Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Mid-week thoughts

Let’s call it the State of the Browns at the Bye.

Browns General Manager John Dorsey stepped front and center before the Cleveland media Wednesday to proclaim his club’s 2-4 record is concerning, but not bothersome to the point of being pessimistic. Quite the opposite.

Call it one gigantic vote of confidence. In some areas, the term “vote of confidence” is often preceded by the word “dreaded.” Why? Because what often follows is not pretty.

Dorsey sounded almost sanguine with his club’s performance this season, as any general manager should be, given the hype with which his club entered the 2019 season.

He was enthusiastically optimistic when discussing his head coach and quarterback, both of whom have struggled, though not in the eyes of their GM, for the better portion of the campaign thus far.

“Nobody in this organization is happy about 2-4.,” he said. “Let me remind everybody here there is still a lot of football (10 games) to be played. . . . The facts are we’re 2-1 in the AFC, 1-0 in the AFC North and 0-3 in the NFC.” Now that’s some fancy spinning.

“We have five home games, we have five divisional games,” he continued. “There’s a lot of football to be played. I know from personal experiences that I’ve been on teams (actually one) that have had worse starts than this and guess what? They played really well at the back end of the season.”

His 2015 Kansas City Chiefs started 1-5 and went unbeaten the rest of the way to nail a wild card in the playoffs.

Odell Beckham Jr., Dorsey’s prized wide receiver, had a different, more blunt slant. “This is a team that could possibly be 6-0 or 5-1, but that’s not our record,” he said. “We are 2-4 and we are 2-4 for a reason.”

Dorsey reiterated his love of Baker Mayfield. “I like where he is,” he said. “I like his competitiveness. I love everything about him. That hasn’t changed one bit. . . . I still think his (thrown) balls are still accurate. . . . I still think he throws a good football . . . . What I like is his teammates like him.

“Mastering the quarterback position is very hard,” Dorsey went on, citing how opposing defensive coordinators are trying to fool him. “But Baker is one of those guys that he’s smart enough; he’s not going to make the same mistake twice.”

Eleven interceptions in six games fly in the face of that assertion. Several of them are not his fault, mishandled on the back end of the delivery. In fairness, at least three of them were back-shoulder throws that were more difficult to catch and thus not handled properly.

Emboldening the GM’s nod to the future was last Sunday’s 32-28 loss at home against Seattle after getting crushed, 31-3, six nights earlier by the San Francisco 49ers.

“I think the team responded really well,” he said. “I like the offensive scheme  (head coach/play caller Freddie Kitchens) has developed which was on (display) in the Seattle game by putting (Mayfield) in a good position to move the chains.”

Dorsey also disagreed with the notion by some critics that combining play-calling duties with being the head coach was too much for Kitchens to handle and be effective.

“Freddie was hired for a reason,” he said. “That was to lead men and I think in the trust they have in him.  . . . I think he has actually put together some really nice game plans. I love where he is right now in terms of that first-year head-coaching label you all try to stick on him. I think he’s done a nice job.”

Apparently, Dorsey is seeing the offensive woes of this team through a completely different lens than some of us. With few exceptions, there is a lack of continuity to what Kitchens is dialing up.

The fact he insists on throwing the football the closer the offense gets to the opposing team’s goal line has cost the Browns at least four or five touchdowns this season, two of which either cost the team a victory or at least a tie with a chance to win in overtime.

Slapping handcuffs on Nick Chubb, not even arguably one of the best running backs in the National Football League, when the offense is that close to touchdown territory is baffling.

Scant mention of the 57 penalties for 509 yards. The discipline on this club is non-existent. Losing more than 500 yards in six games is inexcusable. All of which leads directly to the desk of the head coach.

“At the end of the day, it is one of those things you have to clean up and this (the bye week) is the proper time to clean these things up,” Dorsey acknowledged. “My only advice is it is that attention to details and the little things and don’t put yourself in position to get those penalties.” Much easier said than done.”

No mention of Mayfield’s 11 interceptions, four of them in the red zone. And no mention of a serious lack of concentration, reflected in the rising number of dropped passes, including three in the Seattle loss by the normally reliable Beckham.

None of that is the coach’s fault? And none of this “well he can’t go out and play for them, too.” That’s nonsense. Someone has to take the blame.

This public relations exercise by Dorsey proved without any question that Kitchens and Mayfield have the full-throated endorsement of their general manager, as he likes to say, going forward.

He has already put the negative aspects of the first six games in his personal rear-view mirror and begun concentrating only on the present and immediate future. What’s done is done. Time to move on.

At the same time, he had to show, at least publicly, total confidence in the team he put together. There are too many more games left, as he correctly noted, that offer a softer  path to a more respectable record than they own now.
*       *       *
The trade that sent offensive lineman Austin Corbett to the Los Angeles Rams Tuesday fetched a fifth-round pick in the 2021 college draft.

”With Austin, I’m going to do whatever is in the best interests of this organization,” said Dorsey who selected Corbett at the top of round two of the 2018 college draft.“I thought (Tuesday) was the appropriate time (to trade him). I wish him the best.”

A tacit way of saying I made a mistake; I screwed up that pick.

It took one full season and six games of a second to come to the conclusion Corbett, who failed at tackle, guard and center (the trifecta), was a bust. Dorsey finally found a desperate team in the Rams, who are experiencing injury problems along their offensive front.

One other thought on the less-than-mediocre offensive line. Dorsey offered this suggestion regarding struggling left tackle Greg Robinson: “I’d like Greg to be more consistent. Just be more consistent as a football player.”

Consistency has never been one of Robinson’s strengths. And it’s not going to start now. That’s why the Browns are his third team in six seasons. This suggestion by Dorsey falls under the category of wishful thinking.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Monday leftovers

What better time to look back at the nightmare that has unfolded in the first six weeks of the 2019 season for the Browns than right now during the bye week as they try to figure out what the hell went wrong.

What is inarguable is this franchise is wallowing in a quagmire of ineptitude on a massive level with not nearly enough fingers of guilt with which to point to the problem areas.

No one could have predicted this team, with all its stars and all that talent, would be 2-4 at this juncture of the season with little hope of recovering and make the final record look at least respectable following game 16.

The offense has been terrible. The defense has been worse. The coaching staff can’t plug the leaks quickly enough. As soon as one problem is corrected, another appears.

The play calling of head coach Freddie Kitchens is head scratching. The man is so in love with the forward pass, he seems to have forgotten there’s a pretty good running back on the roster who is particularly effective near the goal line.

A man who never called plays before turning in a half season last year on an interim basis and who was never a head coach at any level is now coaching like someone who had never had the biggest and loudest whistle on the team.

