Could the bye week be just the recipe that Kevin Stefanski needs to get the Cleveland Browns back on track? Last year, the Browns were 5-3 heading into their bye week. After the bye, they proceeded to rip off four straight victories to improve to 9-3. If the Browns managed a similar hot stretch after the bye this year, they could be sitting at 10-6, which would look a lot better than things have been. Let’s go unit by unit with a few thoughts on what we need to see to close out the regular season:
- How the mighty have fallen. Heading into the season, I had lofty expectations that this unit would be able to score 30+ points on a regular basis. I thought they were a Top-5 offense in the NFL. In the first five games of the season, the Browns averaged 28.4 points per game. In the 7 games since then, they are averaging just 16 points per game. The past 3 games have been even more painful, as the team is averaging just 10 points per game.
- Baker Mayfield’s injury issues are obviously having an impact, but there are other elements of the team that need to be better. For as strong as the running game is, opposing defenses have lost respect for the Browns’ passing game and are coming up to stop the run more. A good running game needs at least something threatening in the passing game. These are the five improvements I want to see in that area:
- More Screens: The screen passes to the running backs were on-point earlier this year, but we’ve seen a drop in the number of them being executed. One was dialed up last week, and while Mayfield fumbled, it appeared that Kareem Hunt could’ve had a touchdown.
- More End Arounds: Whether it be with Jarvis Landry, Demetric Felton, Anthony Schwartz, or Donovan Peoples-Jones, there should be some plays where Mayfield is under center and hands off to the motion man while delivering a fake pitch to the running back.
- Max Protection Playaction Shots: Some of Kevin Stefanski’s biggest plays over the past two years have involved two receivers in the route — one clearing out deep, and another coming across the field deep. Those plays could be covered, but this offense is struggling to get separation when the field is crowded. Most of Cleveland’s big pass plays last week came off of these types of plays.
- Back to Hollywood Higgins: I don’t know why we’re having this same song-and-dance again with Rashard Higgins, who was a healthy scratch against the Ravens last week. In his last 4 games of 2020, Higgins had 18 catches for 294 yards and 2 touchdowns. I know he didn’t get many connections with Mayfield prior to being inactive last week, but he and Mayfield have a history and it’s time to go back to the well.
- Stop With the Spread Offense: There has been nothing more frustrating this season than the constant use of the spread offense, with five receivers out wide. I don’t think I’ve seen a less innovative, less productive call around the league given our personnel. It’s become a wasted play, and I want there to always be a running back in the backfield to present the threat of running the ball, even if it’s out of a four-receiver set.
- I know we’ve been frustrated by Joe Woods’ lack of in-game adjustments in games in which an opposing team has our defense figured out. With that said, if you isolate those bad games against the Chiefs, Charges, Cardinals, and Patriots, the defense is allowing just 12 points per game in the other 7 games, with 16 points being the most allowed during that stretch. The Browns are 5-2 during those games.
- I still get irked a bit about the play of the safeties at times, but they came up with three interceptions against the Ravens last week and have started to have their moments. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah playing more snaps again was a big factor against Baltimore, and something to be excited about over this final month.
- The defense is healthy, all things considered. They can take over games and should only be fueled even more if the offense starts finding even a little bit of a groove. My advice to the defense? Keep playing your asses off, because you can be the consistent piece that gets us back into the playoff mix.
- This late in the season, we’re not going to see a change in kicker. Chase McLaughlin has started to miss a couple of kicks, while others have been blocked. What’s the best advice I can give to start improving upon that? The offense needs to play better and put touchdowns on the board instead.
- Jamie Gillan might be in his final season with the team, as his average and net average are near the bottom in the NFL. More discouraging is that for as much as Cleveland has punted from near midfield, too few of their punts have been downed inside the 10 yard line. You’d think Cleveland could play the field position game a bit more in some of these games, but it’s been a rarity.
- Against the Bears earlier this season, Demetric Felton had 7 punt returns for 103 yards. It was great. In his past four games, he has 8 returns for 14 yards. There seems to be way too much side-to-side movement after he fields a punt as opposed to going north and south. You’ll never out-run the coverage without elite speed. Make that first cut upfield, and if there’s a whole, then try to make a move into it.
According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Browns are more likely to not makes the playoffs, as we covered in a post earlier this week. But they can change the tide by implementing some improvements on offense. The other big factor that needs improvements? The number of penalties the team has committed.