Don't Give Up On The Browns Yet
Cleveland is 2-4, but have handed games to their opponents and have the talent to compete with anyone
- The Cleveland Browns had a 20-6 lead at home against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, but turned the ball over four times and lost 32-28 as they are now 0-3 at home and 2-4 overall.
- Baker Mayfield has regressed after a promising rookie season and has thrown as many interceptions in the red zone as touchdowns (three).
- The Browns lead the NFL in penalties and penalty yardage.
- The Browns must run the ball more consistently and stop the run better, especially with a trip to the New England Patriots looming after their upcoming bye week.
This Week’s Heartbreak
The Browns started off on fire against the Seahawks as they scored touchdowns on their first three possessions of the game to take a 20-6 lead with 14:54 to go in the second quarter. After a nearly perfect quarter and change of football, the Browns’ next three possessions ended with a blocked punt in their own territory and two interceptions. Their two touchdown lead evaporated before their eyes, but they went into halftime with a 20-18 lead.
The Browns fumbled on their opening possession in the second half. This was Cleveland’s third turnover in Seattle territory on their last three full drives (excluding the 23-second drive just before the half which ended with a failed Hail Mary attempt). The Seahawks took a 25-20 lead on a touchdown drive after the fumble recovery. The Browns then went three-and-out but got the ball back in Seattle territory after Devaroe Lawrence recovered a C.J. Prosise fumble at the 45 yard line.
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The Browns marched into the red zone and had a golden opportunity to score a touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the one yard line. Mayfield completed a pass to Jarvis Landry who fumbled the ball (recovered by running back Nick Chubb) but nearly got into the end zone before doing so. Browns coach Freddie Kitchens challenged the ruling on the field, lost the challenge and cost the Browns a timeout. The Seahawks had too many men on the field, so the Browns were about to hand the ball off to Chubb on fourth and goal but Browns coach Freddie Kitchens threw his challenge flag before the next play was snapped; this was costly as it appeared Chubb would have scored untouched. Kitchens challenged the ruling on the field, lost the challenge and cost the Browns a timeout. The Browns went for it again, and Chubb was stonewalled for a loss of one as the Browns turned the ball over on downs.
The Browns defense held their ground up as they forced the Seahawks to punt from their own one yard line after a three and out. Punter Michael Dickson shanked his kick just 23 yards and gave the Browns great field position just outside the red zone. The Browns scored a touchdown after two consecutive handoffs to Chubb led to pay dirt, and their two point conversion was successful to take a 28-25 lead with 9:02 to play. Russell Wilson, one of the leading candidates for NFL MVP, then led a nine-play, 79-yard touchdown drive to take a 32-28 lead with 3:30 to play. On the ensuing drive, Mayfield threw a six yard pass on second down and 15 which was dropped by receiver Dontrell Hilliard and intercepted by K.J. Wright off the deflection.
The Seahawks needed one or two first downs to secure the win from there. The most crucial play of the game might have been the third and seven completion from Wilson to DK Metcalf for a first down with 2:32 to play. Metcalf appeared to bobble the ball as he went out of bounds, but the Browns were out of timeouts and could not challenge the ruling on the field. The prior Kitchens challenge came back to bite Cleveland and the Seahawks would soon enter victory formation as the Dawg Pound showered them with debris.
What's The Matter?
The Browns were a trendy Super Bowl pick before the season started as many bettors were encouraged by Cleveland’s momentum at the end of last season. After an electric rookie season, many expected Mayfield to take the next step at quarterback, but he has regressed in his second campaign.
Mayfield threw 14 interceptions all of last season, but his 11 interceptions lead the NFL and are four more than any other quarterback not named Jameis Winston. His 11 interceptions through six games are the most by a Browns quarterback since 1984 when Paul McDonald had 12. Mayfield’s 66.0 passer rating is fourth-worst among all quarterbacks to play this season; only Dolphins quarterbacks and Luke Falk have a worse passer rating (and Falk was just waived by the Jets). Mayfield also has the fifth lowest completion percentage in the NFL at 56.6 percent.
Coming out of college Mayfield was picked first overall for his accuracy, but it hasn’t been there this season. To make matters worse, Mayfield has the fourth worst completion percentage above expectation of minus-six. But not only should some of his passes have been completed, but some were dropped and intercepted to make these close misses even more costly. At 2.9 seconds, Mayfield averages the third-slowest time to throw among all NFL quarterbacks. Aaron Rodgers is one of two quarterbacks whose average time to throw is longer than Mayfield’s, but Mayfield’s ability to extend plays outside the pocket is not anywhere near Rodgers’s right now (and his offensive line isn’t as good). All of these factors have given the Browns have the second worst team rating at quarterback in the NFL ahead on only the lowly Miami Dolphins.
How To Fix The Problems
Make no mistake, Baker Mayfield is not the only problem for the Browns, but a lot of the Browns’ problems have affected his statistics. Penalties and red zone miscues have been a problem since they were demolished 43-13 to start the season at home against the Tennessee Titans when they committed 18 penalties for 182 yards, and these problems have lingered through six games. The Browns lead the NFL with the most penalties (57) and penalty yards (506). After taking a two touchdown lead at home on Sunday, they turned the ball over four times, had a punt blocked in their own territory and turned the ball over on downs in the red zone (effectively six turnovers).
The Browns rank 19th in red zone touchdown percentage, but their turnovers in the red zone have been even more costly. Following a devastating drop on Monday Night Football last week that was deflected and intercepted, the Browns had another red zone interception on Sunday along with a turnover on downs from the one yard line. Mayfield has as many touchdowns (three) as interceptions in the red zone this season while completing just 9-of-29 passing attempts on that part of the field. A lot of this is on Mayfield, but if a team cannot run the ball in the red zone, they will not win many games in the NFL.
Cleveland actually isn’t a terrible rushing offense. In fact, the Browns are second in the NFL as they average 5.3 yards per carry. However, they don’t hand the ball off enough, as they rank just 14th with 119.8 rushing yards per game. On the other hand, they haven’t done a good job of stopping the run and opposing teams haven’t been afraid to continue handing the ball off. The Browns have allowed the fourth most rushing yards per game (154.0) and the sixth most yards per carry (5.0). The Cleveland defense was supposed to be a force to be reckoned with, but the Browns rank 24th in scoring defense as they have allowed 25.7 points per game.
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The Browns have a bye this week before traveling to New England to face the undefeated Patriots. Unless the Browns magically transform into a much more disciplined football team, it is hard to imagine them emerging with a victory in Foxborough. The good news for the Browns is that beyond New England, they only have two remaining games against teams with winning records: home matchups against the Bills and the Ravens (whom they have already beaten on the road). The Browns have the talent to compete with just about anyone in the NFL and the schedule sets up nicely beyond the trip to Foxborough, but the Browns won’t have a chance at a late season rally unless Mayfield levels up and the defense stops the run.