As you eat those leftovers, WFNY is here to remind you that the Cleveland Browns can sweep the Pittsburgh Steelers in a season for the first time since 1988 on Sunday. The fact the two teams are fighting for the last Wild Card spot– among a handful of AFC teams– just adds to the intrigue. There also might have been a kerfuffle of sorts two weeks ago when the teams last met, but we don’t remember quite what happened.
Steelers. Browns. Sunday. Let’s go.
Bode: Playing teams with really bad offenses has helped the Browns defense. Baker Mayfield and the Browns offense had started playing better around the New England game, so the combination of the two has led to the winning streak.
Gerbs: Cutting down on penalties and staying with the gameplan are the two biggest things I have seen the Browns work around in this winning streak. Mayfield isn’t running for this life immediately after taking the snap, the wide receivers have made a concerted effort to cut down on drops, the defense has stepped it up, and the teams we have played have been less than stellar. All of it works to make this the biggest win streak in awhile.
Gilbert: I think it is a couple of things. First off, the Browns are not committing nearly as many self-inflicting mistakes like penalties and turnovers. The other reason for the improvement is due to the offense. They are running a more sensible offense that fits the talents of the players on the roster. There is less play calling that is causing stress on certain parts of the unit. This is all leading to Baker Mayfield playing a lot better and showing the ability that earned him his top pick status.
Suek: The offense has seemingly adopted the play-action and RPO schemes for which quarterback Baker Mayfield excels. He has been more decisive, quick-delivering, and confident over the team’s winning streak. Further, the team’s turnover differential has increased drastically from the 29th ranking for Weeks 1-8 to 1st from Weeks 9-12. Taking care of the football on offense, causing turnovers on defense, and limiting penalties are what the good teams do. Hopefully, the Browns become one of those teams down the stretch.
Poloha: There are obviously other factors, but them not shooting themselves in the foot with so many penalties and turnovers has been huge. The self-inflicted wounds were getting out of control. It has also been nice to see the playmakers step up on both sides of the ball.
Bode: There has still been some clunkiness with the passing game, and this over-reliance on a few players on offense could get exposed by some better teams. The good thing is that against bad– and even mediocre– teams, it is a winning strategy. The Browns do not play a good team this week, so might as well continue.
Gerbs: At first glance, it seems odd to put all your eggs in one basket. Shut down one of those options and you lose a lot of offense, but obviously the team is thriving in doing so and simplifying the offense by getting the ball to your best players is a recipe for success. I wouldn’t mind seeing more Rashard Higgins throws, but forcing the ball to your third wide receiver just to do it is not the way to go.
Gilbert: I think it is always smart to get the ball to your best playmakers. Those are the Browns’ four best offensive playmakers. I like that. I think it will change a bit when David Njoku returns. He should garner more targets than the current tight end position is getting now.
Suek: This is exactly what should be done. The Browns offense has quite possibly the best duo of running backs and wide receivers in the NFL, all of whom exhibit the desired traits at their respective position. A wide array of target distribution should not be forced unless it is necessary when your best playmakers are covered by the defense.
Poloha: Absolutely. If the opposition allows that to happen, the Browns’ focus should be on giving their top players the ball the most. Let them make plays and go from there. So far, so good.
Bode: Olivier Vernon needs to return. Richardson looked nice playing more edge, but both he and Thomas likely will not sustain their play level when they are not playing against the worst offensive line assembled in the last decade or so. Note: I did not do the full research but the current Miami Dolphins will assuredly at least make the handful of worst offensive lines in that timeframe.
Gerbs: Getting Vernon back would be a big help, but the pieces behind the big stars seem to be putting in the work. Ogunjobi will return Sunday from suspension, and he really needs to get back into form of years prior and show off how good he can be. Missing Myles is obviously hard, but the front office keeping Chad Thomas over Genard Avery was done for a reason. Let’s hope this continues.
Gilbert: I think it can hold up when Larry Ogunjobi and Olivier Vernon return. Vernon, Richardson, and Ogunjobi are good enough to carry the defensive line. I also like how Chad Thomas elevated his play without Myles Garrett on the field. If he can be OK or solid, the Browns will be alright on the defensive line.
Suek: I agree with Gilbert above. Ogunjobi and Vernon are key pieces to this defensive line that just happened to face the worst pass-blocking offensive line in the league in the Miami Dolphins. Thomas has been a welcome surprise and should figure to be a pivotal member of the defense for the remaining five (and hopefully more) games.
Poloha: Agree with Gilbert. Will be interesting to see how they do against a good team.
Bode: A quarterback nicknamed ‘Duck’ seems about as ideal as a cornerback nicknamed ‘Toast.’ Yet Rudolph was so bad at the position, Hodges is the more formidable opponent. Perhaps Rudolph can transition to work as a WWE heel given his ability to instigate fights when everyone believes a contest is over.
Gerbs: Honestly, I’m kind of happy Rudolph is not starting for the Steelers, which is a sentence I never thought I would type, but given the events of what happened two weeks ago, removing the pieces that started the fight from the equation might save someone’s life…seriously. While I don’t think any Browns player has any more animosity against them than they did before all this, but there definitely could have been some harder hits on both sides if Rudolph was in. Hodges seems semi-competent, which is what it is, but no Steelers QB is going to strike fear the way Roethlisberger did, so let’s go Browns.
Gilbert: He has played better than Mason Rudolph in his short stint, but that is not saying much given how bad Rudolph played. But, I think Hodges is the guy who the Steelers just want to not kill them as Mike Tomlin said in his presser. So, I don’t expect big plays from him, but rather just limited big negative plays.
Suek: What “Duck” does differently than Rudolph is that he can, and will, escape the pocket when pressured (not a sitting Duck, if you will). We have all seen how the Browns have struggled vs. running quarterbacks for what feels like a quarter-century. The defense must maintain gap integrity and rely on his inexperience to force errant and turnover worthy throws. Do not fall into the Brandon Allen trap of underestimating a green quarterback.
Poloha: I don’t know much about Duck other than the fact that he led the FCS in yards in 2018 (I think?). Just wish Mason Rudolph was still playing because he’s horrible.
Bode: I don’t care yet. Here is what I care about this week as the Browns attempt to re-achieve watchable-mediocrity: sweep the season series against the Steelers for the first time since 1988.
Gerbs: I think yes. Not that the Miami win is super convincing, they are by far one of the worst teams ever assembled, but to see that they were ready and able to step up when they needed to and not do the whole “play down to lesser opponent” thing was nice. A win against Pittsburgh will put some projection systems at above 50%, and that’s just off one win alone, not counting the other teams that need to lose in order for Cleveland to get in. Keep the train going to next week with a W and we will definitely see some excitement.
Gilbert: I am still not changing my answer. The Browns will make the playoffs. The schedule and the Browns’ improved play lead me to this opinion.
Suek: I am sticking to my guns in that the Browns will not make the playoffs. As mentioned before, I believe the margin of error is too think and it will be a story of “too little too late” for this team. 9-7 just might not be good enough.
Poloha: Don’t want to jinx anything so I will not answer this yet.