J.D. Bagley, @jdbagley5
Following a remarkable 40-25 road win over the Baltimore Ravens, the Cleveland Browns now sit atop the AFC North for the first time since Week 10 of 2014. Looking big picture, the Browns put out an exciting and efficient brand of football that hopes to continue on throughout the rest of the season. Baker Mayfield and Freddie Kitchens answered the bell, leaving their critics in utter silence after putting up 40 points against a team that has finished top 10 in overall defense 18/21 years since their return to Baltimore. Although a well executed victory over the reigning division champs was a confidence booster, it is just one win and this team has a long way to go before being crowned for anything. The Browns are going to want to be cautious and level headed going forward, keeping a similar mindset as last week when everyone was counting them out. This team has a moxy to it that is very contagious, they need to ride with it.
On Sunday, the Browns offense finally began to look like many thought that it would coming into the season. With questions regarding the offensive line, this unit showed up to play and were stout all game long giving up just 1 sack, but more importantly, they gave Mayfield time to scan the field and do his thing. That turned out well for Cleveland as Baker had trust in his guys up front, stayed calm in the pocket, stepped up when needed and delivered accurate passes. He finished the game 20/30 for 342 yards 1 TD and 1 INT. The touchdown pass came mid way through the 1st quarter on a 9 yard throw to a wide open Ricky Seals-Jones, capping off a 13 play 84 yard drive to give the Browns a 7-0 lead. With David Njoku on IR, Seals-Jones looks like he has taken the starting tight end job and ran with it after posting a 3/82/1 stat line. Later in the quarter, after a couple of stalled drives from both teams, Cleveland was facing a 3rd and 3 from the Baltimore 48. With Odell Beckham Jr. heavily accounted for all game, Mayfield forced the ball to Jarvis Landry on a slant route that was intercepted by Maurice Canady. On the ensuing drive, Lamar Jackson found Miles Boykin for a 9 yard score to knot the game at 7. Before halftime the Browns had one more shot with the ball. Landry, the focal point of the passing game on Sunday, caught a short pass that led to him breaking several tackles and streaking 65 yards down the sideline before stumbling and putting Cleveland into field goal range. The Austin Seibert field goal gave the Browns a 10-7 lead at the half.
Nick Chubb was outstanding yesterday. As I’ve been saying all along, the offense needs to run through him, and on Sunday it did. 20 carries, 165 yards, and 3 TD’s, including a back breaking 88 yard TD run that sent many Ravens fans toward the exits. That run was eerily similar and reminded Browns fans of Chubb’s 92 yard TD run last year vs Atlanta, the longest in franchise history. Getting the ground game going was critical to this offense’s success as it opened up so much more for Freddie Kitchens play calling. The offense’s overall performance looked much more like the final 8 games of 2018, compared to what we saw through 3 games this year. Whether it was OC Todd Monken having too much input early on, or Kitchens holding certain things back, this is the offense we all expected to see. As mentioned earlier, Odell Beckham Jr. was held in check for most of the game by Marlon Humphrey. The two fought hard all game before things eventually spilled over into a skirmish, resulting in unnecessary roughness penalties being handed out to both players. Behind the play, during a Dontrell Hilliard 19 yard reception, Beckham punched Humphrey in the helmet area before Humphrey took Beckham to the ground where he was seen choking him forcefully. Neither player was ejected but this is something to keep an eye on going forward for a couple of reasons. One being that Beckham has a history of losing his temper in similar situations, especially when he isn’t as involved in the offense as he’d like to be. The other being that these two will face off again later this year in Week 16 where playoff implications will likely be on the line. With Humphrey shutting down Beckham (2/20/0), Baker looked elsewhere, knowing not to force him the ball as he has at times in previous weeks. Instead feeding Landry (8/167/0) for his best receiving game as a Cleveland Brown.
Freddie Kitchens showed us he has a few tricks up his sleeve with Landry and Beckham being the athletes that they are. The first came on a double reverse pass, where it looked like Beckham was going to be tackled for a sizeable loss, before he ducked, split two defenders and heaved it deep to Damion Ratley who saw the ball go right through his hands for an incomplete pass. The second was a shovel pass from Mayfield to Landry who had Beckham by his side in an option formation. Beckham drew a defender away from Landry who slightly faked the pitch before keeping the ball himself, running down the sideline and getting knocked out at the 2 yard line. Chubb scored his 2nd TD of the day on the following play.
While missing 4 defensive starters, this Browns defense held Lamar Jackson and Co. in check for the majority of the game. The biggest takeaway from the defense’s performance was the secondary (featuring 3 backups) holding Ravens wide receivers to just 151 yards through the air. That number is even skewed due to a garbage time Willie Snead IV 50 yard touchdown catch with less than a minute to play. Terrance Mitchell and T.J. Carrie have been magnificent the last two weeks filling in for Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams who have both been dealing with hamstring injuries. With a guy as fast as Marquise Brown, you’d think Lamar Jackson and Greg Roman would look to take some shots downfield against an injury riddled secondary, especially when you’re losing in the 2nd half. The Browns secondary was all over it as Jermaine Whitehead intercepted Jackson’s only deep throw of the game into double coverage. Speaking of Jermaine Whitehead, starting in place of the injured Morgan Burnett, Whitehead filled up the stat sheet on his way to the best game of his career. Along with his interception, mid way through the 3rd quarter as the Ravens were driving deep into Browns territory, Whitehead laid a hit on Mark Ingram forcing a fumble that ended up being a huge momentum shifter in favor of Cleveland. Later in the 4th quarter, when the Ravens were in desperation mode, Whitehead shot through the B gap untouched before hitting Jackson’s throwing arm, altering the path of the ball into DL Devaroe Lawerence’s hands to seal the game. The defensive line did their part in the win as well. With Myles Garrett soaking up double teams and most of the offensive line’s attention, guys like Larry Ogunjobi, Olivier Vernon, Damarious Randall, and Joe Schobet added sack tallies to the box score in an all around group effort.
The Browns should come home from Baltimore feeling confident, but never satisfied. As the season progresses, things will only get tougher for a team still trying to prove to the rest of the league that they belong. The sky's the limit for Cleveland if they can stay grounded and block out the outside noise. Traveling across the country for a prime time game is never an easy ask, as the 49ers host the Browns this week on Monday Night Football. Cleveland will look to replicate their success in front of the national audience for the 3rd time in 5 games this year.