There are times when it appears as though this head coach and his offensive coordinator seem to be in conflict with one another. And it looks as though Kitchens is just stubborn enough to maintain the norm in spite of it.

Coaching the Cleveland Browns should not be a learning-on-the-job situation. But that’s exactly what Kitchens is going through as he makes his share of mistakes. In a sense, that penalizes the players.

This mistake-filled and undisciplined football team has played only one good game this season and is fortunate to be where it is. It is a true reflection of where it should be.

It has become abundantly clear the Browns have no idea how to win a game. They have perfected the art of underachieving that must baffle and frustrate their fans. In most instances, they beat themselves more than the opposition does.

They lead the National Football League in penalties by a wide margin with no signs of letting up. That right there is a direct reflection on the head coach, who says he doesn’t coach that. Wonderful.

They turn the football over with alarming regularity, mostly because quarterback Baker Mayfield is playing worse, much worse, than he did as a rookie last season. The NFL defenses have caught up to him and figured him out. And the offensive brain trust has not adjusted.

The mistakes come in all varieties: Mental, physical, ignorant and downright careless. They all count and frequently draw yellow laundry. Don’t blame the officials. They aren’t looking for infractions.

And how often have we seen a flag thrown after a plus play? Way too many. Their timing, often after such a play, is exquisite.

After 20 years of excruciatingly bad football, fans believed they finally had reason to give thanks to still be around to witness the turnaround. The comeback from futility. The climb back to respectability. Putting Cleveland back on the NFL map in a positive way.

And what have they received in return thus far this season of hope? A rerun of what football has been like on the lakefront. Another slap in the face. Another letdown after a big buildup.

The only things that change are the names on the back of the uniforms and the faces under the helmet. Otherwise, it’s the same old, same old.

After Sunday’s you-just-knew-it-was-coming two-point loss to Seattle, Mayfield put forth the notion in a hypothetical sense that this is not a bad football team.” If we don’t hurt ourselves, this team can go anywhere it wants to go,” he said “ . . . If we eliminate that, we can be a great football team.”

That’s the rationale of a loser. If this, if that. If, if, if, if, if. Winners don’t talk like that. 

Here is an absolute: The record does not lie. And someone on high needs to take responsibility for this mess and do something about it.

The only possible saving grace to all this stuff is a much easier second-half schedule. After the Browns fall to 2-5 following their visit to New England game in two weeks, they face only one team with a winning schedule  (Buffalo) the rest of the way.
*       *       *
Perhaps it’s because he doesn’t want to lose the confidence of his unit, though it is slowly ebbing, but Mayfield maintains the same confident, cocky, sometimes smug persona he brought to the team.

He doesn’t seem, though, to be learning from his mistakes. He is still trying to squeeze passes into tight windows, the kind with which he had outstanding success last season.

But last season is not this season and Mayfield ‘s accuracy percentage (56.6%) resides in a neighborhood that ranks him near the bottom of the NFL. He sat at 63.8% last season with 27 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions.

This season, it’s five touchdown passes and 11 interceptions, the most in the league. But receivers who had problems holding on to the ball that bounced up and wound up in the opposition’s hands have victimized him on at least four of those picks.

The Browns’ 14 turnovers rank 31st, while their turnover ratio of -6 is 30th.  The defense, which was much more opportunistic last season, has only eight takeaways, including four picks. Last season, they had 31 takeaways, including 17 interceptions, and a T/O ratio of +7, tied for sixth overall.

The defense has not been nearly as opportunistic this season and Mayfield has had longer fields with which to operate. But that does not excuse his uneven play and failure to make plays in clutch situations.
*       *       *
There was a lot of bitching and moaning about the officiating against the Seahawks game Sunday. It centered mostly on three calls against the Browns, two back-to-back midway through the third quarter after the Seahawks had taken a 25-20 lead.

I normally do not criticize officials because they have a tough job. Unless, that is, I see something egregiously wrong. And I saw one in that game.

It took place after Chris Hubbard, who was correctly flagged for being an ineligible receiver downfield on a pass play. The offensive tackle was four yards past the line of scrimmage when Mayfield released the ball and connected with Odell Beckham Jr. on an 18-yard pass. Replay clearly showed it. Good call.

It was the flag on the next play I had a problem with. Mayfield hit Chubb on a short pass that picked up just four yards. But Jarvis Landry, blocking for Chubb, was incorrectly nailed for an illegal blind side block.

The player he supposedly blindsided was Seahawks safety Marquise Blair, who was chasing Chubb. Landry did not move as Blair approached him and absorbed a blow initiated by the safety, who fell as a result of the collision. It was a legal block by the stationary Landry and should not have been flagged.

A third flag, thrown for a horse collar tackle, was thrown after Cleveland safety Morgan Burnett dragged down Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson from behind early on the drive midway through the fourth quarter  that turned out to be the game winner.

Burnett grabbed Wilson’s jersey around his right shoulder from behind and slowly pulled him to the ground. His hand was in the vicinity of the collar, but definitely not on it. Wilson seemed to exaggerate his back-bending fall. It was convincing enough to influence a flag. Iffy, at best, call.
*       *       *
Finally . . . Once again, the Browns lost the time of possession battle, the Seahawks owning the football for nearly 34 minutes and converting six of 14 opportunities on third down.  A week ago, the San Francisco 49ers hogged the ball for nearly 38 minutes and were six-for-16 on third down. Adding it up, Cleveland has had ball possession for exactly 48 minutes and 36 second in the last two games. That includes punts. . . .  Myles Garrett picked up two more sacks – he cost himself a third by being offside on the play – and now has nine on the season, tying Tampa Bay linebacker Shaquil Barrett for the NFL lead. . . . Chubb has been the Browns’ MVP on offense, averaging 101 yards rushing a game. He has rushed for 470 yards and five touchdowns in the last four games, averaging 5.95 yards a pop. He has logged 75 yards or more in five of the six games. He needs to get the ball more frequently when the Browns have the lead.. . . .Hard to believe the defense has swiped only four passes this season, probably because fragile starting cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams are still nursing hamstring injuries. Ward has played only one game and Williams has played just two. Whether they’ll be back for the Patriots game in a couple of weeks is anyone’s guess.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

That looked all too familiar

At least the Browns looked a helluva lot better Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks than they did seven days ago in San Francisco. But they looked so awful against the 49ers, just about anything would look better than that mess.

And what did it get them? Another loss at home, this time by a 32-28 score to the Seahawks, who added four more turnovers to the runaway train of mistakes by the Cleveland offense.

Check off three more interceptions by Baker Mayfield, whose receivers looked as though they're  just learning how to catch a thrown football. Two of the picks were not his fault, bouncing off his guys’ hands into the hands of the other guys'.

