After being stymied for three quarters by the Browns’ elite defense, Baker Mayfield made good on his promise to fuck-up the Browns in the 4th quarter of Sunday’s Browns-vs-Panthers game. In that quarter, Baker completed 5 of 6 (83.3%) passes for 131 yards, including a stunning 75-yard TD pass.
When Baker handed the keys over to the Panthers defense, his new team was ahead 24-23 with only 1:13 left on the clock and the ball on the Browns’ 25-yard line. If Panthers defensive-end Brian Burns hadn’t headbutted Browns QB Jacoby Brissett, handing the Browns 15 yards, the Panthers likely would have won the game.
Baker did his job, and while the Panthers lost the game, Baker can certainly claim a moral victory.
Note: going by the “opponent yards per game” stat, the Browns had the #3 defense last year, and so far this year have the #5 defense. If Baker & the Panthers offense continue to play this well against such tough defenses, they will make the playoffs.
Number 1. When you look at Baker’s stats, you need to separate his games into OBJ-games and non-OBJ games. Here is an example of how to do it correctly: “A Tale of Two Mayfields.” Make sure to put the October 25, 2020 victory over the Bengals into the non-OBJ pile because OBJ was knocked out of that game early and did not record any stats. And Baker went wild shortly after OBJ was out of his hair.
When you isolate Baker from OBJ, you see eye-popping stats. Elite stats. Why OBJ’s presence discombobulated Baker is still a mystery, but unless the Panthers are foolish enough to sign OBJ they will likely be getting Elite Baker in September. And that, combined with his pal Rashard Higgins, should be a marvel to behold.
Number 2. Baker & Rashard Higgins are a dynamic duo. So much so that I wrote a blog titled: “12 Stats Where Rashard Higgins Beats Odell Beckham, Jr.” back in March of 2021. Panthers fans might be thinking of Higgins as a minor signing, but when he and Baker are on fleek, watch out! To me, seeing Baker & Higgins go to the same team is nothing short of miraculous. Of all the amazing stats the duo has put up, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see them exceeded in Carolina.
Number 3. Baker played under terrible coaches in Cleveland. In 2019, Freddie Kitchens hired a crony as QB coach. Kevin Stefanski forced Baker to play with OBJ even after irrefutable statistics became widely known. ESPN published the stats in October of 2020. EVERYBODY KNEW that Baker & OBJ needed a no-fault divorce to go on and prosper individually – except Stefanski. Will the Panthers coaching staff do any better? I don’t know, but it will be hard to do worse. If you just let Baker throw the ball to Higgins a bunch, you should be fine.
Number 4. Kevin Stefanski may have permanently damaged Baker. By not pulling Baker off the field when it was blatantly obvious that he should do so, Stefanski set Baker up for failure and may have permanently damaged his confidence. Baker spoke about this on a podcast earlier this year. During the 2021 season, the Browns had one of the highest-paid back-up QBs in the league: Case Keenum. And Stefanski had coached Keenum before, at Minnesota back in 2017. So, there should have been no hesitation to put him in. But Stefanski kept Baker out there until he was smashed to pieces. I hope that Baker has regained his self-confidence, but we won’t know if he has until we see him on the field.
Number 5. One thing that might annoy you is that Baker never wants to give-up on a play. He hates to throw the ball away, and doesn’t even keep track of where his check-down is. He will scramble around seemingly forever trying to keep a play alive. While he is pretty slippery, and frequently eludes defenders, it’s enough to make you crazy. This is something I would like to see Panthers QB coach, Sean Ryan, have Baker work on.
Number 6. Baker Mayfield is fierce. I have no doubt that he is, as we speak, training like a Tasmanian Devil to extract revenge from the Cleveland Browns. If he & Higgins are starters, it should be quite a game. I might also add that Baker owns the Super Bowl Bengals. He has a 6-1 career record against them. The Browns & the Bengals are two of the tougher games on the Panthers’ schedule, and Baker has a good shot at taking both.
And finally, don’t listen to anybody in the Cleveland sports media who are nearly all infected with BDS – Baker Derangement Syndrome. The amount of frothing vitriol that has poured forth from these deranged individuals is mind-boggling. I had to unsubscribe most of my Browns podcasts because they had all devolved into Baker-bashing sessions.
Baker has been made the fall guy for the Browns’ 2021 season where the city was thick with high expectations for the Browns. But ultimately it was a management problem. GM Andrew Barry stocked the receiver room with a track guy, Anthony Schwartz. Stefanski failed to teach the track guy to never give up on a ball lest it be picked off by a safety behind him. And so, in Week 2, he gave up on ball that got picked off, and Baker unwisely made the tackle, injuring his shoulder in the process. Stefanski yelled at Schwartz from the sideline, but it was too late. The amateurs had done their damage.
