Wednesday, June 29

What about the Browns? Shaky Baker Mayfield, big injuries to blame for Cleveland’s cold start

The Browns had a great 2020 season, earning a spot in the AFC wild card with an 11-5 record and reaching the divisional playoffs. The 2021 sequel in the second year with coach Kevin Stefanski has yet to build on that.

Cleveland, at 3-3 with a third of the full season, is tied for third in the AFC North with Pittsburgh. Based on current playoffs, the team is truly last in the division and out of the playoff picture, number 10 in the conference.

The Browns have respectable losses to the Chiefs (3-3), Chargers (4-2) and Cardinals (6-0). But they also don’t have any win declarations by beating the Texans (1-5), Bears (3-3) and Vikings (3-3).

That early schedule means that six games, or more than half of what remains, will be played within the division against the Ravens (5-1), Bengals (4-2) and Steelers (3-3). The Browns also need to play the Raiders (4-2) and Packers (5-1) in December. Cleveland needs to raise its level of play soon to secure the double-digit wins it needs to secure another playoff spot.

So what about the slow start for the Browns and the losing streak of Stefanski, last year’s consensus coach of the year? Here’s a breakdown of their initial breakdown:

The Browns have seen Baker Mayfield struggle to do too much

Mayfield, by some measures, before missing Week 7, was having a better season than in 2020, when his sizzling game in the second half propelled the Browns to the playoffs with a 6-2 finish. His completion percentage (67.1), yards per attempt (8.5) and passer rating (97.8) are the highest grades of his career. But he’s already committed 5 turnovers (3 interceptions, 2 fumbles) when that number was 12 all last season.

Mayfield has been wild and inconsistent with his volume, missing a lot of short to intermediate shots he should have made, making up for with flashes on some big ones – watch first half Hail Mary TD in Week 6. He hasn’t, either. has been helped by drops or missed connections from his receivers, outmatched by his often forcing the ball into Odell Beckham Jr.

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It probably didn’t help that Mayfield was playing with a completely ripped labrum in his left shoulder that he hasn’t pitched since Week 2. Unfortunately, he compounded the injury when he suffered a heavy fall against Arizona on Sunday, to the point that Case Keenum will need to do it. it will start for Cleveland in Thursday night’s home game against Denver.

Maybe a little rest and a mini-goodbye will help Mayfield get well for a critical stretch ahead, starting with back-to-back games against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Unfortunately, there have also been other fundamental problems that have hurt the offense.

Browns can’t keep all of their key components healthy

Beckham started on the shelf with a knee injury and is now battling a shoulder injury. Most important as a wide receiver, Mayfield’s trusty old Jarvis Landry has been out since the beginning of Week 2 with a knee injury. As a running back, Nick Chubb has again wasted time with a calf injury, and Kareem Hunt could be out much longer with a similar ailment.

The Browns’ front-line offensive line hasn’t been immune to the injury virus. Left tackle Jedrick Willis Jr. did not play well through the ankle injury he sustained in Week 1 and it became difficult enough to cause him to miss the final two games, continuing with three. Right tackle Jack Conklin joined him out of action in Week 6 due to his knee injury.

The entire starting front four of the defense has been hit, and durability is a concern for Jadeveon Clowney again. There has been a constant shakeup in the linebacker corps and the last hit was the sprained ankle of impact rookie Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. The cornerback body hasn’t been close to full health either,

The Browns have been fine when they can run for all teams and limit their reliance on passing and passing defenses. But it doesn’t work when that formula is discarded and it gets tougher without his two best backs and two best tackles. Neither Mayfield nor Keenum were destined to operate in a high-volume forced passing game, versus one that effectively plays outside of the running game.

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When the Browns have shorter units out of control of the ball, it puts pressure on the defense as a whole. Opponents may not run well in Cleveland, but they are finding passing success on the field to move the team further away from its heavy-duty play script.

Browns’ passing offense can’t find rhythm

With no Landry on the field and Beckham struggling to connect with Mayfield in key situations, there has been a showdown committee approach with who produces the most from the Browns’ receiving corps. He sometimes supports wide receivers Donovan Peoples-Jones and Rashard Higgins. Sometimes it’s tight ends Austin Hooper and David Njoku. Sometimes it’s rookie sprinter Anthony Schwartz.

The Browns still use 11 staff members (three wide receivers) 44 percent of the time, like last season. But they’ve used 13 staff members (one wide receiver) 21 percent of the time, more than last year and far more than anyone in the league this year. That’s now even a higher frequency than his 12-person (often two tight ends) use.

Mayfield is a streak passer because he’s a pace passer. There has been some turmoil as the team has tried to incorporate coaching for many players with different skill sets. With Mayfield or Keenum, there needs to be some streamlining with particular personnel, such as more than DPJ (Peoples-Jones) and less than OBJ. Clearly Landry has been the glue for the passing game as the real go-to guy and nothing sticks when he’s not the focal point.

The Browns’ pass defense has been disappointing

There is Myles Garrett flanked by Clowney on the edge. The Browns still have a lot of active linebackers in coverage. They worked to improve security with former Ram John Johnson III. Rookie Greg Newsome has been seen as a good outside complement to top cornerback Denzel Ward, with Greedy Williams and former Ram Troy Hill providing good depth.

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The Browns were strong against the pass early on, but that fell apart with Justin Herbert and Kyler Murray lighting them up with high efficiency and big plays in the past two weeks. Johnson has been disappointed to clean things up on the inside along with Ronnie Harrison. Ward and Newsome are solid, but still giving up a lot, with Williams playing the best overall in coverage. The passing career has been one of the best in the league, but the pressure from Garrett, Clowney and others hasn’t turned into something to go.

Cleveland would like to join teams with aggressive passing play to build tracks and get to work on a prolific running game. The Browns defense is designed to strike the first blow at teams when they play ahead, not engage in shootouts (watch against Herbert in week 5) or see the opponent jump far ahead (watch against Murray in week 6) .

The Browns won a lot of games last season because they stayed healthy and put their best complementary football into Stefanski’s overall winning game plan. Even as they are understaffed and expect more players to recover each week this season, they need to return to their ideal identity with the talent that is still out there and the next men. If no one can step up to make up for everyone who is missing, Cleveland may derail further from the playoff comeback track by the second half in 2021.

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