We are more than one third of the way into the season. Where are the Browns?
The defense has been inconsistent. They’ve been torched three times and with the exception of the first half of the Texans game and the second half of the Broncos game they’ve played dominantly against four teams.
-The dominance seems to flow from a strong defensive front with good back end coverage. The torching seems to be due to poor or soft coverage. Of course the torching happened against top QBs (Mahomes, Herbert & Murray) while the dominance was against rookie or mediocre QBs (Mills, Fields, Cousins & Bridgewater). So I’d forecast that our defense will struggle against the Ravens (x2) and Packers. The rest of the schedule are QBs either similar to Cousins or very young (Steelers (x2), Bengals (x2), Patriots, Lions & Raiders) and we might see further strong play. With the Mayfield, Hunt, Landry & OBJ injuries the Browns might be dependent upon a strong defense in order to make the playoffs.
The record does not reflect their play. If Gillian doesn’t drop a snap we would very likely have beaten the Chargers. If all of our CBs didn’t get hurt we were in good shape to beat the Chargers. Both were away games. None of our wins were really in doubt. With a little better luck the team is 5-1.
-The point spread in the Vikings (7) and Broncos (3) games were very narrow. The Browns were very obviously the better team both times. In the Vikings game it was a terrible performance by Mayfield as he wasn’t dealing with his damaged shoulder efficiently. In the Broncos game the 17 play drive did make the score close but the Browns final drive to burn up the clock would have easily been a score if there had been more time. I think that it has been pretty evident that Stef plays to win rather than style points. In the Cowboys, Titans and Steelers games last year he was content to trade points for time. He becomes conservative with a lead. I don’t agree but, I think that when either his offense or defense is dominant his game strategy is to be conservative. In the NFL there aren’t any points for quality wins, point differential or committee votes. Just win, baby!
In 2019 the Browns were embarrassed by an unexpectedly strong team, led by a young HC with a strong offensive reputation which won going away due to a dominant defense. That team ended up in the Super Bowl. If history is a prelude we should see the Cardinals in the Super Bowl.
-A really weak and disappointing effort against the Cardinals. My hope is that the game is similar to the disappointments against the Ravens and Steelers last year. Part of the process of the Browns becoming a good team by treating every week as equally important. Establishing a winning culture takes time.
The media attention after the Broncos game was all about Johnson (warranted), Mayfield’s future (ridiculous) and the three point margin. They totally missed the significant piece of the game. When was the last time anyone saw a team close out a game from 5+ minutes against a team with 3 timeouts and the 2 minute warning?
-The running of Johnson, the blocking of the offensive line, the play calling of Stef and Keenan’s accuracy were an ideal mix of talents to finish the game. A really excellent finish. I think that like every Brown’s fan of the last 20 years I expected the Broncos to get the ball back, score to take the lead or take the game to OT all for another Browns loss. So happy to watch the Browns stuff it down the throats of the Broncos! As an old fan….especially the Broncos.
So far this season I’d say that Harrison’s play and OBJ’s combination of injuries and play make it unlikely that either will be with the team next year. With half of the defensive line on 1 year contracts what is the 2022 plan? Will they also want to keep the OL together? Has Njoku on his fifth year option shown enough to get an extension?
-With the other young players in the defensive backfield Harrison won’t be worthy of an extension. OBJ’s contract and the emergence of DPJ will offer too much cap space for the Browns to keep him. Free agents and draft choices will be used for the defensive line. Will they extend Teller? Tretter’s contract might mean that he is in his last year with the Browns. Hance has done a credible job as a swing OT and OG. He played some C during camp and could be groomed as a replacement for either player. Njoku might be affordable if he doesn’t do more over the rest of the season but, if he stays healthy and gets more targets his contract will be too rich for the Browns.
The media attention on Mayfield’s future contract continues. Ward is also in his fourth year.
-With Mayfield’s injury and missed games I don’t expect him to get or accept a contract extension and he will be on the 5th year option. Ward’s continued injuries will be an impediment to a contract extension and I would keep him on his 5th year option as well.
I heard a commentator suggest that a bone fracture takes from 4 to 6 weeks to heal. If that is correct Mayfield fracture won’t be healed sufficiently for him to play until sometime before the Lions game, Ravens game or the bye week.
-I’d like to see AB move Baker to the IR, sign Mullen to the roster as the backup QB and sign another QB to the practice squad. I would keep Baker out until after the bye week as it isn’t worth him to hurry back. We can handle the Lions without Baker and he shouldn’t do his comeback with a hostile crowd in Baltimore. Get him back for the stretch run.
The trading deadline is shortly after our next game.
-I don’t see the Browns making any trades. They will want to preserve all of their seven 2022 draft choices. They don’t really have any candidates to trade for draft choices as OBJ is injured, we need to keep Johnson for RB depth, Njoku is in his contract year and I can’t see any depth players worthy of getting a draft choice.
Keenan’s gutsy fourth down run was critical to our final score and the game might have been lost without that play.
-It seems to me that we’ve had at least 3 similar red zone fourth and short plays so far this season where Baker not only didn’t succeed, he didn’t get a pass off and was sacked? I like Stef’s gambles but why do the pass calls on fourth downs continue to fail?
Over the next two weeks we have critical division games. Which one is the most favorable matchup for us?
-Steelers front seven is their best unit but our offensive line and running backs should stand up well with them. The Steelers defensive backfield isn’t as impressive. Our front seven is going against the weakest Steeler’s unit. Big Ben’s quick release will require our DBs to play tight coverage. I don’t expect them to be able to run well against us. The following week I wonder how well our DBs will cover the Bengals receivers. If they make some long strikes we might be playing from behind and that has not been our best game strategy. Mixon is a good back but their offensive line is not great and we will need to take advantage. They seem to rush the passer well and have played well in the secondary. Fortunately our offensive line should match up well. We are hosting the Steelers as they are motivated for revenge and we are visiting the Bengals.
-Interesting is that in 2019 we had a very similar blowout game with the Ravens in October. We didn’t parlay that into a successful season and the Ravens didn’t lose again until the playoffs. While opinions of the Bengals have soared this week I wonder if they have the depth to withstand the eventual injuries that occur during a season. That might be the most underlooked aspect of our success last year was the depth of talent on our team that allowed us to withstand OBJ, Chubb, Williams, Delpit, Ward & Teller injuries.
Will we make the playoffs?
-I’d say it is about 60/40 right now. The remaining schedule has 3 very tough games, 1 very easy game and the other six should be competitive even if the Browns get healthy (Steelers x2, Bengals x2, Patriots & Raiders). The AFC seems quite stratified right now and the competition for wild card spots includes the Browns, Steelers, Bengals, Raiders, Chiefs & Colts. While the Browns have the best talent of that group injuries and luck will play a hand.
Why am I not thinking about the draft?
-This isn’t 1999 to 2019 anymore. Isn’t it nice to have a solid GM, HC and roster?