From that point on, Baker heroically tried to salvage the season, and was treated with nothing but irrational hatred for his efforts by the city’s embarrassing sports media.
I have no doubt that Baker will be better treated in Charlotte.
A while back, on her podcast, Mary Kay Cabot hinted darkly that one day the real locker-room evil perpetrated by Baker Mayfield would come to light when the players started talking. Well, the players recently returned to Berea for OTAs and did indeed talk. Funny thing is, not one of them condemned Baker.
Yet, the hysteria around Baker rages on, to the point where people are literally hallucinating false narratives. Take podcaster John Middlekauff (28:15) who “quoted” Greg Newsome as saying about the Browns players:
“They all loved Odell, didn’t like Baker.”
But in actual reality, Newsome said:
“The crazy thing, Baker was a great teammate too.”
Newsome literally said that Baker was a “great teammate” and Middlekauff heard him say that the whole team hated Baker. That’s literally an hallucination.
Middlekauff went on about Baker:
“What’s going on with the guy? What’s the deal? Why did Myles Garrett…crush him on his way out?”
Here’s the exact quote from Myles:
“People come and go, and this is one of those changes. I hope the best for him. I hope he moves on and he does well for himself… He’s played well when he’s healthy. When he’s healthy, he can do some pretty good things for a team. Just has to find his niche again. I think he has to prove himself, has to get healthy.”
That’s crushing? Seems pretty mild to me. And you have to consider that Baker criticized Myles when he blew up the 2019 season after getting suspended for bashing Mason Rudolf with a helmet. Myles might be holding a little grudge, but still did not slam Baker. (With Garrett suspended, the Browns finished 2019 with a 2-4 record.)
And finally, Middlekauff said:
“I don’t like bringing toxic quarterbacks into my building.”
There is not one shred of evidence that Baker is toxic in the locker room. And Middlekauff should consider publishing a retraction as his statements could be considered defamatory. Middlekauff is a punch-down kind of guy. When he sees Baker down and out, he just can’t help but to stomp his face. Incredibly, Middlekauff might be the only hater stomping on both Mayfield and Watson simultaneously.
But why don’t we get an opinion from an actual quarterback expert, Chris Simms, of the Simms quarterback family. Simms recently said:
“They did Baker Mayfield dirty and so has everybody else. Cleveland has done Baker Mayfield dirty. The media has done Baker Mayfield dirty. The fact people have thrown him away and cast him as a low-level starter, I think is wrong.”
“When you go back and watch Baker Mayfield, and when you watch him healthy…there’s a lot of wow factor. There’s a lot of things to like about his game. He is a good NFL starting quarterback who has the potential to be, in my opinion, kind of a top-10 quarterback. His arm is that special.”
“He’s getting crushed and killed because he played tough through injury and people are holding that against him and it’s not right. And he is a starting quarterback and it’s amazing he’s still sitting here in limbo because of Cleveland…because of Cleveland, Baker Mayfield’s career and this season is in limbo as far as what the hell is going to happen.”
…and Simms would know, having once nearly killed himself by playing with a ruptured spleen.
Robby Anderson of the Carolina Panthers is one of the few players who has blatantly criticized Baker, but Anderson doesn’t actually know Baker, and was never a teammate. And he is balanced out by #10 draft pick, Garrett Wilson, who had this to say:
“Baker’s my guy. He was always a little older than me and he would come back [to Lake Travis High School] and coach seven on seven. During the quarantine, we actually threw together a couple times. So I know that Baker is a great player. We have a good relationship.”
Wilson was hoping to be drafted by the Browns to play with Baker:
“I did have a formal [meeting at the combine] with the Browns. It would be great to link up with Baker. Baker’s someone that did all the things that I wanted to do. Being a Heisman winner; that’s stuff you can only dream about, so watching him ball when I was younger, that was really awesome. Having that opportunity to maybe have that happen again would be awesome.”
Alas, Wilson has been banished to the 4-13 New York Jets.
Does Baker have a big ego? Sure, but compared to what? Compared to Kyler Murray, Baker is a choir boy.
As for OBJ, after he stole away into the night, fresh blood dripping from his fangs, he didn’t seem to have had much contact with his former teammates. He was too busy going Hollywood, literally. It was the NFL version of The Glass Menagerie, a Tennessee Williams play of abandonment that I studied in English class at Mayfield High School.
And for those of you who want to bring OBJ back, don’t forget that, to everybody’s surprise at the time, he refused to play in the 2021 opener versus the Chiefs. And that was after bombarding us with hype videos all summer long; carrying on about how he is the fastest healing human on Earth, and how ready he is to play, etc. I have a theory why he refused to play when his knee looked fully healed in practice, but the point is to recognize that that was a betrayal, and should disqualify him from rejoining the team.
