Whoo boy, Week 1 was not an ideal start to the season. Jeff Garcia was able to pop that champagne as the 2004 Cleveland Browns remain the only post-expansion Browns team to have won their opening game. While the Freddie Kitchens era appeared to have an opportunity to start off with a win as they trailed by only two near the end of the third quarter, the final score would demonstrate there might be a fine line between a good team and a mediocre one but there’s a cliff if you pass over it.
The WFNY staff is here to reflect on what they saw in Week 1 and see what needs to be considered moving forward.
Here we go.
Bode: I had outlined the potential pitfalls for the 2019 Browns to be the backup quarterback, offensive line, Monken’s more vertical passing game, the linebackers, and special teams. Well, at least we didn’t see Drew Stanton in Week 1? The defensive backs playing as poorly as they did though, I did not foresee. All remain a concern especially if the coaching staff will not adjust schemes to account for weaknesses.
Gilbert: The offensive line is the area that worries me the most. I don’t want to see this offense derailed by the offensive line. They need to play better than they did in the season opener. The coaches need to help them with extra blockers or play calling. The tackles, specifically, are the areas on the line I am most worried about. You could see Baker Mayfield flinching and running early in times there was no pressure because of the breakdowns he felt throughout the day on the line.
Poloha: Offensive line. They can’t afford to get dominated as they did for much of the game in Week 1 or else Baker Mayfield might get hurt, which we all know the Browns cannot afford. While Freddie Kitchens can call plays that somewhat help the offensive line and put them in a better position to succeed, they must improve on their performance. Then again, with so many penalties, the Browns offense was didn’t give themselves any favors and were in passing situations a lot, which put the offensive line in a tough spot at times.
Gerbs: Really kinda worried about the team response to their showing in Week 1. Baker came out and said the right things: “I know what type of men we have in this locker room. Quite frankly, I do not give a damn what happens on the outside. I know how we are going to react. I know what we are going to do. We are going to bounce back. We have a Monday Night game coming up so we do not really care. We are ready to go.” But putting those words into practice is something different. The whole of the team was so undisciplined, it’s hard to see all of that turning around in seven days. We will see.
Scott: Much like Josh, I’m worried about the offensive line. Play-calling (especially formations) raised my eyebrows a bit as well. I want to say they’ll have a long week to get things right, but they also had all offseason to show up prepared for Week 1.
Bode: The penalties and turnovers are probably the items that most accounted for the blowout nature of the final score, yet also the items I am least concerned about continuing to plague the team. For one, the most penalized teams in 2018 were the Kansas City Chiefs, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Pittsburgh Steelers. Being too aggressive is not necessarily a bad thing as long as your players can refrain from throwing punches and kicking opponents. The three interceptions Baker Mayfield threw in the fourth quarter were a result of him trying to force the issue. Yes, he is going to have a game-clinching interception for a loss at some point that will hurt. Yes, I would rather he have the mindset of going for a win and learning what he can and cannot do than to passively let the game slip away.
Gilbert: The penalties cannot continue at that horrific rate. I believe it was still sort of a preseason game in that the team was still getting used to game action and playing together as a complete unit. The coaches and players know they cannot continue this undisciplined play. Penalties are self-correctable. And, I think they will be better in this area going forward.
Poloha: Penalties, just like the two above me already answered. There’s no way the Browns have 18 penalties again, right? It was utterly embarrassing and so undiscipline. Freddie must keep his team in check so that they don’t shoot themselves in the foot as much as they did against the Titans.
Gerbs: Baker turning the ball over so much is something that will change. While it’s possible, even likely, that he will have something to prove and will come out slinging the ball around, it won’t be from behind and in an attempt to catch up. Mayfield will always be slightly more turnover prone due to the gunslinger in him, but three interceptions in rapid-fire possessions aren’t likely to happen again.
Scott: Yep–I think the turnovers will regress back to the mean. That said, as much as I hope penalties will be better, an undisciplined team is tough to change overnight.
Bode: For all the jokes about where the free safety lined up, Gregg Williams orchestrated a defense for the Browns in 2018 that wound up No. 12 in efficiency, including No. 7 against the pass. Of course, it was also just No. 25 against the run and running backs out of the backfield also hurt the team. Devin Singletary hurt the Jets defense in both manners in Week 1, so perhaps it is an area worthy of exploitation.
Gilbert: The Browns must take advantage of Williams’ blitz-happy scheme. Mayfield is great versus the blitz, especially one who does not hide it very well. The Browns have playmakers who can make plays with the ball in their hands. So, the Browns would welcome the chance to get the ball out quickly to their playmakers. I think the offense will feast on the Jets secondary and blitzes.
Poloha: Baker and company must take advantage of Gregg’s decision to put a safety so far off the line of scrimmage while also blitzing a ton. Attack the middle of the field with your best playmakers. Screens could (and should) be a big part of the gameplan as well, especially given the offensive line’s struggles in Week 1.
