Cleveland Browns: The Truth About Their Surging Offense

Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns, NFL

Though the difference in talent level from the first week was stark, the Cleveland Browns made a jump last Thursday, looking like a competent team for the first time since December 2018. Give credit to Kevin Stefanski. The first year head coach adjusted his game plan on a short week, a sign that he didn’t allow the thumping from Baltimore to overwhelm him. Cincinnati is no juggernaut, but he attacked their weaknesses on both sides of the ball. Pressure existed in this game despite the opponent. A loss would have been devastating, but Stefanski prepared his team well. They threw the ball early to get the lead, then handed it to their dominant running game to finish it. Defensively, they pressured Joe Burrow with the front four and forced him to throw the ball 61 times. The defense struggled again, and will throughout the season, however. Get ready for lots of shootouts.

Stefanski’s adjustments showed in the way he used his quarterback. He put Baker Mayfield in spots that allowed him to succeed, rather than force things he isn’t good at. Lots of play action early. Mayfield thrives using play action; the running game behind him is such a threat that defenses must respect it. Also, bootlegging Mayfield out of the pocket and into clear passing lanes accessed his creativity. The touchdown pass to Odell Beckham and throws to Jarvis Landry and KhaDarel Hodge pushed the ball down the field without Mayfield having to sit in a collapsing pocket waiting for routes to develop. He struggles in those situations. A nifty pick play on 4th and 2 to Landry, a beautiful design, gaining 21 yards. Stefanski understands his weapons and how to use them. When the opponent gets tougher, he must continue to put his guys in the correct spots.

Mayfield at his finest.
This play……gorgeous

Mayfield’s one mistake, an interception in the red zone, again showed his deficiencies reading the field. When he’s in the pocket, he’s a one read quarterback and can get fooled by defenses. He failed to see corner back William Jackson, leading to the pick. Stefanski and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt need to work with him on progressing through his reads, the next step in his development.

The defense was poor again, what’s to say? Linebacker Mack Wilson, corner Greedy Williams, and slot corner Kevin Johnson have all missed the first two games but practiced on Monday. All starters, their return is much needed. Any help in the back seven is welcome. Myles Garrett had a sack and a forced fumble, Sheldon Richardson blew up a screen on third down, recorded a sack and had two tackles for loss. Adrian Clayborn lived in the Cincinnati backfield before getting hurt, playing only 18 snaps. The defensive line is a force, providing something for this unit to grow from. But the linebackers and safeties struggle against the run and in pass coverage, and it’s hard to see where improvement will come from. Joe Woods is in for a long season.

Washington is next. They’re offense has struggled, giving the Browns’ defense a chance to get right. Ranked 24th in rushing and 31st passing the ball, Washington doesn’t have weapons capable of sustaining drives. Dwayne Haskins is meh. His offensive line does him no favors, but he misses easy throws and doesn’t make any outstanding ones, either. Terry McLaurin flashes, especially in the open field. Denzel Ward will shadow him. Antonio Gibson is averaging 4.1 yards per rush and has talent, but the rest of the offense is weak. The defense needs some success this weekend for a confidence boost.

Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt should have big weeks again. Chase Young has recorded 2.5 sacks in his first two pro games and Landon Collins is a Pro Bowl safety, but overall their defense lacks talent. Kyler Murray ran over, around, and through them on Sunday, throwing for 286 yards and a touchdown while running for 67 and two more TD’s. Baker should have success with the same recipe, minus the scrambling. Get Mayfield on the move early, rolling him outside the pocket to open passing lanes while mixing in play action passes to freeze the defense. Then give it to the workhorses. Chubb and Hunt totaled 210 yards on the ground Thursday night and can control games all season. The duo is quick and powerful, and the Browns offensive line has opened running lanes in each of the first two games. Once they get into the secondary, watch out. If nothing else, Stefanski has shown that his offense will be fun all season.

The Whip Around

1.Atlanta, come on. Forget about the idiocy displayed on the on-side kick (just fall on it!). Dan Quinn and company have an aversion to holding leads. Their defense generates zero pressure. Dak Prescott toyed with the Falcon secondary in the comeback, throwing for 450 yards and hitting 9 different receivers. Dan Quinn can’t be long for his job. Once a defensive wizard in Seattle, Quinn’s favorite unit can’t stop anyone. The talent level is low, and while they skewed toward offense at the top of their drafts until this year, he’s failed to develop any middle round talent. Quinn once was an excellent coach, but the PTSD from Super Bowl 51 has overtaken this franchise.

2. Gardner Minshew looks the part in Jacksonville. The starting quarterback, with little talent around him, kept dragging the Jaguars back into the game Sunday against Tennessee. This throw belongs in the Smithsonian.

3. Kenny Vaccaro proved too much for Minshew, however. A beautiful knock away of a pass in the end zone held the Jags to a field goal on a second half drive. Throw in 11 tackles, a sack, and another batted ball. Vaccaro reigned on an otherwise bad day for the Tennessee defense. The Titans have Super Bowl aspirations, but they’ll need more out of their defense. Late signing Jadeveon Clowney has yet to disrupt offenses and Tennessee is having trouble generating pressure. Their 2.5% sack rate is 30th in the league. Ryan Tannehill seems to have picked up where he left off, completing 70% of his passes and throwing 6 TD’s to zero picks. But giving up 30 to Jacksonville at home is troubling. They need more from Clowney and the rest of their defensive line.

4. Philadelphia resides in a winnable division with talent to do so, yet their once MVP level quarterback is off and too many guys are hurt. The offensive line has suffered through injuries. Though both played Sunday, starting tackles Lane Johnson and Jason Peters practiced sporadically last week. The line struggled in Week 1 against Washington, giving up 8 sacks, but allowed none on Sunday. And while the defense got bulldozed against the Rams, Carson Wentz deserves blame. He’s missing Alshon Jeffery, but he’s also missing throws. On back-to-back possessions against the Rams, Wentz threw a pick in the end zone, then missed a wide open Dallas Goedert for a score. What gives? Two touchdowns, 4 picks, and a 58% completion percentage won’t cut it for the likely MVP in 2017 before tearing his ACL. 2018 wasn’t much better, cut short for him too after injuring his back. Have the injuries caught up to Wentz? Or is the lack of play makers holding him back? DeSean Jackson is older, the rest of the receiver corps is unproven, and Miles Sanders missed Week 1 with a hamstring. The NFC East is winnable, but they’ll need health and a resurgent Wentz to compete.

5. And while we’re on hot messes at quarterback, look at Kirk Cousins. 11-26 for 113 yards and 3 interceptions on Sunday, Cousins gifted the Colts an easy one in Indianapolis. Minnesota was quick to ship Stefon Diggs to Buffalo this off season after a breakthrough playoff victory last year against New Orleans, but maybe that was fluky. Cousins has a history of botching big games, and one playoff victory, no matter how loud his proponents screamed after it, doesn’t change his history. Mike Zimmer believes in running the ball, and Dalvin Cook is special. But trading a number 1 receiver and placing the passing game onus on Adam Thielen looks to be a mistake. Cook has an injury history and just got paid. Cousins is off to a terrible start. A regression seems probable in Minnesota.

6. When will NFL coaches learn how to manage a play clock? With 1:45 left in the first half, Pittsburgh ran twice inside the five yard line before settling for a field goal while Vic Fangio allowed the clock to tick down to 39 seconds. Denver had two timeouts remaining. What gives? Yes, Denver was playing backup quarterback Jeff Driskel, but 1:30 is plenty of time to lead a team into field goal range. These coaches are overthinking themselves. Use your timeouts to give your offense as much time as possible to score points. That is still the goal, correct?

7. Raheem Mostert is fast. Like, fastest measured speed in the NFL (23.1 MPH, according to NextGen Stats) in the last two years fast.

8. NFL teams churn through head coaches at a staggering rate, yet Adam Gase still has a job. From his introductory news conference, it’s been obvious Gase isn’t a leader. He fancies himself a strongman, intent on clubbing his ways into his team. Doesn’t work anymore. Gase refuses to adapt, and his Jets teams are weaker because of it. His fights with Le’Veon Bell are public, and Jamal Adams ripped him before being traded to Seattle, calling out his leadership skills while claiming Gase doesn’t address the team, relying on other coaches for that duty. Gase is underwater, and the sooner Jets ownership and GM Joe Douglas realize it, the better. Sam Darnold’s once promising career is on the line. Time to move on.

9. Now with one of the best wide receivers in football, the Kyler Murray show in Arizona is must see. He’s completing 66% of his passes through two games, but his legs make him a fringe MVP candidate. The 158 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns in two games are impressive, and he doesn’t take hits. On his 13 carries in Week 1 against San Francisco, he only took one. He’s mastered the art of getting down, or out of bounds, and he’s so damn quick that defenders just can’t touch him. He struggles some in the pocket, but on the move his arm and accuracy shine, and Kliff Kingsbury knows it. The Arizona head coach puts his quarterback in advantageous spots. With DeAndre Hopkins and Larry Fitzgerald, Murray has receivers he can trust. The Cardinals are 2-0 and look impressive. The toughest division in football has a new contender.