And finally, here is what the Browns’ best player, Nick Chubb, had to say about Baker:
“He’ll still always be one of my best friends. He’s a great guy. I know with his intensity and his attitude, wherever he lands, he’ll be ready.”
Well said, Mr. Chubb.
Note: I have a feeling that Deshaun Watson is going to get a long sentence from the NFL. When the 23rd and 24th lawsuits were hitting the headlines, the NFL said that they had already concluded their investigation. It was sort of like they were saying: “We’ve seen enough. 25 cases; 30 cases; doesn’t matter, we have already come to a decision to give him the maximum penalty.” So, if that happens, what about this: bring Baker back and get rid of Stefanski. The real conflict wasn’t Baker vs OBJ, but Baker vs Stefanski, who did a terrible job coaching last season.
You’re probably thinking that I’m crazy after reading that headline, but there is method to my madness. I believe that Keven Stefanski should dust off his Coach of the Year Award, give it one last kiss, pack it up, and FedEx it to Baker Mayfield.
Stefanski started out mediocre in his first season as a head coach in 2020 with a 4-2 record. However, those 2 losses were humiliations at the hands of the division-rival Ravens (38-6) and Steelers (38-7). That’s not how you make the playoffs.
And it wasn’t Stefanski who turned the team around. Rather, it was a stroke of bad luck for Odell Beckham, Jr. who was knocked out for the season by a knee injury during Week 7. Everybody knew that Baker & OBJ, while pals off the field, were totally ineffective on the field.
Everybody except Stefanski, that is.
And Andrew Berry, of course. But once OBJ was out of the picture, Baker went off like a rocket. From Sports Illustrated & PFF:
“Baker improved in every facet of quarterback play.”
“Baker improved at all levels of depth, including being the league’s most accurate deep passer over his final 12 games.
In other words, Stefanski had no clue as to how to unlock Baker’s incredible potential. It was quite literally pure, dumb, luck.
Kevin, send the award to Baker. Deep down, you know you don’t deserve it.
While Browns fans are on pins & needles waiting for the NFL to pass judgement on Deshaun Watson, they should be just as worried about their knucklehead coach. Because let’s face it, many of the calls Stefanski made during the 2021 season were just plain idiotic.
Stefanski failed to bench Baker when his arm was literally hanging by a thread, and protected him with an injured left tackle hopping on one foot (Jedrick Wills). Remember Baker’s last game against the Steelers? Where Stefanski tasked James Hudson III to block T.J. Watt by himself and Baker got sacked NINE times? That was brutal and nauseating to watch. It would have gone easier on Baker if Stefanski had simply hit him with a bat nine times. It was like watching an MMA fighter being beaten half to death and his corner refusing to throw in the towel. It was probably the lowest point in Browns history.
And you have to wonder, were the Browns taking a mini-dive? Not to get a higher draft-pick, but to prepare the ground for kicking Baker to the curb. After all, the more hatred aimed at Baker, the less risky it would be to replace him. And it worked. The level of anti-Baker vitriol that poured out of the Cleveland sports media was unhinged with many commentators literately fit to be captured with nets and taken to the loony bin. It was almost as if the Browns were paying the reporters to pour on the hate.
Note: the latest insanity from the Cleveland sports media is that Deshaun Watson is a great leader because he took the offense to the Bahamas. Yet, they criticize Baker Mayfield for creating a locker-room rift when he did the same thing last summer with his Camp Mayfield at Lake Travis High School. Of course, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for a QB to hold a camp for defensive players, but that doesn’t protect Baker from unfair criticism. Reading the Cleveland sports media is like reading RT.com. It’s straight-up propaganda.
Idiots say: “Nobody wants Baker.” Astute observers say: “NFL owners are pissed at the Browns for giving Deshaun Watson so much guaranteed money.”
Baker Mayfield’s contract calls for $18.9 million for the 2022 season. And that is less than half of the $40 million that the Vikings are paying Kirk Cousins. ($35 million of which is fully guaranteed.) Is Kirk Cousins twice as good as Baker? No. In 2020, when Baker had two arms at his disposal, he ranked at #10 in QBR while Cousins came in at #18. (In case you don’t know, QBR is a modern, analytical measurement, taking into account more variables than passer-rating.)
Compared to other QBs, you could make a case for Baker being a bargain. And yet, Andrew Berry can’t find a trade partner to save his life. When even the lowly Carolina Panthers won’t take Baker, you know that something is up. Some people think that Berry is asking too much for Baker, but it is more likely that the Browns have been blackballed by franchise owners who resist guaranteed contracts for players.