When you turn over the football four times after taking a 20-6 lead, scoring on the first three possessions just six seconds into the second quarter, you stand an excellent good chance of losing your third straight home game and watching your overall record dip to 2-4, three of the losses coming in the last four games.

(How in the world did the Browns crush the Baltimore Ravens few weeks ago – in Baltimore no less? Perfect example of what an aberration looks like.)

The Browns, despite shooting themselves in the rear flanks most of the afternoon, managed to regain the lead at 28-25 with 9:02 left in regulation after Michael Dickson’s punt from his end zone traveled only 23 yards.

The excellent field position followed a 10-play, 43-yard Cleveland drive that died early in the fourth quarter when Nick Chubb was stopped two yards shy of a touchdown on fourth down after coach Freddie Kitchens decided to gamble.

The Cleveland offense, for one of the few times since opening up the big lead early on, took advantage of the poor boot, Chubb scoring from three yards out after ripping off a 21-yarder for his second score of the game.

But with the ghosts of the past 20 years of Cleveland Browns football hovering above, fans naturally began to wonder how will they lose this one? What will go wrong? Not could . . . will. A nine-play, 79-yard sustained drive that burned 5:32 of the clock with Chris Carson diving the last yard, that’s what.

A successful two-point play made it a four-point game, which meant the Browns needed s touchdown to win. They didn’t come close, pretty much like what happened after the initial scoring outburst.

Mayfield threw his third pick of the day, which bounced of Dontrell Hilliard’s hands into the waiting arms of linebacker K. J Wright at the Cleveland 26. Ball game, adding to the too long a list of emotionally crushing losses for this franchise since 1999.

It has become abundantly clear this edition of the team does not know how to win football games. The Seahawks, on the other hand, do and that’s why they are 5-1 and remain one of the National Football League’s premier teams.

It’s a close call, but not incorrect to say the Browns lost this game more than the Seahawks won it. Although props must be given the visitors for hanging in there while the Browns grabbed the big early lead and not panicking.

The Browns self destructed in a variety of ways. All phases of the game contributed to this loss. The offense, of course, with all the turnovers, a soft defense and yes, even the special teams..

It seemed as though the Seahawks sensed the momentum shifting after D.J.. Moore blocked a Jamie Gillan punt after a three and out on the Browns’ first possession of the second quarter. The defense stiffened after the Seahawks reached the two-yard line and settled for a field goal. A rare victory for the defense.

Mayfield fired interceptions -- targeting Odell Beckham Jr. on the first and Jarvis Landry on the second -- on the next two possessions, the Seahawks taking advantage of the second, shaving the Cleveland lead to 20-18  on the first of Jaron Brown’s two scoring receptions.

It was at that point that fans began to lose hope that an upset was imminent, let alone possible. The offense seemed stuck in neutral, the defense wasn’t stopping very much. It was only  a matter of time before a veteran quarterback like Russell Wilson, who  has yet to throw a pick this season, would take advantage.

Combine an offense that with few notable exceptions lacks focus with a defense that has arguably the softest underbelly in the NFL and you're asking for trouble. The Browns flat out do not how to stop the run right now.

When four of the top five tacklers against Seattle are the members of the secondary – T. J, Carrie, Jermaine Whitehead, Terrence Mitchell and Damarious Randall – that’s a problem. A big problem.

The main culprits, though, are members of the defensive line who are getting overwhelmed on a weekly basis. What makes that more astonishing is most of the runners don’t encounter contact until they break into the secondary. That’s why the secondary continues to pile up impressive tackle totals.

Well, they won’t next week. Not unless the NFL mandates they have to play despite a bye.

The Browns sure can attack the quarterback, though, when he drops back to pass. Did so with three sacks of Wilson, raising the team total to an impressive 19.  But stopping the run? Totally clueless.

The Seattle offensive line, operating without starters Duane Brown and D. J. Fluker, missed neither as they opened enough holes for Carson and Wilson to help compile 170 total yards, laughingly an improvement over last week when the 49ers savaged the Browns for 275 yards.

After getting off to a decent (for them) start in the first three game of the season, 306 yards infantry style, they Browns' defense has been drilled and bashed for 618 yards n the last three. That’s an embarrassing 206 a game.

Something is clearly wrong and it appears as though defensive coordinator Steve Wilks either has no idea what the problem is or has no idea how to fix it. No matter what he calls, the opposition has the perfect rejoinder and it doesn’t work.

Carson, who was questionable with a shoulder all week, scored just the one time and churned out 124 yards on 23 carries. He did not look like someone who was questionable.

But when your defense seems as though it’s playing tackle football for the first time and is constantly getting beat off the snap by the opposition, running backs can easily pad their stats.

The disappointing season – all the hype that accompanied the Browns into this season is gone – has left one of the NFL's most ardent and passionate fans bases stunned.

Beckham, who dropped three passes Sunday, can’t be happy with all the losing. And an unhappy Beckham, based on his past behavior with the New York Giants, can be a problem.

Mayfield, it would appear, apparently no longer feels dangerous. Not with these poor performances. Whether it’s getting up, sitting down or just in general, the danger is gone.

He appeared to sustain a hip injury after getting hit on a scramble during the first possession of the second half and limped to the locker room. He was good enough to return and did not miss a series.

So now the Browns lick their numerous wounds, try to figure out what the hell is happening and get ready for the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots in Foxboro in two weeks.

It’s only a matter of time before the Dump Freddie Kitchens bandwagon loads up.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

On any given Sunday . . .

It’s still too early in the 2019 National Football League season to be talking this way, but the way the Browns have played football this season, it somehow makes sense.

“Right now, the season can go either way,” said struggling wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. the other day as Sunday’s invasion of the Seattle Seahawks creeps  closer.  “We are at that fork in the road.

“It’s funny we’re all having these conversations where I feel like in the past this team might have been 1-4, 0-5 and now we’re all upset because we’re 2-3.”

Beckham is absolutely right. In the past, a 2-3 record at this point of the season would be reason to be joyous, overjoyed in fact, even downright gleeful. It’s a strange feeling that takes a little getting used to.

This season is teetering on one game. One game in a 16-game schedule, according to Beckham can conceivably be the determining factor in how the rest of the season unfolds. He called that kind of thinking “a good mind-set we have that we are upset we are 2-3 and know we’re capable of doing more. It’s just about doing more.”

Added fellow wideout Jarvis Landry, “We’re 2-3 and easily a couple of those games, our record again could be flipped to 4-1.” Well, 3-2 maybe, but not 4-1. Tennessee and San Francisco drilled the Browns. The only time they had a good chance to win and didn’t was the Los Angeles Rams game.

