To quote season one of HBO’s True Detective: “Time is a flat circle. Everything we have done or will do, we will do over and over and over again- forever.”
This quote could not ring more true for the Cleveland Browns Week 1 match-up this past Sunday versus the Tennessee Titans (an embarrassing and dysfunctional 43-13 loss). The performance was eerily reminiscent of teams from yesteryear, with penalties galore, dropped passes, and general undisciplined disposition. It was unexpected and, quite frankly, bizarre.
In order to shed some further light on the Week 1 loss, we dig into some standout statistics for quarterback Baker Mayfield, the offensive line, cornerback Denzel Ward, and the penalty fiasco1:
It was the tale of two games within the game for Mayfield on Sunday. He was absolutely stellar through the first three quarters and then fell apart in disastrous fashion in the fourth quarter. He recorded the following statistics and ranks over the two timeframes:
Quarters One through Three-
This was a case of a young gunslinger just trying to do too much and forcing throws as the deficit continued to grow. Mayfield must avoid a multiplier effect when a mistake occurs and strive for a more consistent performance across all four quarters (something that will prove pivotal with many projected close games).
Mayfield was under pressure on 27.3% of his dropbacks (12 out of 44), which was the 11th lowest percentage on the day. However, he was sacked on 41.7% of these pressures, which was the 2nd most (only behind Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers).
One player who struggled, in particular, was right tackle Chris Hubbard, who was forced to switch to left tackle after Greg Robinson’s ejection and Kendall Lamm’s injury. Hubbard allowed two of the team’s five sacks and also had three penalties. Further, his 53.6 offensive grade was 47th out of 59 qualifiers at the tackle position.
The position group as a whole underwhelmed with a 59.9 pass-blocking grade, which was 24th overall. Two plays, in particular, best summarize the group’s lackluster performance, as presented below by NFL Network’s Marc Sessler:
All-22 and network feed of Wake’s Q1 sack of Mayfield, followed by his safety just before the half. The second hit left Baker shaken up. pic.twitter.com/IFhmXNlh11
— Marc Sessler (@MarcSessler) September 9, 2019
Titans’ edge rusher Cameron Wake led the position group in pass-rushing productivity (20.0), generating five pressures on 20 pass snaps.
However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom as offensive guard Joel Bitonio was the highest-graded player on the team (80.7) and was named to PFF’s NFL Team of the Week:
PFF's NFL Team of the Week is LIVE for Week 1!
— PFF (@PFF) September 9, 2019
The offensive line was of the makeshift variety after Robinson’s ejection and Lamm’s injury, with three individuals playing outside of their normal position. The unit will look to improve on a going-forward basis with more discipline and cohesiveness.
The second-year cornerback had a rough go of it on Sunday, posting the following statistics:
The below clip courtesy of Optimum Scouting’s Steve Frederick displays Ward’s disappointing output:
#Titans WR AJ Brown beats Denzel Ward for a 47-yard gain.
— Steve Frederick (@_SteveFrederick) September 8, 2019
After a rather dominant 2018 rookie season by Ward, he was surprisingly ineffective Week 1. Hopefully, this performance was an anomaly rather than a prognostication of his sophomore campaign. Tackling concerns seemed to drip over from last year to this one, despite the fact that AJ Brown has about thirty pounds on Ward.
The Browns had 18 penalties for 182 yards (six for first downs), which were the second-most in franchise history and the most in a game since 1951.
Among the egregious amount of penalties were the following:
A multitude of these penalties forced the offense into 3rd and 13 or greater on seven occasions, which created serious disadvantages from both a play-calling and moral perspective.
Other Statistics of Significance:
Don’t give up on the hype just yet, Browns fans. The Week 1 match-up was one of the more peculiar games I’ve witnessed…a Murphy’s Law of a football game if you will. Yes, the team did not pass the “eye test” and the data is not friendly, but the team was still right in thick of it through three quarters of play.
The Browns will look to right the ship in Week 2 on Monday Night Football versus the New York Jets. I expect (and hope) for a much more productive and disciplined team to take the field.
As Mayfield said post-game, “Everybody’s gonna throw us in the trash and I think that’s good. I know what type of men we have in this locker room and quite frankly I don’t really give a damn what happens on the outside. I know how we’re gonna react, I know what we’re gonna do, how we’re gonna bounce back and we’ve got a Monday night game so we don’t really care, we’re good to go.”