If you are a Cleveland sports fan, the phrase “Cleveland Against the World” isn’t new. LeBron James wore the phrase on a tee shirt in the playoffs. Indians fans held up handmade posters during the 2016 World Series. Covid-19. Injuries. Some wildly inconsistent referee decisions… The November 29th victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars felt very much like a “Cleveland Against the World” game. Our writers look back to the improbable journey to an 8-3 record and look forward to the biggest test of the season so far against the Titans.
Following the Covid-19 updates for this team has become a form of mental abuse. Is there more the team should have been doing to prevent this outbreak?
Ohio: From what I can tell, the Browns have been going about this the right way from the very beginning. They are being cautious and not taking any chances which is what they should be doing. Not sure what else they or the NFL could have done, it’s inescapable.
Chris Richani: I actually think the Browns have done a fine job with the COVID protocols. To this point they have been able to avoid a full-blown outbreak despite a couple players testing positive here and there. This tells me that the organization has been taking the protocols seriously to limit contact unlike the Ravens and Titans, for example. It is what it is, and I do not think there was much more the NFL could do for the situation besides potentially build in an additional bye week to accommodate schedule changes.
Surge: Unless you are going into a full-blown NBA type bubble, I don’t know how you could expect much different than what’s happened. It’s going to be the same for the rest of the season, so all the players or the NFL can do is try to reduce risk as much as possible and treat each mini-outbreak on a case by case basis.
The Browns are 9th in the NFL in total offense. Mayfield went from six turnovers in the first six games to two turnovers in the past five. Is this real or a mirage?
Chris Richani: I am hopeful that this is real. Stefanski and Van Pelt have done a tremendous job helping Baker Mayfield undo the bad habits he had developed to start taking positive strides. Stefanski’s playcalling is part of the equation, but Baker seems to have made a conscious effort to make better decisions with the ball. Lack of turnovers directly correlates to wins; keep it up.
This is the question isn’t it? if we knew the answer the franchise would be good to go. Some say people are too hard on him, some say he is not improving. But I think he is most certainly benefitting from the stability that Stef has brought to the team. He is benefitting from some top-notch coaching as well. And a great O-Line solves many issues. I think we are seeing some growth, but maybe just as likely, Coach Stef covering Baker’s warts with a scheme designed to minimize mistakes.
Long term though? It is really hard to tell who Baker Mayfield really is.
Ohio: The offense has been doing what it takes to win. It is designed to take pressure off Mayfield and put him in position to succeed. The turnovers Mayfield had early were mostly when playing from behind against good teams, thus being more desperate to score and score quickly. Recently, this hasn’t been an issue because the Browns have been controlling the flow of the game. With that said, I do think we’ve seen some real improvement from Mayfield this season, particularly in protecting the ball. But, I am looking forward to the next game where the Browns are in a battle, and may even have to play from behind, to see how Mayfield does. This Sunday against the Titans is a big test for both him and the team overall.
The defense has suffered more injuries than the offense all season long. Which depth players stepping up into larger roles have impressed you the most?
Surge: At this point it feels like the projected backups on defense have played every bit as much as the starters. Terrence Mitchell was supposed to be behind Greedy and Ward to start the year but has stepped in and played well in my opinion.
Ohio: Gotta go with Terrence Mitchell. He was 3rd on the depth chart before the season yet has filled in respectably as CB2. He’s proven to be a legitimate fringe starter on a competitive team. Not sure I can say that about anyone else on this defense that began this season out of the starting lineup.
Chris Richani: It has been a collective effort, and it seems like a different name comes up with a play every time. I am pleased that guys like Adrian Clayborn and Porter Gustin have stepped up at times on the defensive line. Terrance Mitchell always seems to climb the depth chart as a season wears on and does an admirable job. I expect another name to join this list soon from the secondary with the recent additions to the injury report from that group. Next man up.
Sebastian: Vernon is a starter, but he has been hurt so often it almost feels like he is an addition to the team. He has been great when on the field. Without him there is no hiding Garrett’s absence.
Against the Titans, the Browns will be underdogs for the first time in a long while. What has to go right?
Chris Richani: A lot. The Titans are hitting their stride and are very much contenders in the AFC. The Browns will have to sell out to stop Derrick Henry. Unlike some other teams that they’ve faced this season, the Titans will run the ball to death if it’s working. At that point you need to hope Tannehill has an off-day in the passing game. If not, AJ Brown, Corey Davis, Jonnu Smith, and company can make it a long day on the depleted Browns secondary. I am not optimistic about the Browns’ odds in this one. The offense will need to keep pace against a mediocre Titans defense to give them a chance.
Sebastian: The Browns have to stop the run. They have to make Tannehill beat them. That is mission one. Mission two is they have to establish the run early and often. They need to get both Chubb and Hunt going to keep that D honest. Which leads to mission three: They cannot turn the ball over. Baker is going to be under both literal and figurative pressure to perform because against TEN the run is not going to win the game on its own. He will have to make some throws and more importantly he cannot throw interceptions.
Surge: The obvious answer is stopping Derrick Henry. The Browns have to rally to the ball because it usually takes more than one guy to bring him down. I’ve been as hard on Sendejo as anyone, but if there was ever a time for him to step up as the run supporter he is, this week would be it. Slowing Henry and getting pressure on Tannehill will be the keys.
Roundtable adjourned! Keep following @realbrownsfans.com, @realcavsfans.com, and @Real_Brownsfans.com through the playoff push.