Landry admits the Browns aren’t playing up to their potential. “We haven’t been making enough plays, whether we’ve been put in position or not,” he said candidly. “Our playmakers haven’t really been given a lot of opportunities to make plays.”

A well-placed and not-so-veiled shot at coach Freddie Kitchens and offensive coordinator Todd Monken, the so-called masterminds behind an offense that has been inconsistent and spectacularly disappointing.

This pivotal game against one of the best teams in the league, if Beckham and Landry are featured, will go a long way in determining the path the Browns take not only in the immediate future, but the rest of the season.

They believe one of the best ways to succeed in taking the correct direction on that forked road is to maximize the reasons they were brought to Cleveland in the first place. In short, “doing more” translates to throw them the damn ball.

Upsetting the Seahawks is mandatory with the New England Patriots awaiting them after the bye week. Entering that game in Foxboro at 2-4 virtually guarantees a 2-5 start and a howling fan base bellowing for heads to roll.

Optimists say cool it. Better days lie ahead. They point to a much easier schedule in the second half of the season than the minefield that is the first half. And they play a stretch later on: Four out of five games at home, including three in a row.

Besides, the win-loss rhythm of this schedule suggests a possible Browns victory against the Seahawks. They are L-W-L-W-L in the first five games. Two of those Ls, however, were at home.

Okay, that’s a stretch. Ot is it? Moving on.

Two factors for this one: The Seahawks have lost only one game this season. And the Browns have yet to win a home game in two attempts.

The ‘Hawks are not overwhelming anyone this season from a statistical standpoint.  They just beat you with sound, fundamental, mistake-free football. Four of their five games this season have been decided by six points or fewer, including their lone loss to New Orleans.

They come limping in along the offensive line with tackle Duane Brown (biceps) and guard D. J, Fluker (hamstring) listed as doubtful as of Saturday, which means they won’t play. That’s 40% of an offensive line that right now can dress only six healthy men.

George Fant, who doubles as a tight end the closer the Seahawks get to the opposing team’s goal line, takes over for Brown at left tackle, while former Ohio State standout Jamarco Jones fills in at right guard for Fluker.

Which means the Cleveland defensive front, especially the pass rush, should have an enjoyable and productive afternoon, at least theoretically, chasing Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson and gaining a small measure of redemption from its sorry effort last Sunday night against San Francisco.

Keep an eye on how much of a push off the snap the defensive front gets. If they duplicate their effort 49ers effort against the Seattle, it will be a long afternoon.
The run defense, torn to shreds for 275 yards by the Niners, will get another severe test from the Seahawks, who love to run the football.

Myles Garrett, who has nearly half of the club’s 16 sacks, was held in check by 49ers rookie offensive tackle Justin Skule last weekend with just one sack and a couple of tackles. But he’s not getting much help from the rest of his linemates, except Larry Ogunjobi, who at least occasionally makes plays.

Newcomers Sheldon Richardson and Olivier Vernon have not played anywhere near what was expected of them. Richardson has been a cipher next to Ogunjobi, who at least puts some pressure on the quarterback. The seven-year pro, who played for the Seahawks  in 2017, has made no discernable contributions this season.

Vernon, who brought 51 sacks over a seven-year career to the Browns, checks in with just one this season from left end. He has taken no heat whatsoever off Garrett on the other side. Add in only 11 tackles, just seven solo, and it’s puzzling why Genard Avery is still tethered to the bench.

Keeping Wilson in check is a monumental task. The smallish Wilson – he’s about two inches shorter than Baker Mayfield – is still, at 31, one of the slipperiest quarterbacks in the NFL when escaping the pocket. He extends plays with the best of them.

The Seahawks run the football 47% of the time. They no doubt are licking their chops when they notice the Browns cough up 151 yards on game on the ground, Chris Carson coming back from a shoulder injury, and Rashaad Penny bear the brunt of the heavy load on the ground.

But it’s Wilson the Browns must pay close attention to.  He is quietly having the best year of his eight-year career – and that’s saying something with two Super Bowl appearances and a Vince Lombardi Trophy on his résumé  – with 12 touchdown passes, a 73% completion rate and no interceptions.

He is also the second-leading rusher with 120 yards, almost all on scrambles, and a pair of touchdown runs. On the minus side, he has been sacked 13 times and with Brown and Fluker out, that total could easily climb.

His favorite targets are wide receiver Tyler Lockett (three touchdowns) and tight end Will Dissly, who has 23 receptions, four of which wound up in the end zone. And with the Browns ‘ seemingly never-ending problem covering tight ends, look for him to be a major target Sunday.

The Seahawks, who barely squeezed past Cincinnati and Pittsburgh by a total of three points in the first two games of the season, are more vulnerable on defense.

Mayfield and & Co., who played with sloth-like speed against the 49ers, should, again theoretically, have more success against a Seattle defense that has allowed 351 yards a game, a 65% pass completion rate and intercepted only three passes.

Where the Browns might encounter trouble is when Mayfield drops back to pass. Maybe. The Seahawks’ pass rush has been the most disappointing aspect of the defense with only 10 sacks, which means they are due to erupt against some unsuspecting team with the likes of Jadeveon Clowney, Ziggy Ansah and Al Woods.

Try to run, though, and you find the defense’s strength. It has allowed only 80 yards a game, which means Nick Chubb undoubtedly, will draw a major portion of the attention.

It’s the weak secondary the Browns hope to exploit with the return of Rashard Higgins and Antonio Callaway, plus a concentrated effort to make Beckham and Landry a major part of the offense. Maybe the most major.

The first inclination when making a predication for this one is to consider the Seahawks are making a cross-country trip with a three-hour time difference and making that a factor. But the Seahawks are a surprising 14-12 when playing in the Eastern and Central Time Zones since 2014. So much for that.

Then I looked again at the Seahawks’ relatively underwhelming statistics and almost convinced myself there’s more to those stats than meets the eye. There is a reason they are 4-1. So much for that, too.

And then I looked again at the undulating record the Browns have put together thus far. The L-W-L-W-L season is somewhat intriguing. So much so, I thought why not? I remembered the meme uttered initially by NFL Commissioner Bert Bell nearly eight decades ago.

It goes like this: “On any given Sunday, any team in the National Football League team can beat any other team.” The Seahawks should win this game because they are the better team. But the better team does not always win. And this feels like an “any given Sunday” moment. The Browns even their record at 3-3. Make it:

Browns 24, Seahawks 22

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Mid-week thoughts

Two subjects . . . many thoughts.

Both subjects are of the highest profile on the Browns’ landscape. Each is now going through what might be best described as difficult times.

