During the Cleveland Browns’ bye week, they watched the Baltimore Ravens take a 2.5 game lead in the AFC North with a road win over the Seattle Seahawks, the team that Cleveland let escape with a victory the week prior.
The Browns knew they had a tough match-up coming out of the bye in the New England Patriots. The Patriots were playing on Monday Night Football, meaning they would have one less day to prepare for Cleveland in Week 8. Anything the Jets could do to take a physical toll on New England would be a plus for the Browns. Instead, the Patriots easily coasted their way to a 33-0 victory, hardly breaking a sweat. Even during the Browns’ bye week, it felt like a mini-loss of sorts.
The half-way point of the NFL season is not here yet, but when a team is coming off of their bye week, it feels like an appropriate time to assess how they have performed. The Browns are 2-4 in the most frustrating and inconsistent manner. In the overall grand scheme of things, Baker Mayfield has not played well, the pass protection has been sub-par, the receivers haven’t clicked, red zone efficiency has been terrible, the defense can’t stop the run, Freddie Kitchens has been “blah,” and both starting cornerbacks have missed most of the season with hamstring injuries suffered in practice. On the plus side? Nick Chubb, Joel Bitonio, JC Tretter, Myles Garrett, Tavierre Thomas, the Scottish Hammer, and the all-important 1-0 record in the AFC North, specifically a victory over the Baltimore Ravens.
I can sit here and say that the Browns have earned their 2-4 record. Yes, officiating has been terrible at times, but my expectations for this club were that they would not just be good enough to squeak by teams, but impose their will on them with a dominant defensive line and an offense that can be one of the best in football. I’ve had to adjust my expectations a bit. This defensive front is average at best by today’s NFL standards. The offensive line hasn’t had good play from the tackle positions, and I don’t know how much of a difference Justin McCray will make, other than maybe he won’t be penalized as much as Greg Robinson.
I am encouraged by the offensive playcalling, to an extent. To contrast, I was frustrated by the playcalling in the first three games of the season. Against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 4, though, most of the playcalling that Kitchens hooked me on from a year ago returned. Despite losses to the 49ers and Seahawks the next two weeks, the type of plays being run on offense was generally not the problem — that part came down to execution, such as Mayfield needing to have better ball placement and receivers needing to hang on to the ball. In one unknown case, Kitchens even said that a receiver ran a route that wasn’t even in the playbook.
The Browns had two crippling game-changers in back-to-back weeks: an Antonio Callaway drop that led to an interception, and a forced pass to Jarvis Landry that led to an interception. If both of those plays go the Browns’ way, momentum in those games goes a completely different way. It is a knock on execution, but also the Browns’ poor resiliency. Resiliency is more than Odell Beckham oddly trying to field a punt when the game is out of reach, too.
Going into the bye, the Browns top the NFL in penalties (57), penalty yardage (506), INTs (11); 2nd in red zone turnovers (3); 4th in drop rate (4.7%).— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) October 14, 2019
Cleveland has truly been their own worst enemy. Does a bye week help to reset any of that? Denzel Ward, Greedy Williams, and Rashard Higgins should all return to action, which is a plus. Kareem Hunt debuts in a couple of weeks. The Browns have had two weeks to scheme up something innovative during the bye week and/or “pull out all the stops.” If it were against a mediocre team, I’d be very optimistic. Instead, I feel like my optimism is not squashed, but merely deferred a week. I love the upcoming stretch of games where Cleveland faces Denver, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Miami, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati. That is a span where my eyes are lighting up at the thought of the team winning five out of six games.
But not against the Patriots. They are allowing an average of 7 points per game, and are averaging 32 points per game. There are few outliers in those numbers too — the Patriots are consistently winning games 30-0, or 33-7. Only a 16-10 victory over the Bills in Week 4 was a game that was close. The fan in me will still be cheering to death and hoping the Browns catch the Patriots by surprise, but it is often not a good mix when you have a well-oiled machine like that facing a team that is still in the middle of finding itself. When Cleveland gets to the soft part of the schedule, let those wins start to build up. Every win helps build confidence and consistency. Mayfield was 1-5 in his first six starts in 2018, before going 5-1 in his next 6 starts.
It’s hard to be patient as a Browns fan when we’ve waited so long for a contender, and with all of the hype this team had heading into the season. I am not going to get down with what seems like an inevitable loss this week: a 2-5 start, followed by a 5-1 hot streak, would put the Browns at 7-6 and right in the thick of things heading into the final stretch of the season.
What type of level-headed mindset are you taking with the Browns, coming out of the bye?