Saturday, September 22, 2018

Monday leftovers (Saturday edition)

 Time to pump the brakes on who gets the call at quarterback when the Browns resume the season a week from Sunday out in Oakland against the Raiders. At least for now.

The charade will continue right through to Monday when coach Hue Jackson reveals his choice after laboring in thought over the weekend. He wants to first review the tape from the come-from-behind 21-17 victory Thursday night over the New York Jets. That is his right.

Then he wants to talk to his quarterbacks after making that decision. Also his right and probably the smartest move considering the egos of quarterbacks, especially those in danger of losing their jobs.

This one won’t be easy for Jackson because he has the unpleasant chore of informing Tyrod Taylor, the man he all but promised would be the starting quarterback most, if not all, of the season that he will begin clipboard duty in Oakland.

Taylor was brought to Cleveland to be the bridge quarterback to Baker Mayfield, the wunderkind selected with the first overall pick in the last college football draft.

Well, that bridge collapsed late in the second quarter of the Jets victory, the first for the Browns in 635 days, when Taylor was sacked for the third time and suffered a concussion.

Is there any doubt whatsoever in Browns Nation that Jackson in his Monday news conference will name Mayfield as the new starting quarterback – No. 30 since the 1999 return – regardless of where Taylor stands in concussion protocol?

Of course not. The way the team and crowd responded to Mayfield’s professional debut was evident from the moment he stepped on the field late in the second quarter and immediately put points on the scoreboard.

Jackson will have to travel through an emotional minefield with Taylor, who will not be a happy camper at all with the decision. And he shouldn’t be. He’ll probably wonder about Jackson’s commitment to him.

At the same time, the young veteran has been around the National Football League long enough to know situations like this happen. Those are the vagaries of the most important position on a football team.

It will be interesting to see how he takes this publicly. Will he be the good soldier and say he’ll do anything to help Mayfield in order to make the club better? Or will he sulk, angry that he unfairly lost his job due to an injury?

It’s pretty safe to assume, though, this probably will be Taylor’s only season in Seal Brown and Orange as he continues his trek along the highway of journeymen.

Jackson, whose job is dangling tenuously on a slim thread to begin with, knows he has to win now or else he will be an ex-head coach. Mayfield, at least based on his pro debut, gives him the best chance of winning.

It became extremely obvious once Mayfield entered the game that the offense ran much smoother and more effectively. There was a spark absent with Taylor running the huddle.

The offensive line, which seemed to just go through the motions under Taylor, began opening holes and protecting the quarterback a whole lot better with Mayfield. Taylor scrambled half the time because he had trouble finding open receivers and looked unsure in the pocket.

Don’t know how he does it, but Mayfield seems to have a sixth sense of lurking danger in the pocket and uses his feet to maneuver around and through it to give himself more time and a better passing lane with which to work.

Taylor seems reluctant to take chances, maybe because he doesn’t have a strong arm and trust himself to make high-risk throws. Not Mayfield, who completed five or six passes through tight windows with laser-like precision.

That can’t be taught. Either you have it or you don’t. Jackson had to see that, if not on the field, then certainly on tape. He saw it in training camp, in exhibition games and then up close and personal in money games.

Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin, who watched Mayfield’s performance against the Jets from his NFL Network perch, was impressed. After the game, he gushed about the rookie, then gave him a nickname.

“Baker (Money) Mayfield,” he said repeatedly and loudly. “Baker (Money) Mayfield.” That one might stick around a while.
*       *       *
Mayfield said something extremely interesting to the NFL Network crew after the game and might provide some insight, shed some light into what makes him seem special. He said it almost as an aside during a conversation.

 “I’ve always told myself I’m different,” he said, as if he sets himself apart from the crowd, as if he expects himself to do things well and is supremely confident in his ability to do so.

It’s not a swagger. It’s a quiet confidence that he will always find a way to do what needs to be done. And if he doesn’t initially, he will continue until he unlocks the mystery. Sort of an actions speak louder than words thing.

That confidence seemingly, at least based on the brief time he had the huddle against the Jets, translated into a show of entertaining offense that has been missing from this franchise for a very long time.

With Taylor, it was almost cross your fingers that he doesn’t make a mistake. With Mayfield, it’s uncross those fingers because you just know he’s going to make positive plays.