Defenses don’t touch him

10. Pittsburgh’s defense is beyond impressive. 7 sacks, 11 tackles for loss, 19(!!!) quarterback hits, and two turnovers against Denver on Sunday are eye-popping numbers. The pressure they’re applying on opposing offenses is staggering. After a disappointing season without Ben Roethlisberger last year, the Steelers are back in Super Bowl contention. They aren’t allowing quarterbacks to get comfortable, forcing them into poor decisions. The two match-ups against Baltimore, and Lamar Jackson, can’t come soon enough.

Winning in March

Cleveland Browns, NFL, NFL Free Agency

Whether they’re declared the winners of free agency after the first week, the Cleveland Browns and new general manager Andrew Berry staked their claim to yet another off-season champions trophy. Berry attacked three positions of weakness, signing two of the top 15 players available in tight end Austin Hooper (4 years, 42 million) and right tackle Jack Conklin (3 years 42 million). Case Keenum (3 years, 18 million) signed to back up Baker Mayfield, then they acquired fullback Andy Janovich for a 2021 seventh round pick, sent to Denver. The big, early moves were upgrades to the offense, a nod to new head coach/offensive genius Kevin Stefanski and franchise QB Mayfield. Headlines in March are nice, but did the Browns get better?

Let’s start with Hooper. As with most first day free agent signings, this was an overpay. Hooper is now the highest paid tight end in the league. He isn’t George Kittle or Travis Kelce, but he has made two straight Pro Bowls and is a force down the seams in the middle of the field. He’ll drag linebackers with him, allowing Jarvis Landry space on crossing patterns and Odell Beckham one-on-one coverage on the outside. Stefanski was offensive coordinator in Minnesota for just one year and leaned on two tight end sets. 56% of Minnesota’s plays occurred out of multiple tight end formations, 2nd in the league. Given the dearth of quality tight ends in free agency and the draft, along with the inconsistency of David Njoku, signing Hooper was a necessity. Stefanski’s offense depends on the position; they’ll still need growth from Njoku. Hooper gives the offense reliability, but the large contract points to desperation by Berry and Stefanski.

Though Freddie Kitchens garnered most of the blame for last year’s failures, his offensive line shared the fans’ wrath. Pro Football Focus ranked the unit 23rd in the league. They gave up 2.6 sacks per game (15th) and anchored the 12th best rushing attack (118.8 per game). Not outstanding numbers, yet not the abomination some made them out to be. Enter Jack Conklin. Another upgrade, Conklin is a good, not great, right tackle who will, at worst, improve the gap size for Nick Chubb to run through. PFF ranks him as the 12th best run blocking tackle in the league over the past four seasons. His passing grades, however, aren’t stellar. The 37th ranked pass blocking tackle in the league last season, Conklin is average in pass protection. He’ll need help in some one-on-one match-ups, particularly against division rivals Baltimore and Pittsburgh, another reason for the need to upgrade the tight end position.

Throw in the trade for Janovich, along with the 2nd round tender given to Kareem Hunt, guaranteeing he’ll be with the team next year, and it’s obvious the new Browns regime wants to run the ball. Stefanski has served under run-first dictator Mike Zimmer in Minnesota and had running game guru Gary Kubiak looking over his shoulder in 2019. For those worrying about analytics taking over in Cleveland, this isn’t it. The numbers say the only down and distance where it’s more beneficial to run than pass is 3rd and 1. Playing a fullback and using two tight ends condenses the field, allowing teams to better control Landry and Beckham. Teams that run the ball don’t trust their quarterback (see the 49ers and Jimmy Garoppolo). What do Berry and Stefanski think of Baker Mayfield?

Which brings us to the Case Keenum signing. The Browns needed a backup quarterback. Keenum’s one successful NFL season occurred in Minnesota in 2017 with Stefanski as his quarterback coach, making this signing inevitable. Keenum knows the offense, and can step in and lead if Mayfield gets injured. What if Baker struggles, however? Imagine a 1-3 start, and Mayfield swimming against the current as he was last year. This coaching staff and front office didn’t draft Baker Mayfield. He has two years left on his rookie deal; teams normally try to do extensions one year before contracts expire. If Baker doesn’t pop this season, think Andrew Berry wants to hand out a 35-40 million dollar contract to an average quarterback next off-season?

On defense, the Browns filled holes with linebacker B.J. Goodson, safety Karl Joseph, and defensive tackle Andrew Billings. Joseph is a former 1st round pick who has battled injuries. The weakness at the position in Cleveland’s secondary all but guarantees him a starting spot; he, Sheldrick Redwine, and J.T. Hassell are the only safeties on the roster. Billings adds depth behind Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi, while Goodson will compete for time with last year’s rookies Mack Wilson and Sione Takitaki.

The defensive signings are underwhelming. Expecting anything other than replacement-level production is foolhardy. The loss of Joe Schobert, last year’s QB on defense, hurts, but the contract he signed in Jacksonville (5 years, 53.75 million) was exorbitant. The front four remains strong; behind them, however, there are questions. Denzel Ward struggled overall and with injuries after a Pro Bowl rookie year. Greedy Williams was just okay. The holes at safety are glaring. Mack Wilson showed promise, but no other linebackers on the roster affected games in 2019. The front office must go heavy on defense during next month’s draft. Cleveland’s brass may want to pound the running game, but that strategy works only with a top 5-10 defense. Unless the defensive line is as dominate as San Francisco’s last year, this approach won’t work.

The Whip Around

1.The Tom Brady signing in Tampa is a shock. the offensive weapons are plentiful at receiver and tight end, and Tampa’s offensive line ranked 7th a year ago, according to PFF. Shaq Barrett led the league with 19.5 sacks. There’s talent on Florida’s west coast, but is a 43-year-old Brady the answer? Jameis Winston stockpiled yards, touchdowns, and interceptions last season; its doubtful Brady will throw for anywhere near the 5109 yards, or the 30 picks, Winston tossed. Bruce Arians’ belief must be that fewer turnovers will equal more wins. Only two teams gave up more points than the Bucs last year, however. Tampa will make for an interesting watch, and we’ll get a heavy dose of them in prime time. I’ll bet the Patriots and Belichick win more games, though.

2. With Brady’s departure from New England, Buffalo sees an opportunity. Josh Allen progressed last year, minus the mess he made in their playoff loss to Houston. Devin Singletary averaged 5.1 yards a carry as a rookie, John Brown and Cole Beasley combined for 139 catches and over 1800 yards, and the defense ranked only behind New England’s in points allowed. Enter Stefon Diggs. Trading away a 1st, 5th, 6th, and 2021 4th for Diggs was the ultimate win-now move for a franchise sharing a division with the Brady-less Patriots, the going nowhere Jets, and the rebuilding Dolphins. Diggs is a home run hitter and Allen’s arm, though inaccurate, is strong enough to sling it to him deep. The Chiefs and Ravens make a Super Bowl run unlikely, but a home playoff game in snowy Buffalo isn’t out of the question.

3. What is Bill O’Brien doing in Houston? If DeAndre Hopkins isn’t the best wideout in the league, he’s in the top three. A second rounder and David Johnson for Hopkins? Look what Buffalo gave for Diggs, above. This is unconscionable. No one should be coaching and general managing an NFL franchise; O’Brien is proving that point in real time. With J. J. Watt suffering injuries yearly, Deshaun Watson must watch while Houston’s talent gets pillaged by the rest of the league. Watson is a top five quarterback in the league on a rookie deal. Teams with an asset that large are in Super Bowl or bust mode. O’Brien has wasted Houston’s opportunity to strike before their QB bill comes due. Stripped for parts now, what will the franchise look like after paying $40 million per to Watson?

4. The Rams released Todd Gurley, and Melvin Gordon can’t find a job. It sucks to be an NFL running back these days. Facts are facts, however, and teams don’t have to pay, in the form of top draft picks or high dollar contracts, to get production from the position. In 2017, Gurley and Gordon ranked 2nd and 7th in the league in rushing yards. Two years later, both are unwanted (Gurley signed a 1 year deal with his hometown Falcons on Friday). Passing is king in the NFL. Few teams win by running the ball. Those that do don’t have a workhorse running back (see San Francisco and Baltimore). Nick Chubb, beware. He has two years left on his rookie deal, then will try to negotiate a new contract with an analytics heavy front office that didn’t draft him. It would shock me (SHOCK!) if Andrew Berry gave a running back 12-15 million per year, regardless of Chubb’s production over the next two years.

5. Why are the Bears giving Jimmy Graham 16 million over 2 years? He’ll be 34 next year and has averaged 46 catches and 2.5 touchdowns with Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball over the last two seasons while missing 10 games. Nick Foles too? Bears fans, get ready for a prime slot in the 2021 draft.