NFL owners are loathe to go the way of the NBA, MLB, or NHL. They are capitalists trying to keep a lid on their labor costs. And they likely view the Browns as traitors; communists even, dealing a fatal blow to the profitable status quo.
What happens next? Do the owners acknowledge the inevitable, shrug their shoulders, and meekly start paying out guaranteed money to their top players? Maybe. Or do they do the equivalent of union-busting, and hire goons to massacre the labor organizers and bury them in shallow graves?
Okay, I’m exaggerating a little bit, but make no mistake, the Haslams did not make any friends with their Watson acquisition. And if I were Deshaun Watson, I would be suiting-up with every available article of body armor in the equipment manager’s arsenal. It is not impossible that there will be a bounty on Watson’s head once the season begins. After all, there is precedent. Remember “Bountygate” when the New Orleans Saints paid bonuses for injuries inflicted on opposing players?
Paying Baker is the least of the Browns’ worries. Perhaps if they released him, it would be viewed as a peace offering by the owners. Right now, the owners are probably thinking: “Those fuckers brought guaranteed contracts to our oligarchical paradise, and now they want us to take Baker off of their hands? Fuck that. Let them twist in the wind.”
The Browns did trade Troy Hill to the Rams, and made a bunch of draft-pick trades last week, so perhaps they are not totally blackballed. But I think it’s safe to say that nobody is going to help them out of Baker’s contract, and the Browns should be mentally prepared to pay Baker every penny he is under contract for.
Ideally, the Browns would make up with Baker and let him compete for the job in training camp. That would be The Greatest Show on Football Earth over the summer. And considering that Watson might end up suspended, or knee-capped, or both, it’s not a bad idea to keep Baker around. Of course, $18.9 million is pocket-change to the Haslams, and there is no reason why the situation shouldn’t be resolved in short order.
Baker might profit from getting paid to ride the bench for a year in that his body will get a good, long rest. I think Watson said the same thing about his year off being restful. If Baker wants to play anywhere but Cleveland, I suppose he could rescind his contract, and then test the QB market. If starting from zero, I imagine a number of teams would bid for his services, and some attractive options might develop. Giving up $18.9 million is a big deal, but maybe not for Baker who makes about $10 million per year in endorsements. If he stops playing, that amount might drop. I’m sure that letting the Browns off the hook turns Baker’s stomach, but he could look at it as a sunk cost.
Maybe they split the difference. Baker gets a check for $9.4 million from the Haslams, and walks away a free man. In order to break even, he only needs his new team to sign him for $9.4 million, which seems doable.
My guess is that Baker is eager to play. With his left shoulder healing up, and his right shoulder with a huge chip on it, he must be raring to go. If that’s the case, then he shouldn’t let the Browns put him on ice.
You are probably familiar with Baker Mayfield’s breaking of the rookie QB touchdown record back in 2018. And the subsequent breaking of that record by Justin Herbert in 2020. But did you know that Baker still holds two other records?
Considering the sheer volume of “Baker Hate” coming out of the Cleveland sports media these days, you can be forgiven for being unaware that Baker has an elite arm. In fact, many Baker-haters criticize him for having a mediocre, or even a weak arm. Those people are idiots.
On October 17, 2021, Baker Mayfield threw a 57-yard touchdown pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones. Accord to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats system, the ball traveled 66.4 yards in the air, the longest completed pass (by 2 yards) since Next Gen Stats began operations in 2016.
On December 14, 2020, Baker thew an incomplete pass 70.5 yards in the air. Pro Football Focus says that was the longest throw they have ever seen. (PFF started tracking the NFL in 2006.)
It was 34 degrees in Cleveland that day, and cold balls don’t sail as far as warm balls. However, there was also an 18mph wind, which was probably at Baker’s back. Nevertheless, Cleveland isn’t the only place with wind, and the record stands.
Could Patrick Mahomes break these records? Probably, but so far, Baker is the man.
But wait! There’s more! Madden NFL 22 has Baker tied for third place in “Quarterback Throw Power” with Matthew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers. That’s good company, no?
And finally, I can’t find a link for it, but if memory serves, it was back in 2018 during Baker’s rookie year when the Browns’ receivers complained that Baker was throwing the ball too hard.
Note to Baker-Haters: keep in mind that Baker had surgery on his non-throwing arm. His throwing arm is just fine, and more than capable of making you look like a fool during the 2022 season. Baker will be 100% by opening day with a massive chip on his shoulder. Imagine if he lands with a team that plays in a dome, while Deshaun Watson has to play on the frozen tundra of Cleveberg. Could Baker deliver more bang-for-the-buck than Watson? Maybe so. You Baker-Haters should start backpedaling immediately; you are way out over your skies and in danger of faceplanting.
