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Browns Roundtable: Playoff Game 1 Edition

Browns look to move to 1-1 in the playoffs since ’99

CLEVELAND, OHIO - JANUARY 03: Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns walks during the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at FirstEnergy Stadium on January 03, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)

Hello all and welcome to the RBF Browns Roundtable, playoff edition! This week is the game that Browns fans have dream about for 18 years. A playoff game! See what our writers think about the NFL’s COVID handling, their thoughts on the game and how to best attack the Steelers!

1) How do you feel the NFL has handled COVID since the last time they moved games?

Out of the Rafters

 About as well as Heckert handled the first round in 2012. Well, at least Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden only had limited spread. The NFL’s handling of COVID has harmed significantly more teams than they did in their illustrious careers.

Super Surge

I don’t agree with the way they’ve handled it, but this is where we are. It feels like they make up the rules as they go, and for the last couple weeks, it hasn’t helped the Browns at all.

Ohio

 The NFL has handled COVID as poorly as one could expect. Their only priority at this point is getting the games in, that much has been made abundantly clear. This week the NFL announced that the Browns have had “spread but not community spread,” whatever the hell that means. There is no way the Jets game should have been played as scheduled and the spread of cases, particularly within the same position groups, since then backs that up. And now the Browns have to play a Playoff game without having practiced for about 3 weeks, and without 5+ starters and multiple coaches. This is flat out wrong. The Browns got screwed.

Chris Richani

 Inconsistently. As many predicted, the NFL put together an unimpressive COVID plan that lacked creativity or foresight. This has led to inconsistent handling of various COVID situations. Most recently, this Browns situation seems an awful lot like bailing water and plugging holes in a sinking ship to try and keep things moving along.

2) With COVID depriving the Browns of Coach Stef, how do you see the team responding on the field?

Out of the Rafters

I’d love to say that the Browns will respond like a Disney movie and overcome all odds to “win one for coach!” But, the reality is that it’s going to hurt us. We’ll still be able to script our plays, but missing Stefanski’s leadership and playcalling will eventually become evident. That’s not to say we can’t win–but don’t let anyone fool you into thinking this can be a positive.

Super Surge

Teams follow leadership. Stefanksi preaches no excuses to his team and Baker plays best when backed into a corner. While my hopes have taken a serious hit, I don’t doubt Baker and companies ability to shock everyone one time.

Ohio

It is going to hurt the team without a doubt. We’re talking about the Coach of the Year not being on the sidelines. Not sure it will be the difference in the game, but not having Stefanski’s playcalling and decision making is a big deal, and will loom large later in the game.

Chris Richani

I think the team will respond positively to this latest bout of adversity. We have learned that Stefanski is supremely organized and prepared. A contingency plan for his potential absence has been in the works since training camp. With Stefanski involved heavily in the virtual preparation during the week, I think the Browns have bridged the gap as best they can for this situation. And I believe Priefer and Van Pelt were solid selections to hopefully rise to the occasion.

3) With some subtractions to the O-Line, what changes in the game-plan would you make to protect Baker and to maximize his skill set?

Out of the Rafters

Assuming our offensive line is Wills, Dunn, Tretter, Teller, Conklin, I think you have to move more towards the run game. You can scheme around edge pressure, but pressure up the middle is the one thing you cannot gameplan around. I do not expect that Dunn can hold up to the Steelers interior pressure. I’m equally as concerned about the impact to Wills. Having a stud guard next to you makes a tackle’s job easier in pass protection. With Dunn next to him, Wills might struggle more than we’re used to seeing. So, expect Baker’s passes to be less frequent, and quicker in terms of rhythm.

I expect to see a lot more running of the football. In the run game, Dunn cannot pull the same way that Bitonio could. I expect us to use Teller as the pulling guard, allowing the lesser Dunn to just focus on blocking the man in front of him on run plays.

Super Surge

Multiple TE’s and max protection are going to be needed. Pittsburgh has one of the best front 7’s in the game and will surely look to attack our weaknesses.

Ohio

The focus should definitely be on running the ball. For Baker specifically, the Browns should draw up more “quick hitting” plays where Baker can get the ball out quickly.

Chris Richani

Unfortunately leaning on the bootleg game is unlikely to work against this Steelers’ front. With that said, establishing the run early to maximize the play action game will be paramount to gaining an offensive flow. Depending on how pass protection holds up early, there may be a need to run shorter, quick-hitting routes to get the ball out quicker in the face of the pass rush. Joel Bitonio is one of the best pulling guards in the league and a staple in pass protection. His loss combined with the injuries to his backups will be tough to overcome, but as long as the rest of the OL is able to play they are still a strong unit.

4) How often should the Browns run the ball? A lot, or a lot more?

Out of the Rafters

See my answer to question 3. Run that ball down their throats.

Super Surge

My opinion is the Browns need to play old Ohio State “Tressel Ball.” Time of possession, field position (Gillan is a weapon), long drives, run the ball as much as possible.

Ohio

The Browns should run the ball until the Steelers can prove they can stop it. Running the ball often also provides a bonus of killing clock and keeping the defense off the field. I think that is Cleveland’s path to victory in this one. Shorten the game as much as possible.

Chris Richani

 More than that. I predict a lack of success running the ball on early downs against Heyward, Tuitt, Watt, etc. but Alex Van Pelt is going to have to trust Nick Chubb and the offensive line to work through it. The only way the Browns have a prayer in this game is to win up front, grind it out on the ground, and win the time of possession battle. I do not expect much of a fight from the Browns’ depleted defense, so limiting Ben’s drives will be important.

Been a Browns fan since birth but unfortunately don't remember much of the good times. Lived through expansion era, the Butch era, Romeo era, Mangini, Holmgren, Sashi, Dorsey and now we begin a new era!

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