6. Chargers fans will join them. After the departure of Philip Rivers to Indianapolis, L.A. has announced they’ll ride with Tyrod Taylor instead of pursuing Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, or any other quarterback on the market. If nothing else, Newton puts asses in the seats of the new SoFi Stadium the Chargers are sharing with the Rams. Stars sell in L.A., right? Nothing like a rebuild for a team in a market already struggling to attract fans. Expect a Keenan Allen trade demand any time.

7. Good for Byron Jones, one of the most consistent corners in the league, for getting his money in Miami. 5 years 82 million, with 40 mil guaranteed over the first two years. No one will complain about living in Miami with that much cash, but don’t expect much action in January.

8. The Ravens signed Michael Brockers to a 3 year, 30 million dollar deal after trading a fifth round pick for Pro Bowler Calais Campbell. The hell? This time a year ago, Baltimore looked vulnerable. They had contemplated firing John Harbaugh and a second year running quarterback was being handed the reins. Now, they’re coming off a 14-2 season, have the league MVP, and just rebuilt their defensive line into one of the best in the league. The rest of the AFC North teams are playing for one of the three wild card spots.

 

Changes that will make the Cleveland Browns a Contender in 2020

Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns, NFL

2019 was a typical season in Cleveland. The talent and hope acquired over the off-season was over-hyped and misplaced. The despair of 1 win over two seasons caused an abundance of optimism; fans expect the misery compiled over two decades to one day pay dividends. What if it never does?

The talent is still in place for a rebound in 2020. The attitudes and discipline must change, however. In a division alongside exemplary franchises in Pittsburgh and Baltimore, they cannot cut corners. Certain things need fixed if the Browns are to compete in the AFC North.

Baker Mayfield must become a leader. Quarterbacks in the NFL have no other choice. The position is too important; his teammates will follow his lead in whatever direction he goes. No more calling out teammates in the media, as he did with Duke Johnson last spring. If there’s a problem with the training staff, keep that in house. His intentions were to take heat off Odell Beckham when he attacked the team’s medical personnel; it’s still a bad look. Mayfield needs to mature. That’s fine, he’s only 24. But if he is to improve in 2020, it’ll start with his attitude.

Damarious Randall is a free agent, and he needs to go. Most thought the trade that brought him to Cleveland was a steal; a talented defensive back for a sub par backup quarterback, DeShone Kizer. Good organizations don’t let talent walk without reason, however. Green Bay knew what they had in Randall and gave him away. Freddie Kitchens suspended Randall for unknown reasons before the biggest game of the year in Pittsburgh. He was the most disinterested member of the team on Sunday against Baltimore, blowing coverages and allowing 3 of the Ravens’ touchdowns. Randall has an attitude problem, and the Browns are no longer in a situation to overlook discipline in favor of talent.

Randall is #23. This is nonsense

On that note, John Dorsey has to consider character in the draft. No more Antonio Callaway’s or Josh Gordon’s. The organization can’t afford to take fliers on guys in hopes they’ll rehabilitate themselves in the NFL. The franchise doesn’t provide an environment for struggling players to get better. Everyone deserves a second chance to prove themselves. Cleveland can no longer be that place. Take a lesson from Bill Belichick and draft intelligence over talent.

Sign Kareem Hunt. On the surface, this flies in the face of my last point. From the outside, however, it seems Hunt has made an earnest attempt to rehabilitate himself. A restricted free agent, the Browns can match any contract he’s offered or will receive draft pick compensation for him. The offense was at its best this year once Hunt returned from suspension. A Nick Chubb-Kareem Hunt backfield gave Kitchens a plethora of options and different looks to throw at defenses. Throw in Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry and the offense’s ceiling remains high. If a coaching change is inevitable, give the next guy a chance with these weapons.

Other than quarterback, the ability to pressure the opposing offense without blitzing is the most valuable attribute on the field. On November 15, the day after the 1st Pittsburgh game, the Browns were 6th in the league in pressure rate at 8.33%, according to teamrankings.com. Today they’re 14th at 7.09%. When all were healthy and not suspended, the Browns’ defensive line was one of the best in the league at pressuring the quarterback. Myles Garrett, Olivier Vernon, Larry Ogunjobi, and Sheldon Richardson are the most talented group on the team. Don’t get cute by trying to trade out of a strength. If the defense succeeds in 2020, it will be because of the defensive front.

Draft offensive linemen. Dorsey has forsaken the line for other positions in his previous drafts, for good reason. O-line is best filled with late picks and free agents. Wyatt Teller has played well at guard since being inserted in the lineup, and they acquired him with a 6th round pick a week before the season. The skill positions have talent now; the front office can address other needs. Dorsey should try to get younger and more athletic at the tackle position through the draft. Safety, linebacker, and tight end are also holes on the roster. Expect a less sexy draft this year.

A complete organizational makeover must occur. It’s time for the power mongers in Cleveland to get serious about winning. Success is a mindset, built every day. The disappoints of 2019 can act as a wake up call if the Cleveland Browns treat them as such. The entire franchise needs audited. John Dorsey must flush selfish attitudes. If they ever expect to win, a sobering look in the mirror must occur. The knee-jerk reactions, preseason chest pumping, and smug approach to team and roster building can no longer continue. The Haslams must study accomplished organizations in all walks of life and change their philosophy and approach to running an NFL franchise. Sadly, this is the hardest change to make. If it does not occur, however, the Cleveland Browns will continue to be an underachieving failure.

The Whip Around

1.Many teams failed in 2019, but the L.A. Rams are at the top of the list. Sean McVay is no longer a delicate genius; Jared Goff now just an average quarterback. The Rams move into a new stadium next year and their owners were hoping a dynasty would reside in the new digs. What are the Rams now? The team of the future a year ago, things look murky now. Jared Goff, Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, Todd Gurley and Brandin Cooks will account for 108.7 million of the salary cap next year, and the NFL projects the cap to be in the 200 million dollar range. Over half on five players. They traded their 2020 and 2021 first round picks for Jalen Ramsey. Gurley may or may not have arthritis in his knee, but something is wrong, and he’s only 25. Cooks dealt with concussions the entire year. Goff took a severe step backward. His cap hit is 36 million of that total. What a difference a year makes.

2. The Texans, week to week, are an enigma. They’ve beaten the Patriots and Titans in Nashville but lost to Denver and scraped by Tampa in the last four weeks. Their record is 10-5, yet they’ve only scored 14 more points than they’ve given up on the year. The loss of J. J. Watt was a killer to an already average defense and Deshaun Watson has cooled off. He’s only thrown 8 touchdown passes compared to 7 picks with a completion percentage of 62% over the past six weeks. Watson has to carry the Texans if they are to win in the playoffs. A first round loss to Buffalo is a possibility.

3. One of the best stories of 2019 has been Ryan Tannehill. His instincts on this touchdown pass to Tajae Sharpe are beautiful.

4. Alvin Kamara scored two rushing touchdowns in Tennessee on Sunday, his first scores since week 3. While he missed four weeks because of injury, it’s amazing he went that long without a touchdown, yet the Saints barely missed a beat. Drew Brees and Michael Thomas kept the New Orleans offense afloat, but they must lean on Kamara in the playoffs if they hope to advance. Brees will need at least the threat of him in the backfield to keep good defenses like San Francisco and Green Bay off balance. If healthy, he’s the most dangerous weapon in the league this side of Tyreek Hill. He’s key to their Super Bowl hopes.

5. What did we learn about Daniel Jones this year? The numbers are good: 62% completions, 2726 yards, 23 TDs, 11 picks. Three games buoyed his TD-Int ratio. Against Detroit, the Jets, and Washington he threw 13 TDs and no picks; otherwise he’s been average. Jones showed athletic ability, running for 253 yards and the game winner in his first start against Tampa. Not the bust many expected, the Giants need more weapons on the outside for him and Saquon Barkley to flourish. New York will be an interesting team in a poor division in 2020. If Jones and the defense improve, they have a shot in the NFC East.

6. The Steelers’ lack of talent showed itself on Sunday in a horrible loss to the Jets. With their playoff fate in their own hands, Mike Tomlin benched Devlin Hodges after throwing 2 picks. Mason Rudolph avoided the turnovers that earned him a seat next to the head coach earlier in the season, but could only generate 10 points. Pittsburgh is coaching rich but talent poor. The surprise is that they’re anywhere near the playoff race. Still, this was a bad loss against a weird Jets team. Will Ben Roethlisberger fair any better when he returns next year?

7. I’ve questioned Jimmy Garoppolo’s poise and playoff readiness all year. If he makes throws like this while pressured in January, the Niners will be in Miami come February.

