Coming off the nationally-televised evisceration of the New York Jets, the Cleveland Browns now head into a week to prepare for a nationally-televised game against the defending NFC champion Los Angeles Rams as the spotlight remains affixed on those who don the brown and orange.
Week 2 went a tad better than Week 1 for the Browns. The team apparently is worried about the population of Northeast Ohio suffering from late-game anxieties as both contests were well decided before proper angst could set in. Play-by-play breakdowns of head coach Freddie Kitchens ability– or inability– to navigate tense clock management situations as well as a 10-year old on Madden will be left for the Dawgpound faithful to argue in the future.
Between the Jekyll and Hyde nature of the final scores and the uneven play even in the Monday Night victory, there remain many unanswered questions about the true level of validity in what The Land hopes to be a playoff-contending team. The WFNY staff is here to help guide you to those answers.
Here we go.
Bode: The consistent positive components have been quarterback pressure, and time given to Baker Mayfield in the pocket. The negative persistent traits have been penalties, wretched run blocking, and Mayfield not being decisive enough on deeper drop reads. Denzel Ward also appears to be stuck in a severe sophomore slump.
Gilbert: I think the defensive pressure has been consistent over the first two weeks, along with the punting of Jamie Gillan. On the negative side, we have consistently seen poor offensive play calling. There is no tempo and the plays just seem to be taking too long to develop, especially in the passing game.
Suek: On the positive side, the Steve Wilks’ defense has been able to generate consistent and productive pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Also, the defense is third in the league in third-down defense (20.0% conversion rate). On the negative side, the offense continues to lack in both play design and effectiveness.
Poloha: Both sides of the line, as the others have already stated. Here’s to hoping Baker Mayfield can be on this list sooner rather than later.
Gerbs: Myles Garrett specifically has been a monster already this season while also following the Jekyll and Hyde of it all and being one of the worst in terms of perpetrators of penalties. With five sacks and four penalties in two games, he is leading the NFL in both categories.
Bode: Yes. The Todd Monken offense is superseding the Freddie Kitchens offense. It could help Mayfield’s long-term development as he learns more ways to dissect a defense, but winning games in 2019 might require that the Browns create easier situations for him to make quick decisions. Losing Njoku for possibly the season with a wrist injury is not going to help there, but Rashard Higgins return1 does give Mayfield one of his favorite bail-out options back.
Gilbert: I definitely see that. There are some positives and negatives with this style. But, I think the Browns cannot go full out in this scheme. They have to incorporate the quick-hitting passing game, so the Browns can have a better tempo and rhythm on offense. The quick-hitting passes can create rhythm, tempo and confidence, which will lead to more success in the longer passes. The long passing game is still very important because the Browns have the weapons to threaten teams in this scheme, creating big plays for the offense. This can stretch a defense out and open up the run game. The downside is that it takes too long to develop, relying heavily on the blocking to stay strong for longer and the quarterback to stay patient and read the defense. There should be a combination of the long passing game and quick-hitting one so defenses don’t know what to expect.
Suek: Yes. That is definitely the case. We knew the Todd Monken offense has always had a trademark deep-passing attack, but I don’t think we believed it would completely overtake the Kitchens offense that was number two in the league down the stretch in 2018. The deep-passing game has it’s benefits, but it cannot be the sole focus of the offense. Freddie Kitchens and Monken should take advantage of the yards-after-catch ability of OBJ and Landry and the accuracy strength of Baker by using quick-hitting slant, post, and out routes in combination with the fly, deep cross, and dig routes.
Poloha: Yeah, we’ve all seen that and Freddie Kitchens has even recently commented on it as well. I get that the Browns added OBJ, but running the type of offense that Baker is not only comfortable but also had success with during his rookie stint in 2018 seems to be the right way to go. That’s especially the case given Baker’s struggles through two games this season. Throw short routes and let your playmakers make plays with the ball in their hands, much like OBJ did on his 89-yard slant for a touchdown Monday nught.
Gerbs: It’s painfully obvious that Mayfield is struggling with the Monken offense. And as everyone else has indicated, it can work but it doesn’t have to. The Browns have Jarvis Landry, one of the best over-the-middle receivers in the game and OBJ who broke a quick slant for 89 yards and a TD against the Jets. The best course of action is to do more of what worked last year: run the ball, establish play action, and hit the line quick with motions and slants that are super duper accurate. Having Baker take five- and seven-step drops isn’t taking advantage of his accuracy and quick release.
Bode: The Rams defensive line means that the Browns offensive line just needs to survive. Aaron Donald is amazing by himself. This week will be a great test to see how well the group is as a cohesive unit. As the question above, the Browns offense might need to create short passing plays to replicate running plays as there might not be much for them to gain on the ground.
Gilbert: The Browns offensive line needs to run block better. The run game has been inconsistent through two weeks. Establish the run and the passing game can open up.
Suek: Agreed with Bode and Gilbert. The interior offensive line is going to have their hands full versus the best player in football. As long as they continue to give Baker the time he needs, I think the offense will start to mesh and flourish sooner rather than later. This is a prime match-up to feature Nick Chubb in both the running and short-passing game.
