Browns hit bye with hope for strong finish thanks to Baker Mayfield

Mayfield, foundation of young players a sign of better days to come

Daryl Ruiter
November 15, 2018 - 4:59 pm
Baker Mayfield touchdown against Atlanta Falcons

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

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Berea, OH (92.3 The Fan) – The Browns have hit the bye week in a familiar spot – the basement of the AFC North, but for the first time in a long time there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel and a path out of the cellar thanks to what appears to be a solid foundation of talent to build upon.

Considering the franchise won an NFL-record worst 4 games the previous 3 season combined, their 3-6-1 record is the clearest evidence of marked improvement, but the first portion of the season has hardly been satisfying.

Sure, the overall winless, division and Sunday winless streaks have ended, but the first 10 games have been the usual chaotic mess with rookie quarterback and top pick Baker Mayfield doing all he can to quiet the storm.

The Browns finally got sick and tired of Josh Gordon and traded him to New England. Starting running back Carlos Hyde was shipped to Jacksonville to make way for rookie Nick Chubb. As is the custom in Cleveland, starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor didn’t make it through 3 football games and a concussion opened the door for Mayfield to take over.

They played 4 overtime games – winning 1, tying 1 and losing 2 – and there can be plenty of arguments about what the season woulda coulda and shoulda been this year had a few more wins been sprinkled in.

Hue Jackson was fired as head coach and offensive coordinator Todd Haley followed him out the door an hour later on Oct. 29. Jackson has already crawled back to his haven in Cincinnati with the Bengals on the schedule twice down the stretch.

Then there have been the injuries. Starting corner Terrance Mitchell is on injured reserve with a broken wrist, cornerback E.J. Gaines suffered a pair of concussions ending his season, linebacker Christian Kirksey’s season is over thanks to a pulled hamstring and linebacker Joe Schobert missed 3 games with a hamstring pull.

And there’s still 6 games to go.

After averaging a league-worst 14.6 points per game last year, the Browns are averaging 21.8 points per game this year. They are just 1 touchdown and 16 points shy of last season’s totals, but they already have as many rushing (11) and passing (15) TDs as they had a year ago.

Conversely, Cleveland is allowing 26.3 points per game this season after giving up an average of 25.6 in 2017.

The Browns are the No. 1 takeaway team in the NFL with 25 of them and they also own a league-best +12-turnover ratio.

They’ve also played one of the toughest schedules in the league to date with opponents totaling a 51-39-2 record including 3 division leaders (Pittsburgh twice). Their 5 remaining opponents (Bengals twice) are a combined 29-25 and Houston is the only first-place team they’ll face. Denver and Baltimore are below .500.

Gregg Williams, who is 1-1 as interim head coach and will receive an interview for the full-time gig come January according to general manager John Dorsey, has been charged with getting the team through December.

The stretch run is all about the development of the team, and most importantly Mayfield, who has earned to respect of the locker room and leadership of the franchise through his play on the field.

Mayfield has had his ups and downs but if the last 4 games are any indication of what’s to come, dare we say that the Browns have finally found a quarterback in their 20th year back in the league.

The No. 1 overall pick completed 55 percent of his passes in his first 4 games that saw him throw 4 touchdowns, 5 interceptions and be sacked 13 times. In the 4 games since, Mayfield has completed 69 percent of his passes with 9 TDs, 2 interceptions and 9 sacks.

Chubb is averaging 6.2 yards per carry this season including ripping off touchdown runs of 41, 63 and 92 yards – a Browns franchise record. The 35th pick in the 2018 draft leads the team with 6 touchdowns – 5 rushing, 1 receiving.

New offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens has appeared to have finally solved the greatest mystery surrounding the team – how to use Duke Johnson Jr. in just 2 short weeks calling plays.

Rookie receivers Antonio Callaway and Damion Ratley have had their moments of brilliance while Rashard Higgins has started to shine in his third season.

Myles Garrett has registered 19 quarterback hits, 9.0 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 3 pass breakups and 7 tackles for loss in 10 starts surpassing his rookie season totals over 11 games.

Denzel Ward, a Nordonia High School and Ohio State product, has lived up to his No. 4 overall selection and been sensational this season in the secondary. Ward has broken up 10 passes, intercepted 3 others, forced a fumble, recovered 2 others and made 3 tackles for loss.  

Free safety Damarious Randall, acquired from Green Bay in March, has played injured since Week 2 but been a playmaker in 9 starts that has seen him break up 7 passes, net 2 interceptions to go with a pair of tackles for loss and fumble recovery.

It's that young collection of talent that should help Dorsey land the coach he wants in January.

While the Browns have played better than their record indicates, yet remain in last place, maybe the stretch run won’t be as painful as so many others have been before and better days really are ahead.