8. Bad teams do dumb stuff. The Rams, Cowboys, and Browns all had horrible blown coverages in their games over the weekend that led to losses for all three. In week 16, one would be inexcusable, but three? There’s an attention to detail needed at the highest levels of everything; these teams and players are lazy in their preparation and execution. Talent is important, but having players who know where to be when 10 other guys are counting on them is essential.

9. Has any player single-handedly disrupted an offense the way Za’Darius Smith did to Minnesota’s on Monday night? 3.5 sacks. 5 tackles for loss. 5 quarterback hits. He’s making a late push for Defensive Player of the Year and giving the Pack an identity beyond Aaron Rodgers. He and line mate Preston Smith have combined for 25.5 sacks on the year and give Green Bay’s defense a chance against the high-powered offenses in New Orleans and San Francisco. They must be at their best for the Packers to compete in the playoffs.

10. San Francisco-Seattle
The only interesting game on a poor week 17 schedule, Seattle needs a good showing after 3 weeks’ worth of blah performances. Forced to sign off-the-street running backs Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin after a slew of injuries, its past time for Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to hand the reins to Russell Wilson. If the Seahawks win in the playoffs, it will be because of their quarterback. The conservative game plans must go; Seattle’s defense isn’t good enough to support 3rd down runs and punts on the opponent’s side of the field. Let Russ cook. See how far he can take you.

The 49ers need this one to lock up home field advantage throughout the playoffs. A Sunday nighter in Seattle should toughen this young team, but are they ready to win on the road in the playoffs? For San Francisco to have any shot at the Super Bowl, they need this one to keep them out of Green Bay or New Orleans in January.

 

It’s Time to Talk About Baker Mayfield

Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns, NFL

The Cleveland Browns have started thirty different quarterbacks since 1999. None have been good. A few were adequate. Most didn’t deserve the punishment on their bodies and careers the snaps in Cleveland inflicted. As far as on-field problems, none have contributed more to the pitiful record posted by the franchise over the last two decades than poor QB play. Baker Mayfield would change that. He set a rookie record by throwing 27 touchdown passes in 2018. He looked poised in the pocket, strong armed and accurate. Mayfield’s performance rejuvenated Breshad Perriman’s career and, overnight, improved the play of the offensive line in front of him.

That Mayfield disappeared.

What happened? Were the expectations too much to handle? Have the commercials and magazine covers inflated his ego? Did he stop doing the little things that elevated him from walk-on at Oklahoma to Heisman Trophy winner? Talent doesn’t erode overnight. Something shook Baker Mayfield last off season. Will he recover from the debacle of 2019, or will this season hijack his confidence? Will his become another name written on duct tape, crossed off with a Sharpie, added to the absurdity?

Baker has been uncomfortable in the pocket all season. His offensive line is slightly below average, the 18th ranked pass blocking unit according to pro football focus. Mayfield makes that line worse. When pressured, he gets sacked 20.2% of the time, 5th worst in the league. Last year that number was 16.2%, 9th best in the NFL. Mayfield is panicky in the pocket, not reading defenses, and taking sacks. He’s indecisiveness in the face of pressure causes him to bail on clean pockets as well. His instinct when he feels pressure, real or imagined, is to run to his right. When this occurs, he eliminates the left side of the field as an option. He also has a tendency to throw on the run, not setting his feet before releasing the ball. This causes accuracy problems.

The crux of Mayfield’s problems are the accuracy issues. Time after time, balls sail on him. The interception over Odell Beckham’s head in the end zone on Sunday is an example. Mayfield had time, set his feet, read the play, but missed his receiver.

Baker completed 68.1, 70.9, and 70.5 percent of his passes in three years at Oklahoma. As a rookie, the number was 63.8%, but over his last 8 games ballooned to 68.4%. This year his completion percentage is 60%, 29th in the league. His accuracy and arm strength were two qualities John Dorsey banked on when he drafted Mayfield number one. How did Mayfield lose his touch?

Everyone has doubted Baker Mayfield since high school. Only six feet tall, naysayers told him he couldn’t play college ball, wouldn’t win the Heisman Trophy, didn’t deserve to be the number one pick in the draft, would rot in Cleveland. The success during his rookie year changed that. Mayfield was a blossoming superstar. Companies wanted him to endorse their products. The NFL put him in a commercial celebrating its 100th year with Tom Brady; he was the successor to the throne. He influenced the organization to hire his guy, Freddie Kitchens, as head coach. How many rookie QB’s have ever wielded so much power?

The Browns then traded for Odell Beckham and Olivier Vernon. They signed Sheldon Richardson. Super Bowl predictions poured in from publications across the country, all because of Mayfield’s brilliance. He was the one, the savior. No one doubted Baker Mayfield anymore.

He no longer had to fight. He was next. Mayfield had a seat at the table reserved. It would be easier now.

Until it wasn’t.

Baker hadn’t dealt with success on that scale before. He relaxed. No one was left to prove wrong. Now he had Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry and Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. A few speed bumps were possible, but hell. His new hobby would be ring collecting.

The team’s mindset mirrored Mayfield’s. Not a soul in the organization expected it to be difficult. This is the argument for not blowing it up.

From the outside, it’s a disaster. December in Berea has its own feel. Could this season be the punch in the mouth Freddie Kitchens, Baker Mayfield, and Myles Garrett needed?

As bad as Mayfield has been, the organization has to trust it was a blimp on the radar, a necessary obstacle for his development. This franchise has gone over a decade without a winning season or a shred of talent on the roster. The only answer is to blow it up after one season? Fire the first time head coach, again. Trade one of the five best wide receivers in the league who fought injury the entire season. Get rid of the defensive coordinator whose secondary was injury prone and had his best pass rusher suspended for the final six games. This is the best way to fix the franchise?

Baker Mayfield will be the starting quarterback in 2020 regardless of who the coach is or who’s catching his passes. What happens if he struggles next year? Is he guaranteed the job in 2021? Ask the Bears if Mitchell Trubisky gets a fourth season. If Mayfield is the 30th rated passer in the league again next year, he won’t see 2021 in Cleveland. What happens then? That coach gets fired? Nick Chubb gets traded, Myles Garrett too? That’s the best way to build this franchise?

No second chances, no time to learn on the job. No chance to adjust.

That’s how it’s done in New England and Pittsburgh and Baltimore and Green Bay and Seattle, right?

Does this guy sound like he wants out? Give this team a chance to build something.

The Whip Around

1.How about the Falcons? Since the horrific loss to the Patriots in the Super Bowl, Atlanta has underachieved. A loss in the Divisional Round to the Eagles after the 2017 season has led to records of 7-9 and 5-9. Opinions differ, but most consider Matt Ryan a top 10 quarterback in the league, and Julio Jones is one of the game’s best. They’ll post a second losing season in two weeks, however. Rumors have had Dan Quinn on the way out since October. Are the Falcons better off firing the coach and trading Ryan and Jones?

2.  Kyler Murray has been inconsistent, as rookies are, yet looks to be a franchise quarterback in Arizona. He is the only QB in the league with over 3000 yards passing and 500 yards rushing. The Cardinals’ organization knows they made the right decision in choosing Murray over Josh Rosen. With Lamar Jackson’s success in Baltimore, Arizona has proof a hybrid quarterback can win in the NFL. Murray displays more arm strength and accuracy than Jackson. Now, will the organization support their young quarterback as well as they do in Baltimore?

3.  I don’t know how defenses prepare for this.

4.  29-30, 307 yards, 4 touchdowns. Drew Brees’ numbers on Monday Night were record setting on multiple fronts. Not only did Brees pass Peyton Manning on the all-time touchdowns thrown list, his 29-30 also topped Philip Rivers’ completion percentage in a single game. Brees now owns the career yardage and touchdown record and has won a Super Bowl, with an outside shot at another this season. Where does he rank all-time? It’s hard to place him above Tom Brady, but he could slot anywhere from 2 to 7 after the GOAT. The era he’s played in has inflated his stats, but how many QBs changed the fortunes of an entire franchise as Brees has in New Orleans? Brady has earned the number 1 slot, but Brees, Peyton Manning, John Elway, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, and Aaron Rodgers are almost impossible to slot behind him.

5.  Chris Myers and Daryl “Moose” Johnston struggled to call Sunday’s Falcons-49ers game. Before Julio Jones caught a touchdown pass, Myers highlighted the fact that Jones hadn’t caught a pass for a touchdown in 9 games, the longest “in-season” streak of his career. Thankfully, Myers stressed this was an in-season streak, and the weeks he wasn’t catching touchdowns in June didn’t count. Not satisfied with that nonsense, Johnston expressed his glee that replay couldn’t review holding calls while watching a replay of Julio Jones being interfered with in the end zone that was uncalled by the referees. Dan Quinn threw the challenge flag while Moose argued the play was unchallengeable as Fox went to a commercial break. Sit the next couple out, fellas.