By now, you have probably (and correctly) guessed the subjects are Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham Jr. First, the face of the franchise.
*       *       *
Baker Mayfield arrived in Cleveland with a gigantic chip on his shoulder. He placed it there himself as he climbed the ladder of success despite his smallish stature.

He wasn’t supposed to experience success when he enrolled at Texas Tech in 2013 and walked on as freshman. And yet, he beat the odds and became the starting quarterback until someone named Patrick Mahomes came along.

He wasn’t supposed to win the starting job at Oklahoma after walking on following his transfer from Tech. And yet, he beat the odds again after sitting out one season.

And he was nothing more than a long shot to win the most coveted college football award. The fact he became the 2017 Heisman Award winner did not surprise him because bucking the odds became his credo.

The disrespect shown him throughout his collegiate career followed him into his professional football career when Browns General Manager John Dorsey stunningly made Mayfield the top overall selection in the college football draft.

Yet another hurdle to climb. Prove to the naysayers that once again they were wrong about him and underestimated what he could do on the next level. He was short and did not possess the greatest of guns as a thrower.

And yet, that’s exactly what he did in his rookie National Football League season, setting a record for most touchdown passes (27) for a first-year quarterback. He did that despite watching from the bench for the first two games.

That chip on the shoulder has served him well. Until now. It seems to have disappeared as a motivating factor. Many wheels have fallen off the Baker Mayfield bandwagon. No one seems to know why 2018 Baker Mayfield is missing in 2019.

He’s still on the small side and he still can’t throw a football through a brick wall. But the magic that propelled him to enormous success along the way has disappeared. Poof. Gone. Just like that. Has the chip been discarded now that he’s made it?

With the exception of one game, the big victory over Baltimore, Mayfield cannot be counted on to win games with clutch passes this season. The feeling that somehow he will do something special to win a game is AWOL. He is no longer making big plays when big plays are needed.

Remember the tight windows he threw through last season? They are sill there, but his isn’t firing his passes through them anymore. He’s missing larger windows, too. His 55.9% accuracy is far below his norm. It’s gotten to the point where he is missing wide-open receivers.

The disrespect he entered the league with, the one that disappeared at the end of last season, is back. Those highly skeptical about him when he entered the league slunk back into the shadows with his success last season. They are back.

Their criticism for the most part is spot on. Mayfield is showing zero signs he is anywhere near where he was a year ago. With the exception of a rare glimpse or three, that quarterback is struggling.

Whether it’s the coaching, the scheme, the game plans is anyone’s guess. He is being humbled, despite a brash and confident approach that seems to be there when he speaks.

Browns guard Joel Bitonio may have unlocked part of the mystery. It involves those who play against his quarterback.“ It’s one of those things that people, they see Baker’s name, they see him in the media, they see some of his quotes . . . and they want a piece of him,” he said. “. . . It’s the way they motivate themselves to play.”

Mayfield is a lightning rod for controversy. Let’s face it. His strongest attribute is not modesty. He’s the kind of person who doesn’t seek trouble, but somehow it always finds him, The latest incident was the Nick Bosa flag waving a few days ago mocking Mayfield’s flag-planting at Ohio State in 2017.

Instead of ignoring it when asked about it, Mayfield felt compelled to answer snarkily. “Good for him,” he said. “He had it premeditated. He’s been thinking about it obviously for two years now. That’s a long time to think about a loss.” Not exactly what you’d call ambassadorial.

But he sure has been brought down a peg or two in the first five games with Seattle and New England, two pretty good defensive teams, straight ahead. Now that the disrespect has resurfaced, Mayfield needs to rediscover that chip and place it back on that shoulder. If it’s still there, it’s not working and he needs new motivation.

Proving people wrong about him is such a big part of his game. It might have to follow him the rest of his career if his peculiar performances this season are any indication.

(One last memo to Mayfield: Never carry a football in your throwing hand and wave it around carelessly while scrambling like it’s a loaf of bread. It’s not and your hands aren’t big enough to secure it. That’s why you fumbled late in the first quarter against the 49ers and turned the ball over.)
*        *       *
What was though initially to be a offensive dream matchup for the Browns this season is stuck in neutral with no solution in sight.

Mayfield and Odell Beckham Jr. got off to a terrific start in the first two games, connecting on 13 passes for 232 yards, including a dazzling 89-yard touchdown catch and run in the victory over the New York Jets. He was targeted 21 times.

In the last two games, Mayfield found him just four times (two in each game) for a paltry 47 yards and no visits to the end zone. The symbiosis between the two has all but disappeared.

That’s not what John Dorsey and Freddie Kitchens expected when the general manager traded for the extraordinarily talented wide receiver.  The frustration is mounting, especially in light of the 31-3 pounding the Browns absorbed in San Francisco Sunday night.

Beckham experienced losing a lot in five seasons with the New York Giants and was not shy about venting his concerns. It gained him the reputation of being difficult. Part of that reputation followed him to Cleveland.

Mayfield is aware of his current frustration. “You can’t blame him,” the quarterback said. “That’s one of the best receivers in the league and if he’s not getting the ball, he always has that in the back of his mind ‘what if I did get the ball and changed this game.’”

It’s obvious opposing teams are doing everything they can to take Beckham out of the game. It’s just as obvious it’s working, adding to the mounting frustration.

The coaching staff is trying everything to make certain Beckham gets his hands on the football as often as he can. They’ve called two plays thus far that enabled Beckham to show off his strong throwing arm.

He was used a decoy at times like in the 49ers loss. He was lined up in the backfield on one play and Mayfield faked a pitch toss to him simulating a sweep to the right side while handing off to Nick Chubb going the other way, a misdirection play that netted 37 yards.

It became so frustrating toward the end of the game, Beckham decided to add punt returner to his résumé. That’s another way of getting his hands on the football.
What followed was disastrous and embarrassing.

First of all, he should not have been in the game. Why risk one of your most valuable players? The Browns were down, 28-3, at the time with seven minutes left in regulation and no chance of winning. What in the world were the special teams coaches thinking?

Beckham caught Mitch Wishnowsky’s punt cleanly at the Cleveland 34. That was the only thing he did right. Four moves of desperation to escape tacklers and six yards in reverse later, he fumbled and lost the football. It led to a 49ers field goal.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Monday leftovers (Tuesday edition)

Blunt question time. It’s an either/or with Baker Mayfield in the crosshairs.

Is he the franchise quarterback the Browns believed he was at the conclusion of the 2018 season? Or is he just another in a long line of Cleveland quarterbacks who flash and then ultimately disappear?

