Coming into Week 6 of the NFL season, the Cleveland Browns were the talk of the NFL, with the talk of what can be running through the streets of Cleveland. Hope was back and the city was excited for their football team. Then, the Los Angeles Chargers came to town. The Chargers quieted the excitement surrounding the Browns by blowing Cleveland out on Sunday, 38-14. The loss moved the Browns to 2-3-1 on the 2018 season. But, the loss most importantly gave the Browns and their fans a reality check.
Cleveland was dominated by the Chargers in all aspects of the game. On offense, quarterback Baker Mayfield showed that, yes, he is a rookie quarterback who is prone to struggles. He was restless in the pocket at times and made some questionable decisions against the Chargers defense. Mayfield and the Browns got the reality check that he would not just dominate the league from the start. He will have his struggles as he navigates through his rookie season. But, guess what? That is all right. Every rookie quarterback goes through the ups and downs of their debut season. This is the NFL. Teams learn your traits and learn how to game plan for your given traits. Now it will be Mayfield’s turn to adjust.
However, we also got the reality check that the Browns have a lot of problems on offense that Mayfield cannot single handily overcome them all. The problem at wide receiver is clear. Jarvis Landry is not the team’s No. 1 receiver. The team lacks one. Landry is a good receiver, but he needs a No. 1 receiver so he can work with less attention than he is getting now. The rest of the group is just not reliable, especially in the key area of catching the ball.
The offensive line was not good against the Chargers. The two tackles, Chris Hubbard and Desmond Harrison, are not playing well. Mayfield did well to mask that problem over the past couple weeks. But, when Mayfield injured his ankle on Sunday,1 he could not mask it as well as he could before. The pressure allowed by the offensive line is too much for a good team to allow. The line is struggling and the Chargers exploited it.
On defense, the Browns defense was shredded by the Chargers run game. There have been signs that the Browns run game was not as good as last season, but the Chargers really illustrated this fact on Sunday. The lack of fundamentals like setting the edge and tackling is a big problem for the Browns run defense. The lack of depth on defense, especially up front, is really exhausting the first team defense, which leads to more breakdowns as we go along in a game and the season. The Browns defense is solid, but it is not an elite, top tier group. The makings are there, but the unit is not a finished product.
Lastly, the Chargers game illustrated the biggest reality check on coaching. The Browns do not have good coaching right now. The special teams are a mess under Amos Jones. On defense, Gregg Williams is putting out a blitz-happy defensive scheme with little to no deception. Williams puts his players in odd positions and quite frankly he is contributing to many of the unit’s struggles. On offense, the utilization of players is horrendous. The likes of Duke Johnson and Nick Chubb are riding the pine and receiving an incredibly low amount of touches each game. Against the Chargers, Johnson had a big game by gaining 109 total yards of offense, but he only touched the ball six times. Especially with the injuries in the wide receiver unit, this is a total blunder for the offensive coaching staff. The play calling by Todd Haley left much to be desired. Haley, in my opinion, is better than Hue Jackson at play calling, but that doesn’t mean Haley is a good play caller. He is not. The Browns were completely unprepared for the Chargers and that falls on Hue Jackson. The reality check is that the Browns have poor coaching.
The last reality check is that this will take time. The Browns are a young team coming off a winless 2017 season. Cleveland is not ready for the playoffs. They still lack talent and depth at many key positions. It is not their time yet and the Chargers showed it. But, it also is not a dire situation. The Browns are better. They have a young quarterback with a lot of talent to possibly be the Browns franchise quarterback. The defense has a lot of young talent who fly around the field. It needs time, but that does not mean we are hopeless. The Chargers set the Browns back into reality, but the reality is that this is a franchise on an upward trajectory.
- Editor’s note: Baker is receiving treatment for a sprained ankle but Head Coach Hue Jackson said he will not miss any time. [↩]