6.  Kansas City only looks better with each passing week. Patrick Mahomes is getting healthier, rounding into 2018 form. No team in the AFC, including Baltimore, possesses the weaponry at his disposal. Travis Kelce is one of the best chain movers in the league, and Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, Sammy Watkins, and Demarcus Robinson are all threats to house it whenever they touch the ball. The defense added Terrell Suggs this week, claiming him off waivers from the Arizona Cardinals. He’ll add to their so-so pass rush and should free Frank Clark from double-teams. Don’t put the Ravens in the Super Bowl yet.

7.  Just when it seemed Tennessee would overtake the Texans and the AFC South, Carlos Hyde flexed in the fourth quarter, running for 43 yards and a touchdown. His 10 yard burst for a TD gave Houston the lead before 5 bruising carries on the next drive ate clock and set his team up for a short field goal that put the game out of reach. Hyde’s running is a dynamic Houston has missed and will need it they hope to advance in the playoffs. Overlooked wherever he plays, Hyde has been productive in all his stops, averaging 4.1 yards per carry over his career. Not dynamic, he’s neither the fastest nor the biggest. If he can curb his fumbling problem (4 in 2019) he’ll give teams something other than Deshaun Watson to worry about in the playoffs.

8.  This is a garbage throw, but Stephon Gilmore reads Andy Dalton like a book on his 2nd pick of the day. Is Gilmore the Defensive Player of the Year?

9.  Could Philip Rivers’ career with the Chargers be over? A free agent at years’ end, the team has to decide what to do with the 38-year-old QB. At 5-9, L.A. has missed their window. The juggernaut in New England proved too much for them to overcome. Rivers, like Eli Manning, is at the end of a magnificent career. The Chargers hold the 9th spot in the 2020 draft, and at least six teams in front of them already have a young quarterback. If Rivers is amenable, sign him to a 2 year deal, draft a QB, and allow him to mentor the rookie. He’s up to nine kids, so babysitting should be old hat.

10. Green Bay-Minnesota
The Vikings continue to impress and the Packers are scraping by against poor teams. While 11-3 and leading the division, Aaron Rodgers has become a game manager. His yards gained per pass attempt (7.3) is second lowest of his career when he’s played a full season. Rodgers has only thrown 2 interceptions, however, and Aaron Jones gives him a weapon out of the backfield unlike anything he’s ever had access to. Meanwhile, Kirk Cousins is completing 70% of his passes and has only thrown 5 interceptions himself. Dalvin Cook seems unlikely to play, however. It’s hard to trust Cousins and the Vikings in a huge game on Monday Night without their best offensive weapon. The game and the NFC North title go to Green Bay.

All stats courtesy of pro-football-reference.com

 

Give Thanks for Browns-Steelers

Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns, Joe Schobert, NFL

Each passing week is a test for the Cleveland Browns. Is their play on the field improving? Are they disciplined? Is the young team and its rookie coach maturing? Considering all that has occurred during the 2019 season, this organization must prove it is ready to grow up. Are they a playoff contender?

The Dolphins are a pushover, but Sunday was a start. Despite a third quarter lull, both sides of the ball reacted well to the hectic week. Take nothing for granted with this group, beating up on a tanking Miami squad wasn’t a given. Seven penalties committed was good, not great, and aside from the interception Baker Mayfield threw behind Odell Beckham Jr on a slant, the turnover problem has subsided. Mayfield seems calmer in the pocket than earlier in the season, though he still has a tendency to bail early. It’s clear at this point he’s more comfortable on the move, giving himself space and wider throwing lanes to get rid of the ball. Not ideal, but whatever it takes for the QB to get comfortable. Freddie Kitchens has also called more play action (where did he get that idea from?), allowing Mayfield to play to his strengths.

While the defense missed Myles Garrett and Larry Ogunjobi, they recorded four sacks on Ryan Fitzpatrick and increased the pressure as the game progressed. It’s no longer a secret the force Joe Schobert has become; two more interceptions and four other passes broken up have cemented his Pro Bowl season. The linebacker isn’t the only defender flexing on opposing offenses, however. Overlooked by his more famous line mates, Sheldon Richardson has taken over games from the center of the defensive line.

Richardson’s dominant play couldn’t have come at a better time. With two new pass rushers in Chad Thomas and Chris Smith starting on the ends, Richardson is drawing attention from the edges, giving the ends chances to make plays in one-on-one battles against opposing tackles. His two sacks on Sunday set the tone for a defense with questions concerning how much pressure they’ll be able to generate on opposing QBs.

Nick Chubb leads the league in carries and trails Christian McCaffrey by only six yards in the chase for the rushing title. He’s been electric the entire year, a steady force during a wobbly season. Chubb is the team MVP, and for the Browns to run the table and force their way into the AFC playoffs he will need to continue to carry the water. His blend of speed, power, vision, and patience are unmatched in the league. His heart and attitude are an ideal fit with the city of Cleveland.

But can we stop the fist pounding when a play that doesn’t involve him fails? Chubb is on pace for 323 carries, which would be the most in the league since Adrian Peterson had 327 in 2015. He’s getting enough touches. Like it or not, winning NFL games now requires establishing a passing game to get a lead, then running the ball to bleed clock. The days of backs with 400 carries are over. To win in the NFL, to be a perennial playoff team and Super Bowl contender, offenses must throw the ball. The fate of this team ultimately relies upon Baker Mayfield, Jarvis Landry, and Odell Beckham. Chubb is a force, the ultimate luxury for an offense. If he remains the best offensive player, however, the franchise will continue to fall short of their goals.

For the second time in three weeks, a date with the Steelers. As if enough wasn’t already on the line, the lingering effects of the Thursday night brawl will hang over Heinz Field on Sunday. Again, the Browns will need to prove they’ve matured over the course of the season. The crowd will be loud and angry. On defense they cannot commit dumb penalties. The Steelers offense is poor, starting third-string quarterback Devlin Hodges and likely without running back James Conner. Pittsburgh’s only score in Cleveland resulted when the defense racked up 58 yards of penalties on the drive. The Steeler offense only managed 16 points against Cincinnati, the worst defense yardage wise in the league. If the Browns don’t give them free yards, Pittsburgh won’t be able to score.

The playoffs are on the line Sunday. According to FiveThirtyEight.com, the Browns’ playoff chances are 29%, the Steelers’ 27%. A win Sunday boosts the odds to 50%, a loss drops them to 10%. The Steelers are injury riddled and have lost momentum built during a four game win streak after a loss to Baltimore. The adversity faced has made the Browns a tighter, tougher, bunch. Cleveland will need that Sunday. Their last win in Heinz Field was 2003. They haven’t swept the Steelers since 1988.

Thirty-one years. Unbelievable.

The Whip Around

1. The Cowboys lose when playing winning squads. Now 0-4 on the year when facing teams above .500, the kicking game was the culprit in New England. A missed field goal in the 1st quarter by Brett Maher wasted a tone setting drive, and a blocked punt set up the only touchdown of the day for the Patriots. On weather days like Sunday in New England, special teams are critical. Dallas showed themselves once again.

2. The reasons for dismissing San Francisco as a Super Bowl contender are drying up. While New England’s defense is better numbers wise, San Fran’s defensive line engulfs offenses. Their latest victim, Aaron Rodgers, hasn’t looked that inept since entering the league. Though Jimmy Garoppolo is still a question mark in tight games, the 49er defense seems determined to remove him from the equation. Home field advantage will be key. If they can get teams to the Bay Area, instead of having to go to Lambeau or New Orleans, the Niners have a real chance to be playing in February.

3. Week after week, Russell Wilson throws the most beautiful passes.

4. He’s unlike anything the NFL has ever seen, and I’ve given up on doubting Lamar Jackson. The new front runner for MVP, Jackson has proved he’s the most dangerous weapon in the league. Overwhelmed by his speed, defenses have no answer for his playmaking. The Ravens offense is on pace for the fewest punts ever during a 16 game season and haven’t punted on a Lamar Jackson-led drive since Week 9. Jackson finds different ways to torch defenses. He throws from unorthodox arm angles. Terrified of his running ability, rushers hesitate when pressuring him. According to nextgenstats.com, he’s faced the lowest pressure rate in the league at 21.1%. When teams blitz, he’s burned them, throwing a touchdown on 13.8% of attempts against the blitz. No other QB is higher than 11%. Lamar Jackson changes the way teams play defense then takes advantage when they’re out of their comfort zone. He’s unguardable.

5. After weeks and weeks of not overturning any pass interference calls via replay, the NFL flipped two on Sunday. Why? An overturn in the Browns game was iffy, but occurred with Cleveland already up 21-0. Another in the Panthers-Saints game could have affected the outcome. On third down and Carolina at the five yard line with 2:30 left in the game, the replay officials gave the Panthers a new set of downs. The NFL is responding to outside noise, allowing criticism to seep into the replay center’s interpretation of the rule book. If the league can’t decide how to officiate the game, they’ll continue losing fans’ interest.