Given the uneven performances we have seen from the brash Texan this season, that is a legitimate question that appears to have no immediate right or wrong answer, but it is definitely downtrending.

It is entirely possible that after his spectacular rookie season, National Football League defenses have finally caught up to him and figured him out. The 31-3 thrashing against San Francisco Monday night was a warning shot delivered across the bow.

This is where your rising star begins its ascent, the 49ers seemed to be telling Mayfield, who was thoroughly beaten up until coach Freddie Kitchens decided to let backup Garrett Gilbert finish the game late in the final quarter.

“I thought he was taking too many hits unnecessarily,” coach Freddie Kitchens said, lamely defending his extremely slow hook when it was clearly obvious the game was lost with 15 minutes left and the Niners frolicking in the Cleveland offensive backfield.

Why Mayfield was even in there at that juncture of the game against a team determined to pound the living daylights out of him (and succeeding) and working behind an offensive line full of turnstiles is beyond all reasoning.

The 49ers were leading, 28-3, midway through the final quarter and the Browns gave no indications whatsoever they were a threat. And yet there was the face of the franchise lined up in the defense’s sights.

Niners rookie defensive end Nick Bosa used Mayfield as his personal rag doll all evening. He was in the Cleveland backfield so often, one would have thought the former Ohio State star was either in the offense’s game plan or the quarterback’s personal valet with an anger problem.

Bosa, starting his first game after battling injuries since training camp, started a personal vendetta against Mayfield from the first snap and did not relent until the quarterback watched the game’s final series from the safety of the bench.

No one stopped him. Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks tried a number of different ways, but all various members of the offensive line could do was flail hopelessly as Bosa worked his way back to his intended target.

His motivating force was a remembrance of a certain September night at the Horseshoe in Columbus in 2017 when Mayfield’s Oklahoma University team upset the Buckeyes and waved his school’s large flag at midfield after the game and then planted it in the Block O.

On the final play of the first half, Bosa penetrated (for the umpteenth time) the Cleveland backfield, grabbed Mayfield and was in the process of spinning him down when the quarterback heaved a desperation pass to avoid another sack. It was correctly ruled intentional grounding.

Bosa, who wound up with four solo tackles, two sacks, five quarterback hits, six hurries and a fumble recovery, jumped up gleefully and with predesigned purpose pretended to wave an imaginary flag back and forth with both hands before planting it into the turf. If humiliation and mocking Mayfield was his goal . . . bull’s-eye.

“I think everybody knows what that was for,” Bosa said after the game. “I just wanted to get payback. He had it coming,”

The game that came easily to Mayfield last season no longer exists. Whether it’s him, the scheme, the awful offensive line, the lack of consistency, the lack of rhythm, the sophomore jinx (had to throw that in), whatever, it is not working. And there seems to be no solution.

The normally brash, this-is-who-I-am personality, who has welcomed large numbers of fans aboard his bandwagon in the last year, was humbled in a most forceful and embarrassing manner Monday night. How he handles it will go a long way in determining the direction this team heads as the season wears on.

As it turns out, the trouncing of the Baltimore Ravens last Sunday, thought to finally be a turning point for a Browns team that seemed to have no discernable direction, was indeed an aberration.

If nothing else, it must be noted ESPN commentator Rex Ryan might have been more spot-on than he realized when he said Mayfield was “overrated as hell” a couple of weeks ago. The ex-coach’s flip remark might be closer to being correct than initially received in Cleveland.
*       *       *
The Browns have now played three prime time nationally beamed games in the first five weeks. They won one against a badly beaten up New York Jets team, lost a close one to the much better Los Angeles Rams and then the nightmare that was the trip west.

I wonder if television executives, who have some influence as to which teams they would like to see more than once on their networks, regret selecting the Browns as one of those teams.

There is no question they bought the hype that flowed out of Cleveland this summer after their performance in the second half of last season. The glamour of Mayfield and Odell Beckham Jr. also had to be a magnet for their interest.

They have been rewarded with something other than the kind of football they hoped to glean from this team. And there is still one more to go; a Thursday night date against Pittsburgh at home in the middle of next month. The Dec. 1 rematch with the Steelers at 4:25 p.m. on CBS might also be seen in a large majority of the country.

That brings to mind the last time TV execs fell in love with the Browns. It was 2008, the year after they surprised most everyone by tying the Steelers for the AFC North title with a 10-6 record, but failing to make the playoffs on a tiebreaker.

They were awarded a couple of Monday night appearances, a third on Sunday night and the requisite Thursday night gig on the NFL Network. They split those games, but finished the season 4-12, waving adios to Romeo Crennel after four seasons.

That began a carousel of five coaches in the next 10 seasons before Kitchens came along. Remember Eric Mangini, Pat Shurmur, Rob (We Believe in Chud) Chudzinski, Mike Pettine and the truly forgettable Hue Jackson?

Could history be surreptitiously repeating itself? Ironically, maybe coincidentally, the Browns began the 2008 season 2-3 after five games, the same record the current team owns. They lost nine of the final 11 games. A portent of things to come 11 years later?
*       *       *
Wonder what’s going through John Dorsey’s mind now after the humbling loss to the 49ers. The general manager has some ‘splainin to do to his boss, the man who signs his paychecks.

He cant be happy at all with (a) the ill-prepared team that showed up in all three phases of the game Monday night,  (b) the shabby performance of those who ply their trade in the trenches, handily manhandled by their counterparts from San Francisco, (c) the shocking lack of speed and quickness on both sides of the football, and (d) his head coach.

He has to wonder if this team is underachieving at this early point of the season and not to worry because things will get better. Or are they incapable of playing beyond their potential – this is the best they can play – and fixes need to be made.

His head coach said the defensive line was the strength of the team. That 49ers gouged and gashed that “strength” for 275 yards on the ground, 185 in the first half alone. An incredible 170 of those first-half yards were gained before contact was made. The Niners’ offensive line is good, but not that good.

And while the players seemingly like their head coach and play hard for him, they don’t seem to be playing smart for him, making dumb mistakes with alarming frequency. Good teams do not lose games by scores of 43-13 and 31-3 five games into a season. That is a blaring sign something is wrong.
*       *       *
Antonio Callaway’s return after a four-game suspension was memorable, but hardly in a good way. The second-year wide receiver was the target on Mayfield’s first interception, Richard Sherman grabbing the underthrown ball on the play following Matt Breida’s 83-yard touchdown run that opened the scoring in the first quarter.

The Browns were down just 14-3 late in the second quarter and driving when they reached the 49ers’ nine-yard line.  “Here come the Browns,” exclaimed ESPN play-by-play voice Joe Tessitore. Three plays later, with Callaway taking center stage, the Browns proved him wrong.

