The Cleveland Browns came into week one against the Tennessee Titans favored by five points and ended up losing by 30. The Browns now fall to 1-19-1 in season openers since 1999. They have not won one since 2004.
The game was not pretty but everything that you read from other sites and writers will focus on the bad and the ugly — no one will focus on the good. So, in this week’s Moving the Chains column, I am focusing on the good from Sunday — although there was not much.
It’s One Game
On Saturday morning’s on 88.7 FM WJCU, I co-host the “Under Center” podcast with NEO Sports Browns writer and 92.3 the Fan 20/20 sports reporter Spencer German. I proclaimed that with all the hype surrounding the Browns, although a loss would be (and was) devastating, it would not be the end of the world for the Browns (and it’s not).
Last season, the Browns went 7-8-1. They were one year removed from an 0-16 season and making progress. But with Baker Mayfield tossing 27 touchdowns and the acquisition of Odell Beckham Jr., expectations skyrocketed from playoff contender to fringe Super Bowl favorites.
Yesterday was Freddie Kitchens’ first game as a head coach. It was the first time with offensive coordinator Todd Monken and defensive coordinator Steve Wilks. It was the first time Beckham Jr. and Mayfield played in a regular-season game together.
Once Greg Robinson was ejected and Kendall Lamm was ruled out, the odds were stacked against them. The Browns offensive line made last season’s Arizona Cardinals line look like an All-Pro unit.
They have over a week before their next game. They will adjust, they will game plan, and they will improve. The best thing about yesterday’s game is there are 15 games left.
Let’s call yesterday a much needed wake up call. Or come back down to earth moment. That works too.
Mayfield made it work … for the most part
Before an uncharacteristic breakdown late in the game, Mayfield was 20-27 for 250 yards and a touchdown. A few Cameron Wake hits later and angst in the pocket of Wake awakening again, Mayfield slowly fell apart. But he made it work.
Late in the game, Mayfield connected with Jarvis Landry for a pair of receptions and the chemistry there was evident. Mayfield was off on a few throws to his new toy OBJ, but Beckham Jr. caught seven of his 11 targets for 71 yards. Mayfield even linked with Rashard Higgins for two receptions for 46 yards.
With plenty of offensive talent, there was worry that there would not be enough footballs to throw around. In front of a junior varsity offensive line, Mayfield distributed the ball fairly and his stats (as shown above), before all hell broke loose, were solid. Here are the target shares at the end of the game:
Morgan Burnett made Browns fans forget Jabrill Peppers was even here
You know that two-time All-Pro wide receiver that the Browns received in a trade to the Giants? In order to bring him to Cleveland, general manager John Dorsey had to send Peppers to New York.
I’ll ask you: What is more important? A solid strong safety or game-changing receiver? I think you know the answer.
Peppers showed great development from his rookie year to his second season but he was expendable — And that was shown today.
On a defense that would most definitely like to put last afternoon behind them, Morgan Burnett can put his performance in front of him.
Burnett, who spent eight years with the Packers, saw his skill slip last season with the Steelers. He is just 30 years old and definitely has some left in the tank.
In his Browns debut, Burnett had five solo tackles, a sack, and two tackles for loss. If there was a game ball to be given, he earned the laces with the game he registered.
As a side note: Peppers had five tackles in his Giants debut. I’ll take Beckham Jr. and Burnett every time.
The running backs were solid
You could tell that with Beckham Jr. making his Browns debut, that Kitchens, in his own head coaching debut, wanted the passing game to be the storyline of the game. At the cost of that idea was the Browns run game.
Kitchens elected to go pass-heavy early on, leaving Chubb, Hillard, and Johnson itching for the ball. Once they did, they performed.
Chubb averaged 4.6 yards per carry on 16 rushes. Those aren’t stellar fantasy numbers but that total would have ranked with Alvin Kamara last season and would have been better than James Conner.
Johnson had 14 yards on his two touches and Hillard has 14 yards on his loan reception before being ruled out with a concussion.
When these guys get the opportunity, they produce. The Browns need to establish the run.
Where was Corey Davis?
Yes, the Titans hung 43 points and 339 total offensive yards on the Browns but none of them came from perhaps the Titans’ best offensive weapon, Corey Davis.
Last season, Davis led Tennessee in receptions (65), receiving yards (891), yards per reception (13.7), and touchdowns (4). He had none of those stats yesterday against the Browns.
The Titans did add A.J. Brown in the second round and valued veteran tight end Delanie Walker is back from injury but for Davis to disappear is a positive for the Cleveland secondary.
The Browns limited Davis to only being targeted three times, none of which were caught.