6. Michael Thomas has 104 catches on the year and is on pace to break the Marvin Harrison’s record of 143 grabs in a season. We overlook Thomas when discussing the best receivers in the game. He isn’t flashy, just consistent. A precise route runner with sure hands, Drew Brees can trust Thomas will be where he’s supposed to be and that he’ll catch the football. He was Teddy Bridgewater’s safety valve during Brees’ injury, a huge reason Bridgewater didn’t turn the ball over and the Saints kept winning. The most interesting story in the league during the playoffs will be the Saints. Can they overcome the devastating losses they’ve endured the past two postseasons? If they win a Super Bowl, Thomas, not Brees, may end up being the reason.

7. Speaking of receivers, the story of DeAndre Hopkins and his mother is inspiring. A wonderful receiver and beautiful person.

8. Oakland has slithered their way into playoff contention, though they got throttled by the Jets on Sunday. The 34-3 loss damaged the Raiders chances, and a matchup this week in Kansas City will likely derail them further. The AFC wild card contenders- Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Oakland, Indianapolis, and Tennessee- are a gangly, uneven troupe. Who gets hot and earns a playoff berth?

9. The NFC picture is clearer. New Orleans is a lock; they lead their division by 3 games. Green Bay and Minnesota are both 8-3. One will win the division, the other a wild card. Same with San Francisco and Seattle out West. Either Dallas or Philadelphia has to win the sorry East. While most expect a Baltimore-New England AFC title game (don’t sleep on K.C.), this side of the bracket should scintillate. The Niners look unstoppable at the moment, but start the weakest quarterback. Brees, Rodgers, and Wilson have been through the battles. Who the hell knows about Minnesota. The Super Bowl representative from the NFC will earn the trip.

10. A San Francisco-Baltimore match-up this week is an NFL executive’s dream. The only problem? With a myriad of high profile games taking place on Thanksgiving weekend, this one is a Sunday afternoon, 1 o’clock tilt. The best defensive front in the league against Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore running game will provide an attractive battle in the trenches. Baltimore should still score. Has anyone looked capable of slowing them down? This is a huge test for Jimmy Garoppolo. He must put up 20 to give San Fran a chance.

Happy Thanksgiving to all and thank you for supporting this little project I’ve undertaken. Enjoy your friends and family this weekend and all weekends. A home filled with laughter, a hug from a loved one; the little things provide the most meaning. Celebrate the mundane and embrace the crazy. And have that second piece of pie. You’ve earned it.

 

Typical Cleveland Browns Problems, Typical Cleveland Browns Solutions

Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns, Jimmy Haslam, Mitchell Trubisky

Time to step back and take a breathe. The Cleveland Browns aren’t making the playoffs in 2019. A winning record doesn’t seem attainable. Over and again, each member of the organization has proved incapable of handling the pressures of the expectations placed on them before the season. A weak schedule can no longer save them. What good are wins over Cincinnati and Miami? They’ll be empty calories, leaving fans hungry for something more significant.


The owner, the general manager, and the fans need to exercise patience. There are a myriad of problems with the roster and the coaching staff, but sweeping changes are not the answer. How often does a coach have to get fired, replaced, then fired again before they end the cycle? The Browns franchise returned in 1999 and has employed 11 head coaches in that time. Eleven coaches in 21 years. That’s obnoxious. The blame is placed at the feet of the wrong people.


Jimmy Haslam and Randy Lerner before him deserve criticism for the incompetence of this franchise for the past two decades. Would you blame the success or failure of General Motors on the line workers? They are the most important cog in the machine to be sure, but workers cannot succeed if they don’t have the correct tools, a safe work environment, and the proper training and education to flourish.


The owners of the Cleveland Browns have provided nothing but a toxic work space for their employees. Haslam hasn’t a clue what it takes to run an NFL franchise. He possesses neither the patience nor the wherewithal to put people in positions to succeed. His bravado and false sense of accomplishment allow him to brush his massive failures aside and place blame on others’ shoulders. A leader holds themselves accountable. Haslam has shown no sign he’s capable of self reflection.


The problems in Cleveland are deeper than the quarterback and coach. A systemic failure at the top of the organization oozes below, infecting the entire system. It’s a pitiful situation, and the fans are the ones who suffer. Firing a coach or replacing a general manager provides the masses with hope but does little to solve the overarching issues. The Cleveland Browns franchise will never win consistently until Jimmy Haslam sells the team, a depressing but true realization of the state of the franchise.


Baker Mayfield and Freddie Kitchens do look lost, however. The defense is regressing. The pressures of the NFL are mounting and no one involved has shown the capability to handle them.


On Sunday, the offense moved the ball and committed zero turnovers. The refs penalized the team only five times. Yet in pressure situations, they failed.


6-15 on third downs.
0-2 on fourth down.
One touchdown in five red zone appearances.


When the moment intensifies, Mayfield and the offense cower. On the season Mayfield in completing 35.9% of his passes inside the 20 yard line, throwing 4 touchdowns compared to 3 interceptions. Last year the numbers were 64.8% completions, 20 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. What happened?

Mayfield even struggles with a clean pocket


The talent is there. Mayfield has succeeded at every level, including the NFL. Not so long ago, he was the savior. He’s a quarterback with zero confidence. Bad plays have piled up. The expectations and pressure have buried him.


It’s time to give this group a chance to exhale. The final two months of the season may give them that chance. Can they find themselves somewhere under the rubble of the 2019 season?


The record will be a disappointment. Next off-season will offer less distraction. The national media will find the next big thing somewhere else. The Browns will be an afterthought. Is it possible for them to improve under those conditions? Cleveland’s was the third youngest roster entering the season. Contrary to popular belief, young NFL teams don’t make huge leaps from year to year. San Francisco is an exception in 2019, though Jimmy Garoppolo returned after missing all but 3 games last year, and they added the Defensive Rookie of the Year (presumably) in the draft.


Turning players and front office personnel over every other year hasn’t worked for twenty years. The team has won 18 games in 5 years. It can’t get any worse, right?

Buffalo arrives Sunday in Cleveland as one of the biggest surprises of the 2019 season, sporting a 6-2 record and the third-ranked defense in the league. Josh Allen is unspectacular, however, a middling quarterback who’ll turn the ball over. He’s thrown 7 interceptions and fumbled 10 times on the year. He’s dangerous outside the pocket and will use his feet at the first sign of trouble. Cleveland’s defense must force Allen to throw, especially in the red zone. He’s run for 4 touchdowns, and the Bills offense, though they rank 23rd in the league, excel in the red zone. They score touchdowns on 71% of their red zone chances, best in the league, because of Allen’s legs and an efficient running game.

Frank Gore and Devin Singletary split carries in the Buffalo backfield, though Singletary may overtake Gore as the year progresses. He’s averaging 6.7 yards per carry and is coming off his best performance of the year, tallying 95 yards against Washington. Quicker and younger than his counterpart, watch for Singletary’s carries to rise in the coming weeks.


Defensively the Bills lack stars yet continue to dominate. Third in the league in passing yards allowed, Buffalo shuts down opponent’s passing games. Yet to allow a 300 yard passer on the season, Mayfield faces an uphill battle to find any success this week. Quarterbacks complete only 60% of their passes against safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde and corners Levi Wallace and TreDavious White. They’re in the top five in the league in opponents’ QB rating and passes defended.


It’s difficult to see a path to victory for the Browns this week. They’re facing a confident team while living in a constant state of turmoil. Buffalo possesses the resiliency needed to win the low-scoring game likely on Sunday. The Browns’ offense has shown no propensity to overcome themselves, let alone a top five NFL defense.

The Whip Around

1. Josh Gordon got cut last week by the Patriots and claimed by Seattle, followed by reports of Seahawk players and fans gushing over their newest signing. Gordon is a special talent, but it’s difficult to imagine him succeeding in the NFL, regardless of the situation. He’s led a troubled life and deserves to find the help he needs to sort through his problems. An NFL locker room isn’t that place. Here’s hoping he finds that help.

2. Each week, defensive coordinators scheme to keep from getting beat deep by Tyreek Hill. Each week, they fail.

Chasing down an NFL running back with a 10 yard head start is unthinkable. How much for a Tyreek Hill-Usain Bolt 100M dash?

3. The vaunted Colts offensive line got schooled by the Steelers defensive front on Sunday, giving up 5 sacks, the most on the season. The Colts suddenly look average and injuries are piling up. A month removed from their upset of the Chiefs in Kansas City, Indy needs victories over Miami and Jacksonville over the next two weeks to right the ship before a mammoth trip to Houston in Week 12. Are the Colts a contender fighting through injuries or a team that peaked too early?

4. Speaking of the AFC South, the Texans defense looked the part in London against Jacksonville, but did not pressure Gardner Minshew until he needed to throw late. With a tough schedule that includes Baltimore, Indianapolis, and New England upcoming, the Texans must generate a pass rush. Will J. J. Watt’s injury and the trade of Jadeveon Clowney doom their playoff chances? Or will Deshaun Watson put up so many points that it won’t matter?