Callaway was flagged for moving prematurely on first-and-goal at the nine. A Mayfield to Beckham connection picked up seven yards and Nick Chubb was stuffed for no gain, bringing up a first-and-goal at the seven.

Mayfield found Callaway, alone and sitting just outside the goal line, but he juggled the pass, knocking the ball up in the air in the process. Frisco cornerback K’Waun
Williams, an ex-Brown, grabbed it out of the air and rambled 51 yards. The 49ers offense converted the turnover into a score six plays later.

So instead of the Browns pulling to within 14-10, the home team took a 21-3 lead into the locker room. All Callaway had to do, but didn’t, was simply hold on to the ball and roll into the end zone. The ultimate dagger.
*       *       *
Finally . . . Mayfield did not seem concerned after the game. “I’ll be all right,” he said. “It’s just the nature of the game. I’ll be good.” . . . Chubb continued his strong running with 87 yards, but became a non-factor when the Browns were forced to throw after falling so far behind. . . . The 49ers controlled the football for nearly 38 minutes, running 71 plays from scrimmage to Cleveland’s 46. . . . Eleven of those Cleveland plays were on third down, They converted once – early in the second quarter on a third-and-6 – a 12-yard Mayfield-Jarvis Landry hookup. . . . Let’s see now: The Niners forced four Cleveland turnovers, ran for 275 yards, had a commanding edge in time of possession and held the Browns to 180 total yards. Yep, that’s called domination. . . . Strong safety Morgan Burnett returned after missing a couple of games. Cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams remained sidelined with hamstring issues. . . . Ricky Seals-Jones, who caught a TD pass in the Baltimore victory, barely appeared on the stats sheet with one target. Mayfield targeted the tight end on the fourth play of the initial series, but he couldn’t keep both feet in bounds after catching a 30-yarder. A replay challenge overturned the original call of a completed pass. Mayfield never threw to him again. . . . . The final score could have been a lot worse. Normally reliable veteran placekicker Robbie Gould missed three of his four field goal attempts.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Turn out the lights . . . 

Label this one “Not Ready for Prime Time” because the Browns aren’t even remotely close to being ready for the national spotlight.

Not after the spanking – no, make that butt whipping – administered by the San Francisco 49ers Monday night to the tune of 31-3. And it wasn’t even that close.

The Browns, who temporarily rediscovered how to play the game of football last week in Baltimore, embarrassed themselves in front of a national television audience that no doubt tuned out at the half with the Niners comfortably ahead, 21-3.

The worst move they made was actually showing up for this one because they were not nearly ready to play a game of football. They got hammered in every conceivable way.

They exposed themselves as pretenders, at least for this week, at this point of the season as they continue their Jekyll/Hyde trek through the 2019 schedule, never knowing from week to week what to expect.

They are truly a riddle wrapped up in an enigma and nobody, not even coach Freddie Kitchens, who will trundle once again back to the drawing board in an effort to unlock the growing mystery of this team, knows what do expect next Sunday at home against Seattle.

The offense turned the ball over five times, an overwhelming display of generosity that looked suspiciously like the kind of football Browns fans have been (sarcasm alert) treated to (end alert) the last two decades.

Baker Mayfield had the absolute worst game of his brief National Football League career, courtesy of a marauding Niners defense led by rookie defensive end Nick Bosa.

The former Ohio State star had four solo tackles, two of the club’s four sacks, two tackles for loss, hit Mayfield five times, hurried him a half dozen other times and was a general nuisance. He also recovered a Mayfield fumble and no doubt will be named the NFC’s rookie of the week, if not defensive player of the week.

Mayfield completed only eight of his 22 passes, threw two more interceptions, lost a fumble, had three passes batted down at the line of scrimmage and just looked lost.

The Browns were also their own worst enemy when they actually put together a couple of drives in the first half that landed them in the red zone., which for most teams is a good sign.

Not the Browns, who have displayed this season an annoying tendency to gag when inside the other team’s 20-yard line.

Mayfield moved the offense to within sniffing distance of the goal line twice in the second quarter on consecutive drives, getting to the seven-yard line both times, but got only an Austin Seibert field goal out of them.

The other possession died when Antonio Callaway juggled what should have been a touchdown pass into the air at the goal line, The ball bounced into hands of former Brown K’Waun Williams who raced it back 51 yards to the Cleveland 49.

The 49ers, now uneaten after four games, showed the Browns, how to play great football in all three phases of the game. The trenches belonged solely to the home team. The Niners outclassed, outplayed, outcoached, outhustled, outeverythinged the Browns from start to finish.

It was not a fair fight.

The well-coached home team made the Browns looks as though they were playing in a mud bog. That’s how quick and fast they were. It wasn’t so much a physical beating as it was a psychological beating.

The San Francisco offense, quite literally on its first play of the game, foretold the future when running back Matt Breida bolted out of the backfield as if shot from a cannon and romped 83 yards for a touchdown.

A fluke, Browns Nation might have uttered, remembering Nick Chubb’s 88-yard gallop in last week’s upset of the Ravens in Baltimore. Uh no. It set the tone for the rest of the evening.

It didn’t take long for Browns fans to figure out this was not going to be their night. On the first play following Breida’s run, Mayfield underthrew Callaway and was picked off by Richard Sherman. The defense held, but the pattern was set,

Just about everything the 49ers tried on offense worked, piling up an unbelievable 275 of their 446 total yards on the ground against a Cleveland defense that was designed specifically designed to stop the run. Breida and Tevin Coleman combined for 211 of those yards. The Cleveland offense, meanwhile, put up 180 yards. Total.

Cleveland area native Kyle Juszczyk was one of he main difference makers in the San Francisco offense. The big fullback made the stats sheet only twice, two pass receptions, but his outstanding blocking helped gash the Cleveland defense time and again.

To give you some idea of just how dominant the 49ers were on defense, their offense began four of their seven first-half drives in Cleveland territory. And they totally shut down Mayfield and Co. in the second half.

The Browns owned the ball four times in the final 30 minutes, compiling 29 yards on 13 plays, consuming six minutes and six seconds. Which means the defense was on the field for nearly 24 minutes. Making it worse was Odell Beckham Jr. fumbling away a punt return.

The Cleveland defense had no clue how to slow the plundering. The Niners’ offensive line owned the line of scrimmage. Of their 180 first-half ground yards in the first 30 minutes, a stunning 170 were gained before contact.

And when they got bored running the football, probably just to mix it up a bit, they threw the football quite successfully. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was 20-of-29 for 181 modest yards and a pair of touchdowns throws to George Kittle and Breida.

