but uses his quickness to come back to the quarterback, bringing him down from behind. This causes many of his strip sacks.
He’s too agile for 300 lb. offensive linemen to stay in front of, and he’s too strong for them to push around. It led to the safety Rivers took when he threw the ball away. Garrett shoves his man into the backfield, overpowering him at the snap of the ball. Once linemen prepare for his outside speed rush, placing all weight on their outer foot to blunt his speed, Garrett throws the change up, catching them out of position and unable to adjust to his power.
Even when offensive linemen have him contained, they don’t. Against Dallas, Terence Steele used his hands well, maneuvering Garrett where he wanted. This time Myles hit him with a spin move, leaving Steele flat footed and unable to protect Dak Prescott from getting sacked.
He’s created 8 turnovers via his pressures and sacks on the season, giving his defense a chance to get off the field. The Browns are 21st in the league in yards allowed, but the talent surrounding Garrett isn’t good enough for that number to lessen throughout the year. They have the Defensive Player of the Year to this point, however. Cleveland will stay in games by pressuring offenses into mistakes. Turnovers are key for the Browns this season. The defense has to get the ball back to Baker Mayfield. Garrett has the largest responsibility of any defense player in the NFL. He’s met the challenge after five games, as bounded to this team’s success as any defender in football. It’s why he’s the MVP on that side of the ball.
With wins comes urgency and importance. It’s now Steeler week. Pittsburgh’s defense is destructive. T.J. Watt is Pro Football Focus’ number 1 ranked edge defender, Tyson Alualu their highest rated interior lineman. The Steelers sack the opposing quarterback 12.27% of the time, tops in the league by miles. They force almost 2 turnovers per game and are the second best run defense in the league. Few holes exist.
Mayfield has to be smart. Joe Haden and Minkah Fitzpatrick will try to bait him into turnovers. He’s still struggling inside the pocket, so Watt and Bud Dupree will focus on curtailing the bootlegs and pocket sliding the Browns do to open passing lanes for Mayfield. Stefanski should lean on the three-step drop in Pittsburgh. Try to get Odell Beckham in space on wide receiver screens and slants. Run pick plays in the middle of the field to free Jarvis Landry on shallow crossing routes. It’ll be imperative for the Browns offense for Mayfield to throw fast, getting the ball to their playmakers as quickly as possible. With Nick Chubb hurt, they’ll need Kareem Hunt’s best game as a Brown. The offensive line will face their biggest challenge this Sunday. They must win battles to open holes for Hunt and D’Ernest Johnson, or the offense could struggle.
Gone are the days of Ben Roethlisberger standing in the pocket, waiting, waiting, waiting for a receiver to break open deep, then heaving the ball downfield for large gains. Pittsburgh’s offense moves quicker now, focusing on quick slants, short crossers, and wide receiver screens. Roethlisberger is 22nd in the league in yards per attempt, but he’s more efficient. 10 touchdowns, 1 interception, 70% completions. He’s posted the highest quarterback rating of his career to this point in the season. Look for more of the same Sunday. The Steelers will want to blunt the Browns’ pass rush by getting the ball out of Big Ben’s hand fast. They’ll bet they can sustain drives against Cleveland’s poor secondary, taking small chunks at a time, and that Roethlisberger won’t make mistakes. Pittsburgh will test the Browns’ rushing defense, too. They’re 8th in the league running the ball. The Browns have to get off Heinz Field. The Steelers will be patient, opting to throw quick and wear down Cleveland’s front four with James Conner. It’s the toughest test they’ve faced since the opener in Baltimore. Games in Pittsburgh have a way of getting out of control. If the Browns and Stefanski can avoid mistakes and get to the fourth quarter in a one score game, Myles Garrett can flip it on one play.
The Whip Around
1.If Garrett isn’t the Defensive MVP, Aaron Donald is. He’s won the award twice (2017,2018) and again leads the league in sacks (7) after posting 4 against Washington on Sunday. He’s the Barry Sanders of defensive tackles. Smallish for his position at 6’1”, 280, Donald is quick and shifty, using abrupt movements and the best hands for a defensive lineman in football to bring down quarterbacks and running backs in the backfield. His body allows him to get low against his man, giving him the positional advantage before overwhelming with his speed. His first move is electric, putting the opposing O-lineman in a critical position at the snap. Then he uses his hands to maneuver, pushing offensive linemen around with his strength, giving himself lanes to attack the QB. Donald is the entire package, a disruptor at the tackle position unseen in the league’s history.
2. Quiet stat wise in his first 3 games, Steeler rookie Chase Claypool erupted against Philadelphia Sunday, catching 7 balls for 110 yards and 3 touchdowns. Pittsburgh’s organization has mastered the art of developing receivers and found another gem in the second round of this year’s draft in Claypool. He’s huge at 6’4” and 238 pounds and possesses enough speed to break defenses (his 20.1 yards per reception is 3rd in the league). Pittsburgh’s defense is Super Bowl worthy, but Roethlisberger, early in the season at least, seems content to throw short. They’ll need Claypool’s deep threat ability to open the underneath routes and running lanes for James Conner if they hope to advance in January, however.