You can be forgiven if you think this blog is redundant, because everybody saw what actually happened as it played out in public. But it is necessary because the lying-sacks-of-shit at Cleveland.com are trying to rewrite history. They are trying to convince us that Baker Mayfield led a locker-room attack on OBJ and drove him out of Cleveland. The quote below is from Mary Kay Cabot during her podcast. Notice that she never specifies what “the thing” is:
“Revisiting that Odell Beckham, Jr. thing for a minute…I know for a fact that Jimmy and Dee Haslam really liked Odell Beckham, Jr. They got pretty close to him. Dee and Odell sort of became friends. And I think that left a really bad taste in their mouth. Not just in the mouths of some of the players, because we know that. But I think that ownership was dismayed by how some of that went down. So, I think that was just another strike against him.”
Really? A strike against Baker? Who was just minding his business when OBJ’s henchmen blind-sided him with a social-media attack? An attack that OBJ never condemned and thereby made himself complicit with? Baker got a “strike” for that? Are you out of your fucking mind?
In actual fact, right up to the very end, Baker thought that he was friends with OBJ. Just before the season started, he spend time with OBJ at the Yellowstone Club in Big Sky, Montana (along with Jarvis Landry and Austin Hooper).
Baker was the victim. His former friend threw him under the bus. He never saw it coming. And if the Haslams loved OBJ so much, why did they let Andrew Barry cut him? Baker actually had nothing to do with the incident beyond being victimized.
The amount of vitriol being directed at Baker from the Cleveland sports media is astonishing. They act like a pack of wild dogs. I was never ashamed of being from Cleveland before, but these people are revolting.
Meanwhile, back in the civilized world, the University of Oklahoma will be erecting a statue of Baker on April 23rd.
Note: the Cabot quote above is from a podcast titled: “What value does Baker Mayfield have? Hey, Mary Kay!” but it appears to have been removed from Cleveland.com, possibly because it is full of lies. However, you can still hear it here. Start at the 4:55 mark.
During the Super Bowl, the NFL decided to rewrite the history of OBJ’s time in Cleveland. The announcers painted OBJ as being beaten like a red-headed step child, and held prisoner in a garret in Berea. That savage social-media attack on his quarterback, Baker Mayfield, which OBJ used to force his way out? Never happened. The favorable contract adjustments gifted to him by the Browns? Never happened.
So, as long as we are re-litigating this subject, lets talk about that mysterious lack of chemistry between OBJ and Baker. We have hard statistical evidence that a healthy, two-armed Baker played at an elite level when OBJ was off the field. And when OBJ was on the field, Baker played like a bottom-tier QB, if that. This fact is not in dispute. So, what caused it?
Aside from OBJ, Baker appears to be a pretty normal QB when it comes to chemistry. Once he plays with a receiver for a while, he begins to develop a chemistry with them; some stronger than others. The chemistry he has with Rashard Higgins is literally magical. It is very strong with Jarvis Landry, strong with David Njoku, and Kareem Hunt. And not quite so good with Austin Hooper. So, why was it so hideous with OBJ?
Well, we know that OBJ always hated Cleveland and was scheming to escape from the get-go. So, it makes sense that he would take a dive if he thought it would get him out. But what would that look like? Well, what if he ran his routes just a little bit off such that on timing throws, Baker’s ball would arrive just a little bit short, or long, or high, or low. To the untrained eye, it would look like Baker was the one at fault. Even more so, some people have claimed that OBJ was straight-up freelancing routes.
And it wasn’t just analysts saying this. In fact, during the 2021 off-season, the Browns coaching staff felt the need to address the situation by retooling OBJ’s routes. Would they have done that if they had not detected a problem? Hell no. Here is what Coach Chad O’Shea said during a radio interview in May 2021:
“I think the one thing that’s been great for him to see is we’ve gone through a lot of the film this off-season already with Odell and showed him the things that he can be a part of offensively for us and be a productive player, and be a big part of our offense that we now have evidence of on film that we didn’t have last year…hey, this is where you’re going to be, this is how you’re going to run the route, and this is how you’re going to win the route. That’s been something that’s been very good for him, spending time the last several weeks, to be able to go through that process and to envision himself in how he can be a big part of this offense.”
This is startling because OBJ is a renowned master route-runner. The idea of having to micromanage him like this is extraordinary. Even though the Browns were justified in trying to fix a blatant problem, I think this is what triggered OBJ’s demand to be traded.