The only positive that can be gleaned from this nightmare – and this is where I clearly reach – was the punting of Jamie Gillan, who averaged 56.7 yards on seven boots.

One now can only wonder what awaits the arrival of the Seahawks in six days. It was just seven days ago the fortunes of this team took a sudden positive turn. It was viciously slapped down Monday night.

Head over heart

For the second straight game, the Browns face a team laden with impressive statistics away from the not-so-friendly confines of home.

This time, it’s the San Francisco 49ers on national television (for a third time this season) Monday night. That’s the undefeated San Francisco 49ers.

A brief timeout for a little history.

These two teams used to be great rivals back in old All-America Football Conference, which sent the Browns, 49ers and Baltimore Colts to the National Football League in 1950 when the league folded after four seasons.

The Browns, under coach Paul Brown, compiled a 47-4-3 regular-season record in those seasons and capped each with the championship. The 49ers accounted for half of those losses., including a 56-28 pasting in 1949. The Browns avenged that with a 21-7 victory in the final title game.

These teams have met only 19 times in the NFL since 1950, the Browns holding a 12-7 margin, including a 5-5 record in San Francisco. The last time they met was in  2015 with the Browns, behind Johnny Manziel and Isaiah Crowell, winning, 24-10, in Cleveland.

Back to the present.

The 2019 Niners, who boast strengths on both sides of the football, are coming off a bye week after knocking off three teams that boast a combined record of 3-12 and one team owns two of those victories.

The Browns, who will get a crack at finally winning a home game next Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, have played their best football on the road with victories in New Jersey against the New York Jets and Baltimore.

Last Sunday’s walloping of the Ravens was the beginning of a four-games-in-five-games-grind spread over six weeks with only the Seahawks’ visit and a bye
interrupting it.

The unexpected victory and surprising size of the Baltimore final score (40-25) propelled Browns Nation into fits of giddiness with the fallout leaving a good portion of the constituency feeling more than just hopeful against the 49ers.

It’s more like the Cleveland Browns Express, predicted by more than just a few on the NFL landscape to finally become a dominant team, has left the station after a slow start and is on its way.

And while the Browns were extremely impressive against the Ravens, two factors should at least slow down those who believe the Express will have little trouble against the Niners.

Travelling on the road is difficult to begin with. But when the journey covers nearly 2,500 miles and has a three-hour time difference, it’s almost impossible to determine how the body will react rhythmically to the new surroundings in a short period of time.

It’s possible the extra day between games will balance out that possible negative.   But then factor in the notion San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan, who also runs the offense, has had an extra week to choreograph a game.

Giving someone like the creative Shanahan an extra week to prepare his team on offense, especially since it is playing so well to begin with, will pose more than a few problems for Cleveland defensive coordinator Steve Wilks.

There is one absolute to Shanahan’s offense: The 49ers are a run-first football team. They are a throwback to the old run-game-sets-up-the-passing-game days of the NFL, which became a pass-happy league several years ago.

They run the football 57% of the time, which could possibly mean Wilks might shy away on early downs from the 4-2-5 look he has favored this season and bring in an extra linebacker to help shut down the run. Run support from the still-bruised secondary is essential if the Browns hope to force the Niners to throw the ball.

Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert do most of the heavy lifting behind an offensive line missing left tackle Joe Staley (broken leg) and are the big reasons the offense averages 175 yards a game infantry style. But neither has reached the end zone.

Jeff Wilson Jr., who has touched the football just 18 times this season oddly owns all four San Francisco touchdowns on the ground.

But when the Niners throw the football, which seems to be only when they absolutely need to, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo completes 69% of this throws. But he has a tendency to be careless.

The offense committed five turnovers against Pittsburgh two weeks ago, four by Garoppolo, who threw a pair of interceptions and fumbled away the ball on two other occasions. He has thrown four picks in addition to five TD passes.

The quarterback, who owns an overall 11-2 mark as a starter, also has a tendency to favor throwing between the hash marks. That’s where Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff found most of his success in the victory over the Browns earlier. 

Garoppolo loves to throw to tight end George Kittle, who had a breakout season in 2018 with 88 receptions, 1,377 yards and five touchdowns. He checks in this season with 17 catches for 165 yards. And with the Browns still trying to figure out how to cover tight ends, he should see the football plenty.

Other favorites include wide receivers Deebo Samuel, a rookie who has 11 grabs for 147 yards and one score, Marquise Goodwin and Dante Pettis.

If the Cleveland defense, which has 14 sacks, wants to put decent pressure on Garoppolo, it will have to do so quickly. The Rams have allowed just two sacks this season.

The weakness the Browns hope to exploit resides at left tackle, where rookie Justin Skule takes over for Staley and draws Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, who has six of those sacks, as his first assignment. Garrett should be snorting angry after being shut out last Sunday.

It will be interesting to see whether the Cleveland offense, which put up more than 500 yards against Baltimore, can come close against a 49ers defense that allows only 15 first downs and 283 total yards a game on average, while sacking opposing quarterbacks nine times.

Quarterback Baker Mayfield will be working with a full complement of wide receivers for the first time this season. Antonio Callaway is back from his four-game suspension and Rashard Higgins returns after missing three games with a knee problem.

Mayfield can expect to see a lot of pressure from the San Francisco defensive line, which boasts four No. 1 draft picks. The unit has accounted for all nine sacks. And they’re getting a healthy Nick Bosa back for this one.

The former Ohio State standout, slowed by an ankle sprain, has been declared healthy for the first time this season. In his limited time, he has one sack, but 17 quarterback pressures and half a dozen hurries.

Throw in veteran Dee Ford, a pass rush specialist who plays sparingly because of knee tendinitis, Arik Armstead and tackles DeForest Buckner and D. J. Jones and the mediocre Cleveland offensive line faces another stiff challenge.

Where the Cleveland offense should find success, if the offensive line can neutralize the 49ers pass rush, is through the air, where opposing team have found the most success.

With Mayfield now operating with four healthy receivers, it will be interesting to see how often San Francisco utilizes nickel and dime packages, which theoretically should open up the Cleveland run game.

Nine-year veteran cornerback Richard Sherman heads up the secondary. It will be interesting to see whom he is matched against. It is entirely possible Odell Beckham Jr. will be personally escorted around an opposing defensive backfield for the second straight week.

The Niners’ secondary will also be without cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (foot). Look for Mayfield to pick on backup Emmanuel Moseley.

On paper, this looks very much like last week’s game. The statistics say the 49ers should remain unbeaten. The stats last week said the Ravens should prevail. On the road last week; on the road this week. The head says 49ers; the heart says Browns. The head was wrong last week. It will not be wrong Monday night. Make it:

49ers 27, Browns 13