Monday, November 12, 2018

Monday leftovers

It was a cloudy day in Cleveland Monday, but you’d never know it in Browns Nation. The sun was shining brightly there.

The euphoria that gripped Browns fans after Sunday’s surprising 28-16 victory over the Atlanta Falcons is hanging around for at least the next few days as those fans add a little bounce to their step.

Smiles replaced the usual glum looks most Browns fans usually wear on Mondays throughout the season. And because of the bye week, it definitely should linger. It sure was good to feel good about being a Browns fan.

It wasn’t the totally unexpected victory that elicited that feeling as much as it was the manner in which it was achieved, the Browns putting together one of the best team efforts in a very long time.

Just about everything clicked on a day where they genuinely looked like a very good National Football League team. There were mistakes, of course, but even the good teams experience them. Keeping them to a minimum is the difference.

Some skeptics might consider this an overreaction to just one game. It’s just one-sixteenth of an entire season. What makes that so special, they no doubt wonder.

It’s because they do not know what it’s like to be a fan of this team. All they see on the outside is the terrible and often times embarrassing football this franchise has played since reentering the NFL in 1999.

They can’t relate to all the emotional suffering for nearly two decades. All the games that looked like victories until they became losses in some bizarre manner. They look at what happened Sunday against the Falcons and wonder why Browns fans got so excited about winning one game.

The notion it just might be an aberration does not enter their minds. Way too early for that. Nor does it foretell the future anymore than the four consecutive losses that preceded it.

We’ll all find out in a couple of weeks, of course, when the Browns resume the season in Cincinnati against the Bengals, who looked as though they were going to run away with the AFC North by winning four of their first five games.

But the ruggedness of the schedule has brought them back to reality in the last three games, during which their defense hemorrhaged 130 points with an upcoming Sunday date in Baltimore against the Ravens as they look to avoid being a .500 team when they welcome the Browns.

In the meantime, all that talk about whether the Browns will win another game this season or how high they will pick in the annual college football draft next spring can officially take a rest for the time being.
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Baker Mayfield had a ready answer to explain the reason his three-touchdown performance and firm control of the offense against the Falcons.

“When I woke up this morning,” he said, “I was feeling pretty dangerous.” And then, with exquisite timing, he waited a couple of seconds to let that sink in as the media chuckled. Then he did a small double eyebrow lift and followed up with a wry smile.

He was clearly enjoying sitting down after a game and not talking about a loss. The uniqueness of the situation prompted his playful dialogue with the reporters. And then he got serious.

“We have to build on it,” he said. “. . . We have to find the positives. We had a lot of positives this week. It’s going to be about how we handle that – not realizing or thinking we’ve made it because we haven’t. We’ll find out in two weeks.”

Mayfield talks not like a rookie who has only six games on his résumé, but one who has been around for a few seasons. It’s that part of his personality that seems to be rubbing off on his teammates.

I could see the difference in the offense the last two weeks. The confidence that was missing on that side of the football earlier, which probably was one of the reasons that triggered the firings of Hue Jackson and Todd Haley, has reappeared.

New offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens has given Mayfield an offense that requires quick decisions and quicker release of the ball, taking advantage of his accuracy and making it easier on the offensive line to protect him.

It also extends possessions. In the last two games, the Browns have owned the football 17 times with only one three-and-out. And that was the last possession of the Falcons game when the outcome was secured. At the same time, it keeps the defense well rested.

What excited fans Sunday were two throws on the same possession (the second of the afternoon) that provided a glimpse into what Mayfield’s afternoon was going to be like. “Pretty dangerous.”

They were the opening and final plays of what turned out to be an eight-play, 88-yard scoring drive that took nearly five minutes off the clock. It started off with Mayfield delivering a laser to Breshad Perriman on a 16-yard square out, a staple in a quarterback’s arsenal.

The ball was delivered impressively on a line and on time.  It was the beginning of a drive in which Mayfield completed all six of his passes for 85 yards. He capped it with a 28-yard scoring strike to Rashard Higgins after being forced out of the pocket and running to his right, connecting with a flick of the wrist to his wide receiver.

Quite impressive and definitely “pretty dangerous."
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The more I watch Nick Chubb, the more the rookie reminds me of Jamal Lewis, who was one of the stars of the strong Baltimore Ravens offense for six seasons and three more with the Browns from 2000-09.

Both are Georgia born and almost the same size. Both are 5-11. Chubb weighs 230 pounds; Lewis hovered between 235 and 240. Both own the same traits: Tough runner, hard to bring down and deceptively fast.

Lewis racked up 1,000-yard seven times in his nine-year NFL career, including a 2,000-yard campaign in 2003. He ran for 1,304 yards in his first season with Cleveland in 2007, when the Browns posted their only double-digit victory record since the return in 1999.

Believe it or not, Chubb still has a chance to reach 1,000 yards on the ground this season despite his relative non-use in the first six games. He sits at 579 yards, 421 yards shy of the mark with six games remaining. That’s 70 yards a game, which shouldn’t be a problem for him.

He is a smart runner with seemingly excellent vision who always seems to fall forward after getting hit. His jump cuts make him that much more difficult to square up for defenders attempting to bring him down.

He also uses his blockers beautifully. Perfect example was his dazzling – and team record – 92-yard touchdown run that put the game out of reach for the Falcons Sunday.

It started out as a simple stretch play to the strong side, but Chubb quickly took advantage of seal blocks by right guard Kevin Zeitler on his left and right tackle Chris Hubbard on his right, split them with a cutback move and then turned on the afterburners.

That trade of Carlos Hyde to Jacksonville is looking better by the game.
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Orson Charles is listed on the Browns’ roster as a tight end, but it appears as though he spends more time in the backfield lately as a blocking back than at his listed position.

The six-year NFL veteran has seen his snap count rise significantly in the last three games to almost twice the snaps in each of the first seven, He appears to be the primary blocker in front of Chubb in certain running situations,

The 6-3, 260-pounder seems to have gained he confidence of the coaching staff to the point where he enters the game when tough yards are needed. His increased snap count indicates he is becoming at least a semi-permanent figure in front of Chubb.

He was so thrilled with the Atlanta victory, he waylaid interim head coach Gregg Williams on his way to shake hands with Falcons coach Dan Quinn after the game and celebrated joyously by hoisting him in a bear hug and then exchanging fist bumps. 
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Finally . . . Mayfield threw as many incomplete passes (3) against the Falcons as he did touchdown passes. . . . He distributed his 17 completions among nine different receivers. . . . The Falcons entered the game with a 50% conversion rate on third down. They were 5-for-14 against the Browns. . . . The Browns needed only 50 plays from scrimmage to score their 28 points and produce 427 yards, a season-high 8.5 yards a play. . . . Chubb’s 20 carries was 40% of the offense. . . . Left offensive tackle Greg Robinson had problems with Falcons defensive end Bruce Irvin, picking up a couple of holding calls and fanning on Irvin, who blew right past him early in the third quarter and caused a Mayfield fumble which the quarterback recovered. . . . Williams has as many victories as interim boss as Jackson had in his first two seasons with the Browns. . . . Duke Johnson Jr. touch watch: Three carries, 15 yards; four receptions, 31 yards and a touchdown. Season totals: 26 carries, 130 yards; 33 receptions, 312 yards and three touchdowns. That’s 59 touches in 10 games for 442 yards, or 7.49 yards a touch. One can only imagine what the New England Patriots would do with Johnson’s talents.

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