The bottom line is that OBJ is, and has always been, a master route runner. The only way he would be running bad routes is if he were doing it deliberately to achieve a wider goal: escaping from the hinterlands of Cleveland, and returning to the big-city bright lights. He had the means and the motive. And he wasn’t shy about throwing Baker under the bus with a savage social-media attack.
This theory explains not only the lack of chemistry with Baker, but also OBJ’s instant chemistry with Matthew Stafford. The Browns coaches couldn’t fix OBJ because he wasn’t broken. Rather, OBJ was malicious. The only thing the Browns can be faulted for is keeping him around for so long. Yes, OBJ had an onerous contract, but the damage suffered by the team was not worth it.
Note to Baker: if you feel the need to tackle somebody again, don’t use your arms! Those are your money-makers! Watch how Patrick Mahomes tackles Bengal’s DT B.J. Hill while also protecting his arms. I’m sure you know this technique, but please try to implement it going forward:
Note: Mary Kay Cabot has intensified her psychotic jihad against Baker Mayfield. She is now actively trying to foment discord among Browns players. Listen to the last ten minutes of her February 15th podcast titled: “Who is to blame for Odell Beckham, Jr. not working in Cleveland?” Warning: if you are a Browns fan, this will turn your stomach.
On January 17, 2022, Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Malik McDowell was arrested after stripping naked and running around like a crazy person. Such behavior is exhibited by people who have taken the synthetic drug flakka. Among other things, flakka raises your body temperature over 105 degrees and makes you feel like you are on fire. So much so that you feel compelled to take your clothes off in order to avoid burning up. Here is an example:
On this page, TMZ has video of McDowell at the gym, acting completely normal, just an hour before the incident. The video below shows McDowell bull-rushing and punching the deputy who later tased him. Impressively, the deputy held his ground and didn’t get knocked over:
Here is the arrest video. Look at the expression on McDowell’s face. Looks crazy, right?
From the Washington Post story linked above:
“With a crystalline appearance, making it look like small, white rocks, flakka often resembles crack cocaine…The substance can be snorted, swallowed, injected, smoked or inhaled using an electronic cigarette.”
My guess is that those properties make flakka an effective dosing agent because it can be hidden inside another substance, just like THC can be baked into brownies. Also, it is easy to overdose with flakka because the amounts used are very small. McDowell was taken to the hospital after his arrest, but whether or not he had anything in his system doesn’t seem to have been announced yet.
McDowell was the feel-good story of the 2021 NFL season. Everybody was rooting for the young man striving to straighten up and fly right. And he did well, which is why I am giving him the benefit of the doubt. Browns fans were all shocked by the arrest because it seemed out of character – recent character, anyway.
So, first, I think we can rule out the idea that he was trying to sexually assault children. The fact that there was a preschool near his hotel was just a coincidence. And his movements were likely just random.
Secondly, you might think getting dosed is a long shot. But think about all the women who get dosed with roofies and are then raped. And men get dosed too. Comedian Artie Lange once told a story about how he went to his drug dealer’s apartment to buy some cocaine. She tried to interest him in some heroin, but Artie declined. So, she just jabbed him, Dexter style. Artie was angry at first, but quickly became euphoric.
Another comedian, Joey Diaz, likes to dose family and friends with edibles. He thinks it’s funny. See the video below.
If you Google “Joey Diaz doses” you will find a bunch more samples. I have no idea if Malik McDowell was dosed. But if he was, I’d like to see him exonerated. It seems like something happened during that 1-hour window between his workout at the gym and his arrival at the preschool. And it shouldn’t be too difficult to investigate that time-span. For example, did he stop for gas? Florida gas stations are notorious for selling questionable items. Did he meet with anybody? Does he have any “jokers” in his circles?
Another thing I have noticed is that big guys will often take a double dose. So, if a big guy is reading the instructions on a bottle of aspirin that says adults should take two tablets every four hours, he thinks: I’m twice as big as the average guy, so I should take four tablets. So, if McDowell did deliberately take something, he may have simply miscalculated. In any case, I don’t think McDowell was being malicious and deliberately trying to terrorize Deerfield Beach.
Hopefully, McDowell’s lawyer can get the charges dropped. McDowell was playing on a one-year contract, and will be a free-agent on March 16. McDowell, and fellow DT, Malik Jackson, started out well in 2021, but their conditioning was insufficient to last the whole season, and by the end, they were getting slapped around by opposing o-lines. So, McDowell will need to get in as much practice and training as possible over the summer.
The Baker-hate in the Cleveland sports media is so thick you can cut it with a knife. There is also a surprising amount of Higgins-hate. Idiots like to say that Rashard Higgins “didn’t do anything” in 2021. But how are you supposed to catch balls when you are a “healthy scratch?”
