Baker Mayfield gives Browns hope, breathes life into starving franchise

With a quarter of the season in the books, plenty of positives despite 1-2-1 record

Daryl Ruiter
October 02, 2018 - 2:48 pm

© Cary Edmondson/Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

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Berea, OH (92.3 The Fan) – We’ve hit the first quarter pole of the 2018 season and it’s already been a wild ride for the Cleveland Browns.

It always is.

Here are some thoughts on where the team is through the first 4 games of the season and a look ahead to the remaining 12 left on the schedule.

- First and foremost – the drought is over. Hallelujah! Sure, the Browns could be 4-0 just as easily as they could be 0-4, but the bottom line is they are finally off the schneid after 635 days between victories. The 19-game winless streak ended thanks in part to Baker Mayfield, who led them back from 14-0 down on Thursday night football against the Jets.

- They are what their record says they are. On the bright side this team is good enough to be undefeated. They should’ve beaten Pittsburgh in Week 1 and New Orleans in Week 2 – both thought to be Super Bowl LIII contenders. That doesn’t happen in 2017 or 2016 for that matter. So 1-2-1 they are but all arrows are pointing upward and in a positive direction despite being below .500.

- The Browns have proven that they can hang with anyone, which is a monumental step in the right direction, now can they beat anyone? Their first 4 opponents – Pittsburgh, New Orleans, the Jets and Oakland are a combined 6-9-1. The next 6 weeks before the Nov. 18 Bye will tell the story of where the season is headed starting with the 3-1 Ravens visiting this week. Pittsburgh (1-2-1) and Atlanta (1-3) are the only 2 teams currently under .500 on the docket before the Bye. Houston (1-3) is the only team of their final 6 down the stretch after the Bye that is under .500.

- The 2018 bucket list:

1.) Win an AFC North game. The winless streak within the division is 18 games with the last victory coming Oct. 11, 2015 – 33-30 in overtime at Baltimore.

2.) Win on a Sunday. The last victory on a Sunday came on Dec. 13, 2015, a 24-10 win over the San Francisco 49ers. They’ve not won on the last 37 Sundays they’ve played.

3.) Win back-to-back games. The last win streak of any kind came during a 3-game streak from Oct. 26-Nov. 6, 2014.

- Making the switch to Mayfield was the right move. Unfortunately, Tyrod Taylor’s concussion cost him his job, but Mayfield’s play forced the organization to change course and turn the keys over to the 2018 No. 1 overall pick. The way the offense has responded with Mayfield in charge is undeniable. Not including end of half situations, in 35 series Taylor led 7 scoring drives – 5 touchdowns and 2 field goals for a total of 39 points. Mayfield has orchestrated 11 scoring drives – 7 touchdowns and 4 field goals for a total of 63 points in 24 offensive series.

- The Browns scored the most points since a Week 2 win over the Bengals, 51-45 on Sept. 16, 2007 in the overtime loss to the Raiders. With Mayfield at the helm, the Browns finally have a competent offense.

- Antonio Callaway is frustrating and exhilarating to watch all in one. The same could be said for tight end David Njoku. Both have been consistently inconsistent catching the football, but Callaway’s explosiveness is fun to watch. He already has a 47-yard TD catch in Week 2 at New Orleans and a 59-yard catch- and-run at Oakland on the resume. Now about those drops. 

- Nick Chubb needs more carries and Hue Jackson agrees – or at least that’s what he said on Monday. Chubb’s 63- and 41-yard touchdown runs in Oakland were eye openers. He had 105 yards on just 3 carries but is averaging less than 5 offensive snaps per game. Carlos Hyde is the No. 1 back and needs a minimum of 20 touches per game but there should be room for Chubb. Duke Johnson is not a power runner which is why against New Orleans he was given the ball on a fourth-and-1 was such a head scratcher. Four weeks into the season offensive coordinator Todd Haley should begin to figure out a balance to effectively use all three backs. This is a great problem to have and it is why Haley makes the big bucks to solve it.  

- Myles Garrett might want to play every snap, but he shouldn’t. Through 4 games, Garrett has played 293 of a possible 305 defensive snaps or 96 percent. A good defensive coordinator manages egos and makes sure his best players have fresh legs so they can be at their best when it matters most. Gregg Williams also has the talent to spell Garrett for a few snaps in the first half so he can be most effective in the fourth quarter like he was against the Steelers that saw him force 2 fumbles late.

- It only took 4 weeks for the Browns defense to match the 2017 takeaway total with 13 but they only have 4 scoring drives and a total of 20 points to show for them. Cleveland's +7 turnover ratio is tops in the NFL this season.

- The loss of cornerback Terrance Mitchell to a broken right wrist is a major blow to the back end of the defense. It was Mitchell who had the game-sealing interception against the Jets in the final 20 seconds and he also forced 2 fumbles. Injuries are an unfortunate part of the game and it’ll be up to defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to find the right personnel to fill the void.

- Special teams are an unmitigated disaster. They’ve already replaced their kicker after Zane Gonzalez shanked away any chance of beating the Saints in Week 2 by missing a pair of extra points and field goals. A 43-yard would-be game winner against the Steelers in Week 1 was also blocked. Then there is the return game where Jabrill Peppers, who was yanked Sunday in Oakland from returning kicks, looks lost and it doesn’t appear they have an impact special teamer on the roster. On kickoffs the Browns average 19.6 yards per return while opponents are averaging 27.6 per return. Punt returns are worse - the Browns average 5.0 yards per return, opponents 12.8. They don’t tackle well. They don’t block well, and when they do it is a penalty. Field position matters. Special teams win and lose games, and the Browns won’t win many this season if this unit keeps playing like this.  

- Most fans seem to be counting down the minutes, hours, days, weeks or months until Todd Haley takes over this season for Hue Jackson. Here’s some bad news for you, if this team continues to play as hard as they have been for Jackson, he isn’t going anywhere – at least in season. The players respect and enjoy playing for Jackson and he hasn’t come close to losing the locker room. The Browns have rallied back from down 14 with under 8 minutes left in Week 1 to tie the Steelers and 14 in the first half to beat the Jets. Yes, they’ve squandered leads – 12-3 against the Saints and 28-14 to the Raiders but in both games they made plays in the fourth quarter to give themselves a chance to win. Beyond the 2-33-1 record – as of now, replacing Jackson isn’t even a discussion. As for criticizing Jackson’s in-game decisions and strategy, welcome back to the NFL, Cleveland.