5. Philadelphia seems to have righted the ship, posting victories at Buffalo and Chicago after losing 4 of 6. Carson Wentz has regained his accuracy, completing at least 66% of his passes the last two weeks after posting sub 62% percentages in 5 of the 6 weeks preceding. With the 6th best rushing attack to complement Wentz, the Eagles seem poised to begin their yearly chase down of the Cowboys for the NFC East title.

6. The pitchforks are out in Chicago, hunting for the head of Mitchell Trubisky. A year after winning the division, the Bears are 3-5 with an offense unable to score points. While it’s looking likely the Bears will move on from the 2nd pick in the 2017 draft, who could be available to right the ship? Andy Dalton is an option. How many playoff victories does he have? Cam Newton is intriguing if Carolina hands the reins to Kyle Allen, but injuries have mounted for Cam and he’ll be 31 when next season kicks off. The loser of the Gardner Minshew/Nick Foles battle could be available, but Jacksonville would benefit by keeping both since Minshew is cheap. Eli Manning? Please. The best option may be Teddy Bridgewater. He held his own while Drew Brees healed, protecting the ball and allowing the Saints’ extraordinary defense to win games. Sounds like a perfect fit.

7. Lamar Jackson is what happens when an ultra-talented but flawed player falls into the right situation. Only a few organizations are savvy enough to put Jackson in a position to be an MVP candidate. Baltimore has proved again that smart teams win the draft, not because they unearth gems, but because they advance the abilities of their players instead of hindering them. Surrounded by a strong defense and elite running game, the Ravens are making the rest of the AFC North look like fools.

8. Halfway through the season, Josh Jacobs has the Offensive Rookie of the Year award wrapped up. Seventh in the league in rushing yards and tied for fifth in touchdowns, the Raiders’ back is the most impressive rookie in the league this side of Nick Bosa. On some runs, he’s a one cut back, putting a foot in the ground, hitting the hole, and showing off his speed. On others, he flashes an array of moves, jukes, and spins, leaving defenders flummoxed. An ideal combination of speed, power, size, and shiftiness, Jacobs will light up Vegas next year like, well, Vegas.

9. Browns, Jets, Redskins, Bengals. If you were to hitch your wagon to one of these franchises for the next decade which one’s the pick? Jimmy Haslam, Woody Johnson, Dan Snyder, Mike Brown. Maybe just pull the wagon yourself.

10. San Francisco vs. Seattle on Monday Night is the game of the year to this point. An undefeated 49ers squad at home with the best defense in the league against the presumptive MVP Russell Wilson. Richard Sherman squaring off against his old team. Seattle’s defense is the weak link in the matchup; can Pete Carroll scheme a way to slow down the 49er running game? The schedule toughens for San Francisco from here. A loss at home against a division rival could snowball on them. Prediction: the winner of this game wins the NFC West.

All stats courtesy of http://pro-football-reference.com

Browns poised for a turnaround….next week

Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns, NFL, Tom Brady

No matter how optimistic about the season, few Browns fans looked at Week 8 and predicted a win. With the season in flux, @New England this week is dispiriting. In need of a confidence boost off the bye week, no game has seemed more like a loss going in.

The Patriots have been surgical this season; only one game they’ve played has finished within two touchdowns. The defense has given up three touchdowns all year. They’ve scored at least 30 each week, save for Week 4 against Buffalo, the third-ranked D in the league. Average for most of the regular season last year, this squad is hell bent on making a statement in 2019.


For the Browns to have any shot, they must pressure Tom Brady without blitzing. Cleveland’s front four was built for this situation. According to football outsiders, the defense ranks fifth in the league in adjusted sack rate, at 8.5%, and ninth in sacks with 19. The Pats’ starting center, David Andrews, and left tackle, Isaiah Wynn, are on injured reserve. Rob Gronkowski, known for spectacular catches and violent collisions with defensive backs, was an exceptional blocker, but retired before the season.


Though sporadic to this point in the season, the defensive line must dominate on Sunday. The few occasions during his career when Brady has struggled have all occurred when he’s faced heavy pressure. Myles Garrett, Sheldon Richardson, Larry Ogunjobi, and Olivier Vernon must apply heat. If the Browns have to blitz, Brady will slice the secondary apart. Sending extra defenders will allow him to exploit mismatches the blitz creates.


Still, Brady will be hard to bring down. Eighth in the league in shortest time to throw, at 2.58 seconds according to Next Gen stats, Brady is used to throwing quick. His receivers will run quick routes, designed to get them in space. James White will be active in the passing game. Brady uses his running backs as well as any quarterback in the game’s history. Will Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams return this week? They need their speed and coverage skills to contend with this offense.


New England’s first drive on Monday Night against the Jets was a masterpiece, lasting 16 plays and including everyone on offense. The Browns defense cannot be passive. If they cannot make Tom Brady uncomfortable, game over.


Offensively Baker Mayfield is in for a struggle. The New England defense is historic. First in points allowed, yards, and turnovers forced, it’s hard to foresee any success from the offense. To hang with the champs, the Browns cannot turn it over. As bad as the offense has been, turnovers have proved to be the biggest issue. They moved the ball at will against Seattle, only to give the ball to the Seahawks four times. Threatening to get back into the game against the Niners, Antonio Callaway dropped a sure touchdown that was picked off. The Titan game came unglued when Mayfield threw three picks in the fourth quarter. If they can hold on to the ball, the offense has shown potential.


While watching the Pats offense, Baker Mayfield should study Brady’s footwork in the pocket. Never hurried, even in the face of pressure, his movement to create extra tenths of seconds to throw is doctorate level stuff. He’s the best in the game’s history at avoiding the rush and stepping up to find receivers. Pocket presence separates the bad quarterbacks from the good. Above all else, Baker must improve in this area if the Browns are to turn this season around.

Feels pressure….steps up and delivers the ball


The only chance the Browns have Sunday is for a low-scoring affair. Chew clock with Nick Chubb, avoid turnovers, and pressure Brady all afternoon. An 80s throwback game is their path to victory.

The Whip Around

1. Pete Carroll’s risk averse way of coaching is doing his team zero favors. Settling for field goals and punting on the defense’s side of the field is playing into his opponents’ hands. The best weapon in the league and MVP to this point, Russell Wilson, is Seattle’s path to victories. Their defense is below average. It cannot withstand the pressure Carroll’s decisions are putting on them. Give it to Russ instead.

2. What’s wrong with the Eagles? An embarrassing beat down at the hands of an average Cowboys team should have alarms sounding in Philadelphia. Although they’re still missing DeSean Jackson, the offense needs to chuck it. 12th in the league in run percentage, this is way too high for a Carson Wentz led team, regardless of wide receiver injuries. Jordan Howard is average, and Miles Sanders is an inconsistent rookie. Put the game in the hands of your former MVP candidate.

3. Aaron Rodgers is heating up. Accounting for five touchdowns against the Raiders, Rodgers’ slow start to the season is history. Able to rely on a strong defense and a stout running game, the Pack looks like a contender. NFC teams would be wise to wrestle home field advantage away from the Packers. January games in Green Bay against that defense won’t end well.

4. While hoping to tread water in Drew Brees’ absence, the Saints have been one-legged skiing. Teddy Bridgewater has been what the doctor ordered, completing almost 68% of his passes while throwing only two picks. Another team historically defensively challenged, New Orleans is dominating games on both sides of the ball unlike anyone outside of New England. The culture Sean Payton has built in Louisiana, for a franchise as bad as any in the league before they hired him, is awe-inspiring. After last year’s gruesome ending, a Saints Super Bowl title would be the icing on the cake.

5. Though Jared Goff has struggled, don’t forget about the Rams. With last week’s trade for Jalen Ramsey, Los Angeles pairs the game’s best corner with Aaron Donald. With Dante Fowler Jr. submitting three sacks on Sunday, no team possesses star power on defense like L.A. Can Sean McVay devise a scheme to limit Goff’s errors? Will he survive relying on his defense to win games?

6. Andy Dalton with the toss of the year. Nice look, Red Rocket.

7. Kirk Cousins is a dark horse MVP candidate? Things are trending upward in Minnesota again, what with the QB playing nice with wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs again after some passive aggressive comments from each earlier in the season. Washington is in town for a hum drum Thursday Night game, cementing another week of harmony in the Land of the Lakes. The rubber hits the road after, with games against Kansas City, Dallas, Denver, and Seattle on the horizon. Will things look as rosy in a month?

8. Chicago has a Mitchell Trubisky problem. Strong defensively with perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate Khalil Mack and Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara at the corners, the offense remains in neutral. Though short on talent around him, Trubisky is struggling, missing receivers and looking lost in Matt Nagy’s offense. How long will the Bears remain patient with him? A team built to win now and coming off an NFC North title a year ago, Chicago wants to avoid getting on the QB merry-go-round again, but may have no choice.