For the first Ravens game, Hig was demoted beneath JoJo Natson and Ja’Marcus Bradley – two practice-squad guys. Natson has been with the Browns for two seasons and has been targeted zero times – literally. And he got the start over a healthy Higgins? WTF?
So, that’s the first problem. The Browns system is designed to throw to tight-ends and running-backs. The coaching staff is clueless when it comes to wide-receivers. So much so that OBJ had to engineer a jailbreak mid-season. OBJ’s subsequent play with the Rams has made HC Stefanski look like a fool. And he didn’t do any better managing Hig.
Speaking of OBJ…when he was with the Browns in 2021, he caught 50.0% of his 34 targets. However, Hig caught 51.1% of his 47 targets. So, if a receiver is out-catching the legendary OBJ, can you really say that he stinks? Yes, you can; but only if you are an idiot.
Here is another amazing Hig stat: Anthony Schwartz is a bonafide speedster, but he only managed 10 yards of YAC on his 10 receptions for the season. That’s one yard of YAC per catch. Meanwhile, Hig had 47 yards of YAC on his 24 catches, so the “slow poke” out YAC’d the speedster by nearly 2x. And Schwartz didn’t do much better in his rushing attempts. While he averaged 6.5 yards-per-carry, he only managed another half-yard after contact. So, that means that Schwartz was very easy to tackle, and was gifted his yardage by play-calls that achieved tactical surprise and/or excellent blocking. The moral of the story is that Hig was a better player than the flashy rookie.
Hig’s largest obstacle was his QB’s injury. Baker Mayfield and Rashard Higgins are attached at the hip. When Baker puts up elite stats, so does Hig. It is a marvel to watch when it is flowing. However, Baker was only in one piece for the first game of the season where Hig was effectively benched. Hig had one target in the Texans game before Baker was injured, but that was it for a healthy Baker-to-Hig battery for the season.
The fact that a ball-hog Baker wouldn’t let a healthy back-up QB take over wasn’t Hig’s fault. So, Hig had to play the whole season with a one-armed QB. We didn’t even get any data on how well Hig does with Case Keenum. Hig only got 2 targets during the Denver game that Keenum played, and Hig had no targets during the final Bengals game that Keenum also won.
A big part of the problem is that Baker & Hig are a textbook example of chemistry in action. However, they play for a team that goes out of its way to piss on chemistry. After all, Paul DePodesta’s whole claim to fame is analytics. If chemistry is allowed to flourish, then it makes the big-shot, nerd-dork with his slide-rule look bad. And so, the Browns stomp on chemistry whenever it crops up.
I am looking forward to watching a healthy Baker Mayfield play in 2022. To maximize his performance, the Browns have to embrace chemistry and give Baker his favorite targets. And those are David Njoku, Jarvis Landry, and Rashard Higgins. Honorable mention: Kareem Hunt, Donovan-Peoples Jones, and Harrison Bryant. Ja’Marcus Bradley has also shown flashes of chemistry with Baker, and should be retained.
I don’t think the passing game needs to be overhauled like everyone is saying. An intact Baker *is* your overhaul. Rather, the pressing needs are clearly at defensive tackle and kicker.
Back during the 2020 season, we had a lot of fun watching Baker Mayfield do his best Lamar Jackson imitation. We saw Baker run the ball, throw blocks, catch passes on trick plays, and execute innumerable hero-ball scramble drills where he narrowly avoided getting drilled by pass rushers. The most dramatic was the “Maserati” play where Baker ran (behind Kareem Hunt) for a first down to seal a victory over the Steelers.
As much as I loved watching Baker prove his critics wrong, that he was indeed an athletic guy, I cringed every time he made one of those plays. I knew it was only a matter of time before he got smashed.
This devil-may-care attitude obviously had the stamp-of-approval from Coach Stefanski because it continued into the 2021 season. Then, during Week 2, Baker threw an interception to a linebacker, figured he would fix his mistake, and made the tackle. As he was trying to wrap-up, his left arm got pushed backward and damn near came off.
Baker didn’t need to make that tackle. Kareem Hunt had a good angle on the guy, and Jack Conklin & Wyatt Teller were both closing in. But Baker didn’t hesitate to blow-up his season, and that of his team.
The problem, of course, was that Baker considered himself a well-rounded football player, capable of all the various skills involved in the game. Hell, he probably thought he could kick field-goals too. But in reality, and like most quarterbacks, Baker is a specialist. His left shoulder is not conditioned to making tackles. Its function is to assist the throwing motion of his right arm.