Taylor is not the future of this franchise. Mayfield is present and the future. He is also the new face of this franchise.
*       *       *  
Time once again to check in on the Browns’ special teams, which haven’t been special at all since Amos Jones was named special teams coordinator. It seems as though something goes wrong every time the Browns play a game. Thursdays game is no exception. It might have been the worst this season.

Let’s start with penalties, which has been a constant annoyance, it seems, every time the Browns are on the receiving end of a punt. Fans have become accustomed to yellow laundry flying every time Jabrill Peppers or Jarvis Landry wait for a punt to fall.

Against the Jets, it was two holding penalties and an illegal block in the back, all of which drives the starting line of scrimmage closer to the Cleveland goal line. Of the club’s five total penalties, three were against special teams.

Continuing with the punting game, Britton Colquitt had a punt blocked for the second time this season. Jets linebacker Kevin Pierre-Luis crashed past Nick Chubb of the Browns and blocked it, setting up a short field at the Cleveland 28. Five plays later, Isaiah Crowell scored the first of his two touchdowns for a 7-0 lead.

Why, for goodness sakes, is Chubb playing the wing on the punting unit? He’s a running back who probably hasn’t played special teams since he was a freshman at Georgia, if then.

After the second Crowell score, the ex-Brown committed an obscene act with the football and drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The Jets kicked off from their 20, but the best the Browns could do was return it only 19 yards to their 26.

One more kickoff blunder. Newcomer Greg Joseph booted a kickoff out of bounds before it reached the end zone after putting the Browns on the scoreboard for the first time with a field goal late in the first half. The Jets started the drive at their 40, but the Cleveland defense fortunately produced a three and out.

That’s five special teams mistakes by a team that can ill afford any mistakes by this unit. It’s getting worse by the game. Is it any wonder Arizona Cardinals fans sent Browns fans their condolences for having signed Jones after he spent five painful seasons (for Cards fans) in the desert?

Is anybody at 76 Lou Groza Blvd. paying attention to what’s going on with the not-so-special special teams? It’s about time they do.
*       *       *  
Taylor’s final stats in what in all likelihood will be his final game as a Cleveland Brown: 14 pass attempts, four completions for 19 yards; four runs (two designed) for 22 yards; and three sacks totaling 22 yards, in effect negating his rushing yards.

In his six possessions, the Browns totaled 79 net yards, only 48 yards and two first downs on the first five, and each ended with a Colquitt punt. The longest drive, No. 6, lasted 31 yards and concluded with Taylor sacked and heading to the concussion tent.

It was a sad display of quarterbacking and had to make one wonder whether offensive coordinator Todd Haley was the real culprit. Mayfield came on and almost immediately dispelled any such notion.
*       *       *
The Jets had a field day blitzing the daylights out of Taylor. It was noticeably quieted and rendered relatively ineffective soon after his departure, Mayfield acting as the antidote with his ability to get rid of the ball quickly. That’s when the Cleveland ground game – and offensive line – came alive.
*       *       *
A New York Post writer at the game was impressed after the game when Mayfield headed for the locker room. He labeled the exit “an ear-splitting roar, the chorus of a smitten fan base.”
*       *       *
The bad news now is the Browns have 10 days to enjoy this victory. Concentrating on the Oakland game might not be that easy. It will be interesting to see how long it takes to come down from that high. It will be up to Jackson and his coaches to keep their men grounded and refocus for the Raiders.
*       *       *
Finally . . . A few pundits around the nation now wonder whether the Browns are the new America’s team. First, it was the success of Hard Knocks. And ratings for the Thursday game were the highest in three years on the NFL Network. . . . Former Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas, who joined the NFL Network crew, on Mayfield: “This is not a false messiah. He is a legitimate franchise quarterback.” . . . There was an unusual name at the top of the tackles list for the Browns. Tackle Larry Ogunjobi led them with eight. The kid gets better by the game. . . . Rookie wide receiver Antonio Callaway caught four passes (on 10 targets) for only 20 yards. But Taylor underthrew him twice or else he would have added two touchdowns to his stats. Have to trust his speed.  Landry had eight receptions (on 15 targets) for 103 yards, That’s 25 targets between them out of 37 total. passes.. . . . Duke Johnson Jr. watch: After Jackson said Johnson would be a bigger part of the game plan, he touched the football only four times (two runs, two catches) for 33 yards. Someone is fibbing.

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