JD Bagley, @jdbagley5
We never want to overreact after Week 1, as teams are still knocking off the rust and getting back into the swing of playing a 16 game NFL season. But on Sunday, the team with all eyes on them, put up the most shocking performance of the day. Losing by a final score of 43-13, the Browns fell apart in all phases of the game beginning late in the 3rd quarter. After a Cleveland touchdown to bring the game within 2 points, Tennessee answered on the ensuing play when Derrick Henry took a screen 75 yards untouched to the house, and it was all downhill from there for the Browns.
All summer long, the talking point of this team was if first year Head Coach Freddie Kitchens could mesh together all of this talent and play egoless, disciplined football. If you watched any part of the game Sunday you know that absolutely did not happen. The Browns committed 18 penalties for 182 yards, the most by Cleveland since 1951. Let that sink in for a second. The game was so ugly and choppy that it was very tough to watch as a general football fan, let alone a diehard Browns fan. This is not the way Cleveland wanted to start their highly anticipated season, but it is only Week 1 and many of the Browns mistakes are feasible to fix.
Diving into how the offense faired, Baker Mayfield didn’t play as poor as the media is making it out to seem. No he didn’t play particularly well, but Mayfield put together a couple of promising drives that showed what this Browns offense is capable of. The opening drive of the game had FirstEnergy Stadium rocking after Baker led them 73 yards on 8 plays, capped off by a Dontrell Hilliard 4 yard touchdown run. After this moment, the offense went stone cold for the rest of the half gaining only 58 total yards on the next 6 drives combined, one of which ended in a safety. A lot of this was due to the offensive line barely giving Mayfield any time to scan the field in a clean pocket. To add on to all the undisciplined football being played by the Browns, in the 2nd quarter starting LT Greg Robinson delivered a kick to the head of Titans S Kenny Vaccaro, resulting in Robinson being ejected from the game. Newly acquired offensive lineman Justin McCray was thrust into action on an already thin Browns line. From this moment on, the Titans front 7 began to dominate the trenches, leaving Mayfield running for his life and unable to connect with receivers downfield. David Njoku remains a big red zone presence for this team, catching a 3 yard slant for a touchdown on the goal line, but his drops continue to be a problem. With sure handed guys on the roster like OBJ, Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins, it will be hard for Baker to develop trust with Njoku going forward if he can’t address this issue. Speaking of receivers, Odell Beckham Jr. made his Cleveland Browns debut, catching 7 passes for 71 yards on 11 targets. You could tell Mayfield wanted to get him involved in the game early on, targeting Beckham 7 times in the first half, more than double any other Browns player. Once the 4th quarter started and the Browns were down two possessions, Mayfield began to panic and became erratic with the football tossing 3 interceptions in the 4th quarter alone, all of which, leading to Tennessee touchdowns putting the game far out of reach. After being taken down hard into the end zone for a safety by Cameron Wake, Mayfield got up in pain but stayed in throughout the rest of the game. He later left the stadium with a soft wrap around his throwing hand. X-rays came back negative and the injury is not considered to be serious, we should hear more as the week progresses but it doesn’t look like he will miss any time. As a whole, this offense will have plenty to work on this week in practice, specifically the offensive line looking to do a better job of protecting their franchise quarterback.
Shifting over to the defensive side of the ball, this unit also didn’t play up to the expectations that were placed on them this season. Myles Garrett was seemingly the only bright spot, collecting 2 sacks against a depleted Titans offensive line without two of their starters. With that being said, many thought the key to this game would be Cleveland’s front 7 getting after Tennessee and pressing them into uncomfortable situations and forcing turnovers, something they did very well last year. That was not the case on Sunday, and give Marcus Mariota a lot of credit. He has been under scrutiny for the past 2 seasons, even causing management to bring in Ryan Tannehill hoping that would light a fire under him. Mariota took care of the football and played within his abilities, leaning on the defense and rushing attack for the majority of the game. The Browns defense gave up the 2nd most receptions to tight ends in 2018 and that hasn’t changed much one week into 2019. Entering his 14th season in the NFL, Delanie Walker recorded 5 receptions for 55 yards and 2 4th quarter touchdowns, sending many Browns fans to the exit gates with 9 minutes left. This is something the Browns need to clean up this season if this defense is going to be legitimate. Both Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey have been with Cleveland their entire careers, 4 and 6 years respectively. On paper this is the weakest part of the defense, hence why they drafted Sione Takitaki and Mack Wilson in April’s draft. Schobert is in a contract year and must play better for this defense to take the next step in becoming a daunting group.
Overall, this was not the type of way the Browns had hoped to perform in front of their home crowd. Give Tennessee and Mike Vrabel a ton of credit. They came into this matchup as 5.5 point underdogs and played an impressive game on both sides of the ball. Many people overlooked this team coming into the season because they can’t get over that 9-7 hump, but the Titans came ready to play tough football and now head back home with with a 1-0 record. There are numerous things the Browns need to clean up this week including penalties (obviously), offensive line play, and gelling together as a team. Way too many ignorant penalties like multiple unnecessary roughness calls, is part of what cost the Browns a shot at winning this game in the 2nd half. You have a very minimal chance to win a game in the NFL when you commit 18 penalties for almost 200 yards that’s just how the game works. This week the Browns will be traveling to MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford to take on the Jets on Monday Night Football, the first of 4 prime time games this season for Cleveland. The Jets lost a heartbreaker to the Bills in Week 1 so you know they are going to come out strong in front of their home crowd and try to prove this isn’t the same old New York Jets. The Browns better come ready to play, this is not going to be a pushover game like some may assume. Starting out 0-2 with the Rams coming up in Week 3 is not ideal. Cleveland needs this win.