Poloha: Somehow slow Aaron Donald. Somewhat stopping him changes the whole perspective of the offensive line against that dominant defensive line.
Gerbs: This is where the rubber meets the road. Getting more push up front for Chubb is essential, as he only had success against the Jets by getting to the outside away from their containment. Creating that space for him to move will help keep the pass rush off of Mayfield due to play action.
Bode: PFF has graded Myles Garrett low the first two weeks due to having his penalties cancel out his sacks. I disagree strongly with their stance as Garrett is creating havoc and panic on opposing offenses. He is getting to the quarterback with such ease this season. He’ll learn to not fall directly onto the passer to negate some of these flags, but the other side is that fans will have to get somewhat used to him being a villain.
Gilbert: I am not concerned. He is learning what is being called and will adjust. He is simply dominating the line of scrimmage and I love it.
Suek: I am not concerned with Garrett and the penalties. When he stops producing at an elite level, then I will be concerned. The good far outweighs the bad (which I believe will be corrected in due time).
Poloha: Nah. Not yet at least. He just has to learn to not jump before the ball is ready. Love his aggressiveness, he just has to be more discipline about it is all.
Gerbs: Nerp. To quote defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, “The roughing penalties are going to happen at times. (Head Coach) Freddie (Kitchens) and I have talked about those. We are an aggressive defense, but the one thing we can’t tolerate is pre-snap and post-snap [penalties]. That to me is a lack of discipline.” Let the beast out, but only so much that you aren’t letting it beat you.
Bode: Joe Schobert has really taken to the Steve Wilks defense. He seems to be everywhere. Greedy Williams had a great Week 2 game as well, which has helped make up for how lost Ward has looked. The other big issue thus far has been the free safety position without Demarius Randall. Neither Jermaine Whitehead nor Eric Murray seems up to the task, and Sheldrick Redwine is buried on the depth chart.
Gilbert: I am really impressed with Greedy Williams and Christian Kirksey. Williams has been great in his two first games of his career. He is playing up to his college reputation of a shutdown level corner. Kirksey has come off an injury and return to the solid form he has played at for most of his Browns career, creating a nice one-two punch with Joe Schobert at linebacker. Denzel Ward concerns me the most of any defender. He has looked lost.
Suek: I’ve been most-impressed with linebacker Joe Schobert and rookie cornerback Greedy Williams. Schobert continues to be impeccable in coverage and stops. Greedy has performed the best out of any rookie defender in the league. I am worried about Denzel Ward’s lack of focus and effectiveness and the free safety position after Randall’s injury. He is one of the leaders of this defense and his presence will be sorely missed. Whitehead, Murray, or Redwine need to step up and step up now.
Poloha: Greedy Williams, Christian Kirksey, and the entire defensive line. If those three can continue to improve while players like Denzel Ward hopefully get back to normal, it will be a huge boost for the defense. Also, the offense hasn’t really given them many favors, so they might improve going forward if the offense does better as well, including having longer, more sustained drives to let the defense rest.
Gerbs: As Joe Gilbert showed yesterday in his film room, Olivier Vernon impressed in that matchup. He isn’t filling the stat sheet like Garrett, but teams are having to account for his abilities which is allowing Garrett to be single covered and sometimes even unblocked.
Bode: Quick-hitting passes to running backs and wide receivers. I would abandon much of the deep passing game and replace it with intermediate routes of 10-15 yards (at least for this week). Mixing in a hurry-up offense to keep the opposing defensive line off-balance can also be a useful tool to employ. On defense, the trick will be to balance pushing pressure to Goff and creating traps behind him. The Rams want to catch-and-run, so the Browns need to have the middle of the field well-covered, which might mean relying on a four-man rush much of the game.
Gilbert: Get after Jared Goff. The Browns pass rush will be the key to slowing down this high-powered offense. If they can hit Goff and pressure the young quarterback, he could make some mistakes that can change the game. Tackling will be important because the Rams rely on after-the-catch yardage to move the chains. On offense, the Browns have to run the ball and get the ball out quickly in the passing game. They cannot let Aaron Donald and the Rams defense time to get after Baker Mayfield. The Browns need to rely on their playmakers to make plays with the ball in their hands.
Suek: Agreed with Bode and Gilbert yet again. Baker has been tentative thus far and seems to be forcing the ball downfield (currently 7th in air yards per pass). He needs to trust his mechanics and accuracy and deliver the ball quickly to the plethora of playmakers at his disposal. The defense is faced with the daunting task of limiting Todd Gurley, Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp. Put pressure on Jared Goff in order to limit the big-play, make your tackles, and stay disciplined.
Poloha: There isn’t anything I can really add besides what the guys have said above. It’s going to be tough, especially due to all the injuries, but never count out the Browns at home, especially in primetime.
Gerbs: Get healthy today. With so many players on the injury report, they might have trouble filling a 53 man. But as far as gameplan, the guys above said it: attack quickly on offense, pressure Goff and confuse him as much as possible in coverage, and hope you can contain Aaron Donald.