Written by: J.D. Bagley, @jdbagley5
The Cleveland Browns are finally maximizing their potential! Who says there aren’t enough balls to go around for this star studded offense? What an exciting game to watch as all four marquee Browns playmakers found the end zone in their 41-24 beatdown of the Miami Dolphins. It was Cleveland’s 2nd time scoring 40+ this season, the first coming in Baltimore back in Week 4 which feels like ages ago. Odell Beckham Jr. found the endzone for just the 2nd time this year, while Jarvis Landry caught 2 touchdowns, extending his scoring streak to 4 games. This was the first time Landry and Beckham scored in the same game as teammates since 9/14/13 back when they played at LSU together. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt were able to continue their coexisting dominance both rushing and receiving the ball. The duo totaled 210 yards and 2 touchdowns as they continue to look like the best 1-2 punch in football since Hunt’s season debut. After a sluggish start to the year, Baker Mayfield played his best game of the season in this one finally bringing his TD:INT ratio up into the positives. He finished the day with his highest completion percentage of the year going 24/34 for 327 yards 3 TD’s and 1 INT. The Cleveland offensive line, who also went through a rough stretch at the beginning of the season, has been playing it’s best as of late during the Browns 3 game win streak. Mayfield has been sacked just 6 times in the last 4 games after being taken down 21 times in the previous 7.
Outside of the team’s 3rd quarter lull, the Browns played sound defense holding the Dolphins to just 306 total yards in a game where they were without 4 defensive starters. Joe Schobert was incredible once again, intercepting two Ryan Fitzpatrick passes to record his 2nd straight multi interception game. Schobert totaled just 3 interceptions throughout his entire college career at Wisconsin and his first 54 NFL games combined. He has exceeded that number in his last 2 games, making a strong case to be voted to his 2nd career Pro Bowl. Cleveland’s defense amounted 4 sacks on a porous Dolphins offensive line ranking dead last in sacks allowed through Week 12. The Browns did this without starting defensive linemen Myles Garrett, Larry Ogunjobi, and Olivier Vernon.
I don’t want to get too carried away with how well the Browns played yesterday because they did play a team who’s now 2-9 on the season. But, it’s encouraging to see that this team has really begun to find their stride during the course of their win streak. The Browns 3rd quarter lull is one of the only negatives to take away from this one. Cleveland has shown flashes all season but they haven’t been able to consistently put it all together over the course of an entire 60 minutes. This was the case once again when the Browns were up 28-3 to start the 2nd half, before surrendered two Miami touchdowns that cut their lead to 11 in the 3rd quarter. The Browns will have to clean up some of their inconsistencies down the stretch if they want to make a playoff push, especially when facing superior ball clubs.
I’ve bashed Freddie Kitchens for most of the season, but I will give him credit when it’s due. Kitchens didn’t make any noticeable play calling or time management mistakes so I will compliment him for that. But, that doesn’t mean I’m back on the train just yet. I still need to see more improvement throughout the rest of the season before I crown him as the Browns head coach of the future. Most things take time to master, let alone becoming an NFL head coach for the first time. Hopefully his mistakes early on in the season were due to him learning on the job and ironing out the kinks of his transition. Either way, the Browns have a huge divisional matchup coming up this week versus the Pittsburgh Steelers who are 1 game ahead of the Browns in both the division and wild card hunt. Cleveland hasn’t won at Heinz Field since 2003, so this is no easy task regardless of the current status of both teams. With the Browns sitting at 5-6 and the NFL’s 2nd easiest remaining schedule on deck, the playoffs are still within reach for a franchise hoisting the league’s longest playoff drought of 17 years.