9. Eric Ebron’s stunning touchdown catch was so spectacular it never crossed announcer Greg Gumbel or Trent Green’s mind that he got both feet down in bounds. A beauty.

10. If Washington plays Dwayne Haskins again this year, he should sue for malpractice. Star left tackle Trent Williams demanded a trade during mini-camp and has yet to show up to the team. 34-year-old Adrian Peterson is their best offensive player, and he’s hurt. At least Miami has admitted they’re tanking.

Live look in Washington


Ownership in Washington is clueless. Ineptitude of this magnitude funnels from the top. Twenty years of horrible coaching hires and free agent signings litter Dan Snyder’s tenure as owner. He’s sued season ticket holders and demanded a newspaper to fire a writer he didn’t like. If not for the Browns, his team would’ve been the laughingstock of the NFL during the last decade. Shame on Snyder for destroying a once proud franchise.

Will the Real Baker Mayfield Please Stand Up

Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns, NFL, Uncategorized

Baker Mayfield is lost, and he’s running from the light. Many want to pin the loss Sunday night on Freddie Kitchens, and he deserves blame. But this L is Mayfield’s.


You cannot win in the NFL with poor quarterback play. The Browns have proved this for 20 years. You can hand wring and fist stomp about the coaching, receivers, offensive linemen, and defense. Success hinges on the quarterback. The good ones are in the playoffs; the great ones win Super Bowls. We’ve seen the results of bad ones.


Right now, Mayfield is bad. I think he will pull himself out of it, but his season has been hard to watch. He is the cause of the 1-2 record and the offense looking lost. Baker is the reason I felt this franchise was ready to overturn 20 years of misery, yet so far, he’s adding to it.


He’s inaccurate. Whether down field, or on check downs, his accuracy has disappeared, completing only 56.9% of his passes, 30th in the league.


He’s not comfortable in the pocket.


He’s been under pressure, but he’s running himself into it as well. Too often, Baker gets spooked at a small push by the defensive front and heads for the exit. Almost exclusively, he drops further back and to his right. This closes off the left side of the field as an option, forcing him into throwing to one side of the field.

He’s bailing. More options if he steps up in the pocket, or shuffles his feet to the right instead of turning and running


Watch Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, and Aaron Rodgers. The devil is in the details. Their footwork in the pocket is precise. Instead of scrambling at the first sign of trouble, they adjust their bodies away from the pressure, buying themselves the half second they need to find the open receiver. It’s a small but essential detail the great quarterbacks possess.

Footwork is key to avoiding the rush


He needs to step up in the pocket instead of running backward. When a quarterback backs up, the play is over. Unless they’re a scrambler, by reversing course they are taking themselves out of the play. Russell Wilson is one of the few in history to have success backing up in the pocket. By stepping up, Baker will improve his field vision, passing lanes, and accuracy.


I believe in Baker. He’s smart. A hard worker. He’s been an accurate passer in college and his rookie year. Many great quarterbacks slump their sophomore year. The Browns will not improve until he does, however.

The Browns are in the mist of the toughest part of the schedule. After Baltimore on Sunday, they have the 49ers, Seahawks, the bye, then the Patriots. After that, it eases.


At Broncos
Bills
Steelers
Dolphins
At Steelers
Bengals
At Cardinals
Ravens
At Bengals


Plenty of wins there. If they can hang in the next four weeks, they should begin stacking wins.

The defense was outstanding Sunday night. Missing their captain, Christian Kirksey, and the starting secondary, they forced three turnovers on outstanding plays by Myles Garrett, T. J. Carrie, and Joe Schobert. Mack Wilson held his own replacing Kirksey. Steve Wilks blitzed more often than in the first two games of the year. It led to an average day from Todd Gurley and Jared Goff. With a front four as dominant as the Browns’, it makes the secondary’s job much easier. While the offense is rounding into shape, the defense must continue to carry the team.

It’s a big week. Heading to Baltimore, Kitchens and Mayfield are under the microscope. Both must perform better than they’ve shown. A loss to the Ravens would put them 1-3 and two games behind in the division.


Baltimore lost to Kansas City and looked average. They were out of the game after their first drive of the day yielded a touchdown, despite the final score. Lamar Jackson heaved two prayers that got answered, keeping the score close, and Kansas City seemed to sleepwalk through the second half.


The Ravens are flawed. Their defense lost last season’s leading tackler(C.J. Mosley), sack leader, and a Pro Bowler at safety(Eric Weddle). They did add Earl Thomas, maybe the best safety in the game. The Chiefs and Cardinals moved the ball against them at will. If Baker remains patient, there will be plays on the outside to Beckham and Landry. He needs to put the hype and the pressure behind him. A good outing on Sunday will cure many of his ills.


Offensively, the Ravens are Lamar Jackson. He is a crap shoot. One minute he’ll drop a perfect lob into Marquis Brown’s hands; the next he’ll rifle the ball five feet in front of Mark Andrews. The two Hail Mary balls he heaved Sunday should have been picks. The Browns D is better than Kansas City’s. They must take advantage when Jackson makes mistakes.

Keeping Jackson in the pocket is paramount. The Chiefs shadowed him on passing plays, dropping defensive tackle Xavier Williams off the line of scrimmage at the snap to mirror Jackson on a majority of plays. While Jackson sprinkled in a few highlights, holding him to 46 yards rushing was a victory for the Chiefs. The Browns should use this strategy. Mix it up. Use Mack Wilson, Olivier Vernon, and whichever safeties may play in different situations to shadow Lamar. Confuse him into mistakes. If the Browns can keep Jackson and Mark Ingram in check, and the offense can make improvements, they have a shot at winning in Baltimore.

The Whip Around

1.Chiefs Patriots Rams Saints
These teams are the class of the NFL. Other outfits have shown flashes, but none come close to the dominance of these four. The only loss between them is the Rams victory after Drew Brees’ thumb injury. A lot of season remains, yet, barring injury, it’s tough to foresee anyone other than these guys in the conference championships.

2. Colts Texans Cowboys Eagles Packers
The next tier, if one of the above should falter, these teams would be the best bets to slide up. The Packers defense has been phenomenal to this point. If Aaron Rodgers can put full games together, instead of halves, Green Bay will be a feisty out. The Texans are a high-wire act, and DeShaun Watson may be the best quarterback in the league this side of Patrick Mahomes. I still believe in the Eagles and not the Cowboys.

3. Jacoby Brissett has been outstanding, giving the Colts hope for life after Andrew Luck. Seventh in completion percentage, fourth in touchdowns, and sixth in the league in quarterback rating, Brissett is leading a talented team as well as Luck could have. T. Y. Hilton re-aggravated a quad injury, which could hurt their offense depending on how much time he misses. For a team that was staring at doomsday prophecies a month ago, they look to be one on the better teams in the AFC.

4. The athleticism on display each Sunday is mind-boggling. It’s impossible to keep up with the draw dropping plays. In twenty minutes Sunday, Dalvin Cook, Nelson Agholor, and Demarcus Robinson scored touchdowns that run on loop all week on SportsCenter. Beautiful to watch.

5. The Lions upset of the Eagles in Philadelphia was impressive, though Philly was missing their top two receivers. Still, the Lions are undefeated and threatening to remain in the NFC North race past September. One key reason for Sunday’s victory was their secondary. They smothered the healthy Eagles receivers, giving Carson Wentz little space to make throws, tallying an impressive 10 passes defended. The schedule gets tough, however, with Kansas City, Green Bay, and Minnesota on tap. Their secondary will need more days like Sunday for the Lions to remain competitive.

The Detroit secondary has Philly’s receivers blanketed

6. Get up, Donte Jackson.

7. Mike Evans may be the best receiver in the league no one talks about. His erratic quarterback has a lot to do with that, however. Case in point, his game Sunday. 7 catches, 146 yards, and 3 touchdowns in the first half. 2 catches 44 yards in the second. Jameis Winston is infuriating, wasting Evans’ talent.

8. A pet peeve of mine is the slowness with which teams break the huddle. How many timeouts are wasted and 5 yard delay of game penalties taken each week because of this nonsense? They should have taken care of this stuff of the first week of training camp. It boggles my mind that Aaron Rodgers, after many years in the league, can have three instances a game when he can’t get a play off in time. Hurry up.

9. Kyle Allen made throw after throw in leading Carolina’s destruction of the Cardinals on Sunday. 4 touchdowns and a 144.4 QB rating gets your attention. If he keeps playing this well, the Panthers will have a Cam Newton decision to make.

10. After the aforementioned top teams, the rest of the league is a crap shoot. Quarterback play is unstable week to week, even series to series. There aren’t enough consistent guys under center to know what you’re getting each Sunday. It makes for exciting football during the season and gives quite a few teams hope. The inevitability of the top teams winning in January will become more obvious in November and December, however.