JD Bagley, @jdbagley5
Yes, there were some bad calls against the Browns yesterday. Yes, those calls killed drives and momentum at times. But in this situation, no, you cannot blame the refs for losing. During his post game press conference, Baker Mayfield shared his displeasure with the officiating in Sunday’s 32-28 loss, “The refs are never an excuse, and I’ll probably get fined for saying this, but it was pretty bad today.” Although there were some questionable calls, the Browns shot themselves in the foot several times, ultimately costing them the game. Cleveland has now fallen to 2-4 heading into the bye week, followed by a trip to Foxborough. Time is running out for this team to get going in the right direction.
Following a 74 yard return on the opening kickoff by Dontrell Hilliard, Baker Mayfield and the Browns offense came out on fire in the 1st quarter. 3 drives, 3 touchdowns and a 14 point lead that was never extended beyond that. The main concern with the offense coming into this game was the offensive line, who surprisingly played very well, giving Cleveland every chance to win. After an atrocious start to the season, the offensive line did not allow a single QB hit or sack in yesterday’s loss. There are no more excuses for Baker. Outside of the first 3 Cleveland possessions, Baker threw for 147 yards, 0 TD’s and 3 INT’s. Part of this is likely due to the fact that Mayfield took a hard hit to his hip as he was scrambling to get a first down. He went back to the locker room briefly before returning to action and finishing the game slightly banged up. I completely understand wanting to get the first down for your team, but Baker will have to learn eventually this isn’t college football anymore. Everyone on defense is bigger and faster than him. As the starting quarterback of the franchise, this team can’t afford to lose him and he has to understand what is at stake. Mayfield now leads the NFL with 11 INT’s through 6 games. He has simply become a less accurate quarterback than he was last year. All 3 INT’s were his fault with bad ball placement, 2 of which on throws less than 10 yards down the field. Last year in 13 starts, Mayfield completed 63.3% of his passes compared to this year’s 56.6% 6 weeks in. Nick Chubb had another monster day on the ground totaling 122 yards and 2 TD’s on 20 carries. He is slowly but surely becoming one of the best RB’s in the NFL with his powerful running style. When Chubb is being fed in the run game, the field opens up and gives the offense more versatility. Star wideout Odell Beckham Jr. was targeted 11 times Sunday, 5 more than any player. He had his second 100 yard receiving game of the season, finishing the day with 6 receptions for 101 yards. The concern I have with Beckham may not be a popular one, but it’s one that needs to be addressed. He drops too many passes. Yes, OBJ is known for making unbelievable plays. But, he continues to drop passes that hit him right in the hands, sometimes in critical situations, and it’s beginning to feel like this is a weekly occurrence. In particular, early in the game on 3rd and 7 inside Seattle territory, Beckham dropped an easy first down. Luckily, Freddie Kitchens decided to go for it on 4th down where Mayfield found Jarvis Landry downfield for 27 yards. It ended up turning out alright this time, but the Beckham drops can’t be ignored, it is a problem. On a brighter note, Ricky Seals-Jones had another solid game catching 3 passes for 47 yards and a TD to extend the Browns lead to 14 early in the 2nd quarter. He has become a nice safety blanket for Mayfield in the passing game since David Njoku went down back in Week 2. As a whole, the offense still isn’t fully clicking the way they want to. If it’s not the line play, it’s QB play, or dropped passes, or coaching decisions, etc. This is not what Browns fans had in mind coming into the season.
On the defensive side of the ball there isn’t as much negative analysis. Squaring up against Russell Wilson and this physical Seahawks offense is no easy task. In the first half Seattle had two separate opportunities to score in the red zone, but the Browns defense held strong, leaving the Seahawks with just two field goals. Myles Garrett was once again the best player on the Browns, adding 2 sacks to bring his season total to 9, tied with Tampa Bay’s Shaquil Barrett atop the NFL. Russell Wilson was of course, brilliant. Continuing a strong case for early season MVP votes, Wilson finished 23/33 for 295 yards and 2 TD’s, along with a rushing touchdown. He now has 14 passing TD’s to 0 INT’s on the season, guiding the Seahawks to a 5-1 record. Cleveland’s coverage downfield throughout the game was pretty decent as a matter of fact. But, when the pass rush isn’t getting to Wilson, he can extend plays with his legs and really hurt you off script. One of his emerging playmakers is rookie WR D.K. Metcalf who looks like a steal so far this year after falling late into the 2nd round of the draft. Such a big bodied receiver with some incredible straight line speed, Metcalf (6’4 229 lbs, 4.33 40 time) is very tough to tackle as the Browns found out Sunday. He finished the day with 4 catches for 69 yards against a Browns secondary without their starting cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams for the 4th straight week. Getting Ward and Williams back after the bye should help, but it won’t solve all the problems this team has. Speaking of being tough to tackle, Seattle has another one of those guys in RB Chris Carson. One of the more underrated backs in the league in my opinion, the 225 lb bruiser bullied Browns’ defenders all game long, racking up 159 yards and 1 TD on 28 touches. One of Cleveland’s biggest stops of the game came in the 4th quarter after the offense wasn’t able to convert on 4th and goal, leaving Seattle backed up deep in their own territory. The Browns defense forced a 3 and out and the ensuing punt was shanked, giving the Browns great field position where they would take the lead on a 3 yard TD run by Nick Chubb with 9 minutes left. Giving up 32 points at home isn’t something to hang your hat on, but it wasn’t the defense that lost Cleveland this game.
It was clearly a disappointing Sunday for Browns fans, but there is still a sliver of hope. Over the summer, many thought that if Cleveland could just survive the first half of the season, the back end of the schedule opens up for them and they could go on a late season run. 2-4 is obviously not where you want to be with the undefeated Patriots as your next opponent. But looking ahead, Cleveland’s Week 9-17 opponents are a combined 16-35-1 (.307). If somehow this season can be turned around after the bye week, there is a fighting chance this team can still vie for a playoff spot. If not, well, we’re looking at the same old Cleveland Browns.