The Week 15 Cleveland Browns vs. Arizona Cardinals game is not short on storylines: quarterback Baker Mayfield vs. former archenemy Kliff Kingsbury, Mayfield vs. fellow Heisman Trophy winner and first overall pick Kyler Murray, defensive coordinator Steve Wilks vs. his former team, etc. However, no storyline is more significant than the Browns seeking their first winning record since 2007 and first playoff berth since 2002, with chances that are about as dim as a 45-watt light bulb.
A trip to the desert could be just what Setesh ordered for this Browns team, as the matchup swings in the team’s favor. Let’s take a closer look at these matchups, with statistics, discussion, and trends in order to form expectations for the Week 15 contest:
Baker Mayfield vs. Cardinals Pass Defense
Mayfield has been consistently inconsistent this year, but has the opportunity to flash his franchise quarterback qualities versus the Cardinals, who currently field the worst pass defense in the league. Through Week 14, the defense has allowed 32 touchdowns, 294.2 yards per game, a 71.8 completion percentage, and a 113.9 passer rating, all of which are dead last. Further, the pass defense has allowed an explosive pass rate of 12%, which is the 4th-highest. Lastly, no two defenders in the league have allowed more receiving touchdowns than Cardinals cornerback Byron Murphy (8) and Haason Reddick (7).
Mayfield has improved as-of-late, throwing for eight touchdowns over the last five games, while only tossing four interceptions over the same time frame. He will look to continue the upward trend and regain some of that trademark moxie in the form of a windmill arm celebration after throwing multiple touchdowns for only the fourth time this season.
Cardinals Running Backs vs. Browns Rush Defense
The Cardinals deploy a running back by committee approach comprised of David Johnson, Chase Edmonds, and Kenyan Drake, who was acquired earlier this season via trade with the Miami Dolphins. The team averages 4.7 yards per carry, which is the 4th-most through Week 14. The running game has found the most success out of 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TEs and 2 WRs), with a 52% successful run percentage and 5.1 yards per carry. More specifically, the committee of running backs has averaged 6.9 yards per carry with 13 explosive runs (ten or more yards) off of the left tight end position.
The Browns rush defense continues to be the weakness of the team, surrendering 128.2 rushing yards per game, which is the 7th-most. Most of the blame can be placed on a lack of execution or the use of man coverage on the perimeter. More zone coverage could be beneficial in this week’s contest.
Kyler Murray vs. Browns Defensive Line
Quarterback Kyler Murray is a dual-threat at the position, something the Browns have consistently struggled to defend since 8-track tapes were all the buzz. He must be accounted for in the running game, as he has the 2nd-most rushing yards (448) among all quarterbacks this season. The Browns will want to keep Murray in the pocket as frequently as possible via an outside speed rush by defensive ends Olivier Vernon (if active) and Chad Thomas. This will allow linebackers Joe Schobert, Mack Wilson, and Sione Takitaki to attack the “A” and “B” gaps and contain the rookie quarterback. Gap integrity is a crucial element of defensive coordinator Steve Wilk’s system and will be ever-important this week.
As Wilks stated in this week’s press conference: “He is a dual-threat throwing the ball as well as having the ability to escape and make play with his feet, so we have to do a great job of really trying to keep him in the pocket and try to contain him,” Wilks said. “Not a lot of teams have been able to do that this year, so again; it is going to be a difficult task on my part.”
Odell Beckham Jr. vs. Patrick Peterson
A couple of seasons ago this would have been one of the premier matchups of the season. Now, you have one player significantly underperforming comparative to his supreme talent level, while bringing a Beyonce-level diva presence and another that is shell of his former self. Yes, Beckham, Jr. is reportedly nursing a sports hernia injury that is hindering his on-field performance, but that does not account for the continuous dropped passes or miscommunications with Mayfield. He will look to find his way versus Peterson, who has allowed a 79.5% reception percentage (7th-highest) and a 128.6 passer rating (5th-highest) when targeted this season.
Remember the Beckham, Jr. we saw Week 2 vs. the New York Jets? I’d like to see him again this week.
It would be a real joy to see a complete, drama-free, mistake-free game for once this season and I can think of no better time than on Sunday at 4:05 eastern time. Just one enjoyable Sunday before the season’s end. Is that too much to ask? They say revenge game Baker is the best Baker. Let’s hope that’s the case this week.