What a difference two draft picks can make.
Sashi Brown and the Cleveland Browns’ futility over the last two seasons helped set the table, then John Dorsey hit back-to-back jacks in drafting Baker Mayfield and Denzel Ward with the Browns’ two top-four picks.
“[Mayfield] makes plays. I told him, I have not been around him a ton, but there is just something about this young man,” coach Hue Jackson said after the game. “He has a feel to him. He does not blink at situations or opportunities.
“Something might have went wrong the play before, and it is water off of the duck’s back to him.”
Jackson lauded Ward too for his “huge” interception and equally as impactful field-goal block that kept the Browns ahead 6-3 going into halftime.
“As I keep saying about our team, we will keep working, keep listening, keep growing and keep working at this thing,” Jackson added. “Let’s see where we are when it is all said and done.”
It may not all come together fully this season, but the Browns are back on track, and Dorsey deserves as much credit as anyone for making what some thought to be controversial selections with those two picks. Jackson deserves some praise, too, but Dorsey’s additions are certainly making their presence felt.
If not for Mayfield and Ward, the Browns could easily be winless again in 2018. Instead, they at least appear to be on the verge of contending for a division title.
Here are three big takeaways from this week’s Browns win over the Baltimore Ravens.
Baker Mayfield, Playmaker
That quarterback you have been waiting for over the years, yeah, that guy has finally arrived.
Despite all the drama, Mayfield made a play when the Browns needed it most. His 39-yard completion to undrafted rookie Derrick Willies changed everything for a team that needed someone to make a play in the worst way. Some crafty pocket work on that crucial third-down freed him up to make a pin-point pass that hit Willies in stride and left him a ton of open field to exploit.
“He’s a fighter. That guy can make plays. He’s a playmaker. He’s has that ‘it’ factor to him. We were talking a little trash on the field,” Ravens safety Tony Jefferson said after the game. “You have to respect a guy like that, especially a rookie who’s coming into a defense like ours.
“I thought he did pretty well today. We weren’t good enough.”
Baltimore’s defense had been rolling following two dominant performances heading into Week 5. The Pittsburgh Steelers looked helpless and confused against them in a 27-14 home defeat last week. A clearly flustered Ben Roethlisberger said he wasn’t “on the same page with anybody right now” after the loss.
And the Ravens’ defense again showed up big this week, harassing Mayfield for five sacks and more than a dozen pressures. But those efforts weren’t enough to derail Mayfield’s Browns offense from finding a way to beat them.
He ended the game with 324 yards passing, the second-most by a Browns rookie in franchise history.
The Takeaway That’s About Takeaways
No last minute overtime heroics would have been possible if not for the team’s gutsy and complete defensive performance. Despite giving up 25 first downs and 410 yards of offense, Cleveland’s defense fortified their end-zone and made Baltimore settle for field goals. They helped themselves with two more turnovers, including a goal-line interception and forced fumble in Ravens territory. Ward’s block also helped, wiping away a 48-yard attempt by “Mr. Automatic” Justin Tucker.
That makes it 15 takeaways this season, the most by a Browns team through five weeks since they had 17 by this point in 1989. The Browns’ defense now leads the NFL in that category, and the team’s plus-eight turnover ratio also tops the league. Their minus-28 ratio—13 takeaways and 41 giveaways—was by far the league’s worst last season. Unsurprisingly, teams that won the takeover battle have won 75 percent of their games in 2018. That’s roughly on par with the historic 78-percent baseline the league saw from 1950 to 2016.
Call it what you want, but whether it was a “bent but didn’t break” or not doesn’t really matter. The Browns are making more plays defensively, and their offensive ball security has been much improved. That’s a winning trend, one they got away from last weekend in Oakland.
Although Joe Flacco got rid of the ball quickly much of the game, Myles Garrett added a half of a sack, giving him five on the season and 12 total in 16 career games. That makes him No. 5 on the Browns’ all-time sack list for players in their first two seasons with the team. The former No. 1 pick still has 11 games to catch leader Reggie Camp, who finished with 18.5 sacks in from 1983 to ‘84.
Special Teams Didn’t Lose Another Game ... Not For Lack of Trying
Through five games there have been exactly zero post-game discussions that haven't bemoaned the Browns’ league-worst special teams play.
It’s hard to figure out how to feel about this group after Week 5. On one hand, Greg Joseph’s kick went in and the Browns won. Ward blocked a field goal, too, which was a pleasant new development. And there didn’t appear to be any coverage lapses in the punt and kick games that swung field position drastically against them.
But Darren Fells had to block two outside defenders himself on the game-winning kick, and he allowed Jefferson an inside crease to have an opportunity to get his hand on the ball. The result was great, albeit ugly, but it could have ended in pitchforks and flames outside Berea demanding for Amos Jones’ head.
We’re not going to go on another Jones deep dive, or focus too much on the obvious concerns of the Browns’ kicker position. We know both need addressed, and Jackson is taking it slowly while trying to remedy things as best he can. Joseph is a young kicker, so he’s going to struggle, just like Zane Gonzalez did. While he missed an extra point and a high-pressure 55-yarder that would have won the game, his last one did go in, and it got the Browns a win.
Give him the game ball, boost his confidence, and hope he learns how to handle those situations for the next time his number gets called. There’s a better-than-good chance that’s going to happen after the team saw three overtimes in its first five games, and all five of them being decided by four points or less.
Everyone is thrilled, the Browns finally got a little love from the football gods, but the same issue continues to plague them. The problem isn’t going away, and neither are the nail-biting finishes, so there’s this uneasy feeling this won’t be the last we talk about their special teams’ play determining outcomes.