Gerbs: Look for a lot of Nick Chubb catches and Jarvis Landry wide receiver screens. Williams’ defenses are always super aggressive and the playcalls to fix that should be to take advantage of it, get behind the pass rush and utilize the space in the zone behind the line. David Njoku should also feast as well, given the Browns past inabilities to cover opposing tight ends.
Scott: If there aren’t four or five variations of screens—I’m already picturing variations that utilize Nick Chubb, Odell Beckham Jr., and Jarvis Landry—I’ll be very surprised. For all of the issues last week, this Browns team was able to play against Gregg’s defense for six months last year. Now this will require downfield blocking by the very same offensive line I mentioned earlier, but call the right plays and make the guys on the roster execute.
Note: the Jets announced Sam Darnold will miss the Monday Night Football game with mono.
Bode: The Marlboro Man is sort of a perfect foil for Mayfield as Darnold is much more a non-controversial game manager style quarterback.1 Just take a look at Week 1 where the Jets received the ball with three minutes remaining down by one. A smattering of shorter passes, many incomplete, left the Jets with just 15 yards gained on nine plays before giving up the ball on downs. Even in desperation time, with 12 seconds to go on their own 20-yard line, saw Darnold throw two consecutive five-yard passes (the second an attempted lateral-fest). Mayfield might have wound up throwing a Pick-6 in the same scenario, but there would not have been any bullets left in his gun. I’ll take the aggressive approach.
Gilbert: I had Baker Mayfield slightly higher on my draft board than Sam Darnold, so I liked both players coming out of college. But, Mayfield has shown me more and has clearly separated himself from Darnold in my eyes. Mayfield’s accuracy and IQ have propelled him ahead so far in his career. I think they both will be quarterbacks for their respective franchises for many years, so yes, I think they could form a cross-divisional rivalry.
Poloha: #TeamBaker forever. That’s all.
Gerbs: Baker was quoted as being slightly upset that Darnold won’t be playing this week, but Mayfield lives off of slights and potential digs against him. People thinking Darnold should have been the pick instead of Mayfield will continue to fuel him against Gang Green for years.
Scott: A lot of what I was seeing a year ago was that Darnold was the safer option. He still may turn out to have the higher floor, but no chance I think he has a higher ceiling that the guy under center for Cleveland.
Bode: Let’s hope it was mostly scheme with some effort issues once the game got out of hand in the fourth quarter because skill cannot get fixed during a season. One of the more difficult things to remember is that defensive coordinator Steve Wilks is still installing his brand new scheme with the players. So, when multiple times it looks like defensive backs had bad communication on how to handle different receiver route trees… well, it was probably exactly that. The hope is that those issues get ironed out and the talent shines through. If not, then it will be a long season.
Gilbert: I think it was all effort, discipline and coaching mishaps. The Browns need to use better rotations next game, so they do not over-play their stars. The unit also needs to stick to their principles and not lose discipline and make mistakes. And, lastly, the defense needs to play all four quarters.
Poloha: What Gilbert said above. While players such as Denzel Ward struggled much more than they should have, it all comes down to effort, discipline, and the coaches putting their players in the best position to succeed.
Gerbs: Stop. Committing. Penalties. The defense actually played well and would have forced shorter drives without the flags. Tennessee accrued much of their yardage off of two or three chunk plays where tackling and scheme came into issue, but they shot themselves in the foot with the penalties.
Scott: Going to echo all of the above. We can’t say this team was one of the best rosters on paper seven days ago and now wonder if the skill is an issue. These guys need to show they’re not reading their own clippings and execute. While there’s an element of coaching involved here, I’m guessing they weren’t being coached to have mental lapses at key junctures of the afternoon. This one’s on the already skilled players to lead the way.
Bode: How about eight out of 10? Yeah, eight. The good news is that initial worries about lack of experience from the fantastically-named Scottish Hammer did not come to fruition in the first game. Austin Seibert, on the other hand… please remember all of this could have been avoided by simply placing Zane Gonzalez on the Injured Reserve list last season.
Gilbert: It is currently a medium right now. Give Austin Seibert another week. It was his career debut and that comes with a lot of nerves.
Poloha: The Browns as a whole went completely downhill after Austin Seibert missed the extra point to conclude the first drive of the game. I’m not saying it’s all his fault, but him missing that seemed to be the tipping point. I’ll give it a seven right now but I just hope a missed field goal or extra point doesn’t cost the Browns a win anytime soon.
Gerbs: Whatever. I mean, there are bigger issues like the penalties and the offensive line that make me more worried, but a kicker shouldn’t be an issue and it still is. He’s 50% on extra points…which is probably where I am worry level wise.
Scott: A 50 percent on extra points has me at about 80 percent on the worry scale. You’re seeing kickers all over the league — Adam Vinatieri, for example — prove to be human, but the Browns (specifically Austin Seibert) will certainly pay for the sins of last year’s debacle. Not many shades of gray here. A game-winner changes everything; more missed chip shots only digs the whole deeper.