TALKIN’ TO MYSELF ABOUT THE 2-1 START
QUESTION: Look, the Browns beat two bad teams and they did it in Cleveland. Are we really supposed to be excited about that?
ANSWER: I’m used to the Browns losing to bad teams in Cleveland.
Q: Is that your best answer?
A: After the Browns lost 38-6 in Baltimore to open the season, I didn’t know what to expect in these early games. Baltimore could have scored 50 points in that game. Baker Mayfield looked shaken and uncertain, like some of his worst moments in 2019. At that point, the Browns appeared on their way to another 6-10 season.
Q: Big deal, they’re 2-1. I remember the last time they were 2-1…
A: I know, it was 2011. They had another rookie head coach. Pat Shurmur was 2-1 with Colt McCoy as his QB. They ended the season 4-12. I don’t see that happening again.
A: I point to a pre-season interview I did with Browns GM Andrew Berry. Several times in the story, he stressed: “I want our team to be disciplined and resilient each week. I want us to be prepared to deal with the inevitable adversity in a strong, positive fashion.”
Q: Doesn’t everyone want that from their team?
A: But the Browns showed some of those traits after the Baltimore game. They played Cincinnati four days later and won, 35-30. High-priced free agent tackle Jack Conklin missed the game with an ankle injury. Veteran Chris Hubbard stepped in and the offensive line continued to play at a high level.
Q: But they gave up 30 points to the Bengals?
A: Their next game was a 34-20 victory over Washington. This was a game where the Browns blew a 17-7 lead and were down 20-17 heading into fourth quarter. Then they scored the final 17 points. In the past, some Browns teams would fall apart, especially on defense. Instead, the defense forced five turnovers. They shut down Washington in the fourth period.
Q: Washington is not a good team, period.
A: Nonetheless, it goes back to what Berry said about dealing with adversity. And it fits coach Kevin Stefanski wanting “tough/smart/accountable” players. The front office and coaching is staff is looking for signs of how the team handles the setbacks. The signs are positive.
Q: How much of a difference is Stefanski making?
A: Quite a bit, The Browns seem organized. They know what they want to do on offense. A key has been the upgraded offensive line. Football Outsiders ranks them No. 4 in the NFL, Profootballfocus has them at No. 8. They have been the best, most consistent unit on the team.
Q: What about the running backs?
A: I’ll give you Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb as an elite duo. But they are not a “unit” where several parts/players have to work together such as the offensive and defensive lines, the defensive secondary, special teams, etc. The running backs love the offensive line and say that often. It’s the reason the Browns rank No. 3 in the NFL in rushing at 170 yards per game.
Q: You really think the offensive line is that good?
A: So far, that’s the case. Rookie left tackle Jedrick Wills threw a big block to spring Chubb on his 16-yard TD run vs. Washington. Wyatt Teller is a monster when it comes to run blocking. Joel Bitonio is emerging into a Joe Thomas-type leader of the line. JC Tretter is a force at center. Tretter and Bitonio have now played every snap in 51 consecutive games next to each other. Both have played hurt. But as Bitonio said, “Whenever I missed a game, I felt like I was letting people down.”
Q: Guess the Browns made the right move by going with Teller at right guard.
A: Offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt praised the ability of Bitonio and Teller to “play the wide zone” as they “pull” to get in front of the backs. As Bitonio said: “A few of our long runs have come off a good Wyatt Teller pull block. … He is getting guys on the ground and making things happen.”
Q: So you think…
A: Not done yet with the line. The Browns quickly jumped on a chance to hire Bill Callahan as offensive line coach. I hear he’s well-paid, and he’s also been a bargain. He has helped Wills move from a college right tackle to left tackle. He can teach several forms of zone blocking, and makes weekly adjustments. Van Pelt said Callahan has done “an excellent job” of putting together a running game plan each week.
Q: Is this making a difference for Baker Mayfield?
A: According to Profootballfocus, Mayfield is taking an average of 3.0 seconds to pass. That’s highest of the 30 QBs they consider starters. It could a major problem if Mayfield were being sacked often or hit hard after he throws. That’s not the case. He’s been sacked four times in three games. A year ago, he was sacked 11 times in the first three games and heaved five interceptions.
Q: But he’s not throwing the ball as often, right?
A: I don’t care. I want winning football. The Browns have a strong line and great running backs. In each of the last two games, Mayfield has thrown exactly 23 passes. Mayfield has completed 70 percent of his passes with four TDs compared to a single interception. As Van Pelt said: “He’s getting a better understanding of what we are asking him to do.” The Browns believe Stefanski’s system and this coaching staff can make Mayfield a long-term success at QB in the NFL.
Q: Do you think the new attitude is real?
A: I’m guardedly upbeat about it. This is still an emotionally fragile team because of all the losing, the firings, the changes of schemes. So far, they are doing the basics: Blocking, running the ball well, not throwing interceptions on offense. All good signs.
ABOUT JORDAN ELLIOTT
I heard the rookie defensive tackle Jordan Elliott has been impressing the coaches. The stats on the defensive line were not special: No sacks, a pair of tackles.
I decided to check Profootballfocus to see their opinion. This from Ben Linsey :
“Elliott has quietly been one of the better rookie defenders in the NFL through the first three weeks of the season. In fact, no rookie defender with at least 50 defensive snaps has recorded overall grade better than Elliott (77.0). The Missouri product has graded better in run defense than he has as a pass rusher, but don’t let his one pressure on 51 pass-rushing snaps fool you; Elliott has still shown some things that you like to see when getting after the quarterback.”
PFF’s Anthony Treash also wrote:
“He has yet to be sealed out of a gap and has yet to miss a tackle, and he has had multiple defeated blocks that have caused some disruption for the ball carrier.”
Elliott is becoming a factor in the run game. He’s played 82 snaps (38 percent) in the first three games. That’s a lot, given he’s behind veteran starting tackles Larry Ogunjobi and Sheldon Richardson.
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