3. Why do coaches take the ball from their quarterbacks at inopportune times? On a fourth down play in the red zone, Jacksonville motioned quarterback Gardner Minshew out wide, direct snapping the ball to running back James Robinson. Robinson was looking to throw, couldn’t find a man, and got sacked by J. J. Watt. Why get cute on 4th and 1 from the 8 yard line? That’s a play to run on first or second down. Too often, NFL coaches are trying to prove they’re the smartest guy in the room instead of making winning decisions. They trust the offense to Minshew 99% of the time. He’s the one used to making all the ball handling decisions. Don’t put the rock in your third string point guard’s hands on the last possession of the game.
4. Justin Herbert has an arm, and he’s fantastic outside the pocket. The Chargers keep choking games away, but they have something here. Throws on the move don’t get better than this.
5. Joe Burrow looks fine so far in Cincinnati, completing 65% of his passes while throwing 6 TDs to 3 picks. But he’s in serious jeopardy of going the way of Tim Couch and David Carr if the Bengals don’t get some protection in front of him. Couch and Carr were number 1 overall picks with talent that took beatings early in their careers, suffered PTSD, and never recovered. Defenses have dropped Burrow 22 times in five games, on pace for 71 sacks this season. Carr’s record of 76 sacks in 2002 is in danger if Burrow can remain healthy for 16 games. There are plenty of weapons around him, and while Burrow’s arm isn’t a rocket, he’s accurate and smart. Cincinnati has a path to compete in the AFC North in a few years, but only if their QB isn’t laid up in Bethesda North Hospital.
6. Just what Baltimore’s defense needs, another big play linebacker. Another break out rookie from the AFC North this week, Patrick Queen detonated the Bengal offense and former LSU teammate Burrow on his own. 9 tackles, 1 quarterback hit, a sack, a forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, and a fumble returned for a touchdown. Queen possesses 4.5 speed and is a sideline to sideline disruptor. He’s tied for 3rd in the league in solo tackles (30) and is already an outstanding run stuffer. He must improve in the passing game (allowing a 110 rating and 75% completion percentage), but the Ravens will live with that for now. His big play ability on their ball hawking unit just fits.
7. Kyle Shanahan saved his quarterback from further embarrassment Sunday, pulling Jimmy Garoppolo after a horrid 1st half against the Dolphins (7-17, 2 interceptions, 15 rating). The Super Bowl losers’ hangover seems alive in San Francisco. Though they’ve dealt with a plethora of injuries, something isn’t right. Shanahan deflects on Garoppolo, claiming he still felt the effects of a high ankle sprain that caused him to miss 2 games, and that was the reasoning for the benching. Okay. Shanahan doesn’t trust Garoppolo and proved as much in last year’s playoffs when he kept the ball on the ground and out of Jimmy G’s hands. His 3-11, 36 yard, 1 pick fourth quarter in last year’s Super Bowl cost his team a title. How long can San Fran afford to line him under center? A 26 point loss at home to the Miami Dolphins doesn’t go well with their opening week no show against Arizona. The other pieces are in place for a run. When do the 49ers start quarterback shopping?
8. This is a grown man being plunged into the ground. Derrick Henry, beast.
9. As the injuries mounted in L.A., it became obvious the Rams couldn’t afford the luxury of Todd Gurley. Huge contracts for Jared Goff, Aaron Donald, and Jalen Ramsey strapped the organization, and they needed out of his 4 year, $60 million deal signed in 2018. Running backs are everywhere, especially used, injured ones. But despite the disaster in Atlanta, Gurley’s shown some resurgence in 2020. 375 yards (3rd in the league) at 4.7 yards per carry, and 5 touchdowns proves he isn’t washed yet. But the Falcons need to monitor his carries. Only 26, Gurley got used by the Rams and his rickety knees have to be a constant source of concern for the Falcon coaching staff. He’s on a one-year deal, so Gurley must stay healthy this season if he hopes for one last biggish contract. If he does, the numbers will be there. Who takes the chance?
10. On the surface, Deshaun Watson’s numbers look fine in his first season post DeAndre Hopkins. He’s averaging a yard more than last year per attempt, his yards per completion is 2 better than 2019, and his touchdown rate is identical. But he’s throwing more picks and his QBR is 10 points less than a year ago. Houston’s 24th in the league in scoring. Watson isn’t as comfortable. He and Brandin Cooks connected Sunday 8 times, however, as the Texans handled Jacksonville at home, and their fans hope it wasn’t an aberration. Watson is one of the best five quarterbacks in the game, and Bill O’Brien’s destruction of their roster and future draft picks is criminal. They should compete for titles, not fire coaches after 4 games. Here’s hoping the Texans hire an offensive mind capable of unleashing Deshaun’s talent.