After the game, when asked about it, Stefanski said something like: “We gotta get that guy on the ground.” So, he approved of his franchise quarterback making tackles. Of course, the coach’s job is to win games, and if you have to sacrifice a few players to get it done, then so be it. But in the case of your QB, and getting smashed so early in the season, it hardly seems worth it. It’s not like starting-caliber QBs grow on trees. They are, in fact, rather rare, and spread thin among the 32 NFL franchises.
The NFL has known the value of quarterbacks since 1940 when they instituted the “roughing the passer” penalty. Fans liked higher-scoring games, so the NFL protected QBs & kickers. However, they did so with rules, rather than directives. So, no team is under orders to protect their QBs, and are free to unwisely use those players. If the Ravens wanted Justin Tucker to make tackles, there is nothing the NFL could do to stop them.
So, there is a dichotomy: the league wants to attract and protect talent at the QB position, but coaches feel the need to win right now and are able to sacrifice their QBs if they choose. There is also a second dichotomy: when every QB is a conservative pocket-passer, they come across as bland, boring the fans. Then, when a running-QB like Lamar Jackson comes along, he automatically looks super exciting, just by contrast, delighting the fans.
It comes down to a matter of taste: do you want to see your QB’s health preserved over a long, if boring, career? Or do you want to see him “used up” in a more-exciting, but shorter career?
During the second half of the 2020 season, Baker Mayfield played at an elite level; couldn’t get an extension. In 2019, Lamar Jackson was MVP; still waiting on that extension. So, are these two QBs being used up? Perhaps not by their coaches, but by the bean-counters in the front-office? Probably so.
Perhaps a good balance would be to have your starter as the “boring” QB, and your back-up the “running” QB. In any case, my preference is for Coach Stefanski to coach Baker to be more controlled. For example, I want to see Baker get the ball out quick instead of him dodging pass-rushers while waiting for a receiver to get open. We know that Baker doesn’t want to ever throw the ball away, but it is an important skill for a QB to have. But as long as he thinks of himself as the hero, he won’t practice that skill, simply because he doesn’t think he will be needing it.
Can Baker be coached out of playing hero-ball? If Stefanski tried, would Baker take the coaching? Or would he demand a trade? Hard to say. But the truth is that if Baker can start to think of himself as a specialist, he should have a longer & more productive career.
Note: watching Baker make that tackle reminds me of watching punter Jamie Gillan trying to run for the first down after he muffed the snap during Week 1 versus the Chiefs. He had no chance. Like Baker, Gillan is an athletic guy, but not “NFL athletic” which is a whole other level. These are specialists, and they are simply not viable outside of their niche roles.
Note: for the 2021 season, Baker Mayfield finished with a 63.6 PFF grade, which was 30th in the NFL. By insisting on being the hero, and playing out the season, Mayfield dragged his team down and missed the playoffs. Yet another example of hero-ball.
During the 2020 season, the Browns wowed the football world with their famous Two-Headed Monster rushing attack. Teams across the nation were green with envy. During the summer, the Browns gave Nick Chubb a big contract-extension. A few months later, after Odell Beckham, Jr. forced his way out of Cleveland, the Browns extended guards Wyatt Teller and Joel Bitonio. It was as if the team was saying: “We don’t need no stinkn’ OBJ. We’re a running team. And then…
For some reason, the Browns dialed down their rushing attack, mid-season. Simultaneously, other teams fielded their own Two-Head Monsters, and began to run the ball more. For example, there is only one team that has run the ball more than 50% of the time this year: the Philadelphia Eagles. However, during the last three weeks, there were five teams that have done so, led by the Colts at 64.5%. As of this writing, Nick Chubb trails the Colts’ Jonathan Taylor by 483 yards.
After triggering a smash-mouth football revival, the Browns have switched back to being a passing team.
During the first half of the season (the first 8 games) the Browns ran the ball 51% of the time. However, during the second half of the season (the last 7 games) the Browns have slashed that share to 44.4%. Below is a chart showing the evolution of this metric:
Meanwhile, the Indianapolis Colts have done just the opposite: from running the ball 43.5% of the time during the first half of the season, they have gunned that up to 56% here in the second half. Here is their chart:
As you may have noticed, the Colts have been hot as a pistol since leaning into their running game, winning 6 out of their last 7 games.
Not too shabby.
Why can’t the Browns do that?
Well, they can; it’s just that they don’t seem to want to. On Monday, their official podcast, Cleveland Browns Daily, emphatically “proved” that it was completely impossible for the Browns to run the ball more. They even had Joe Thomas on to explain why it couldn’t be done.
Pretty strange if you asked me.
The Browns were once the league’s premier rushing team, but now are content to be mediocre. Over the last three weeks, the Browns remain firmly perched at the #17 position of the “Rushing Play Percentage” metric. Yes, Kareem Hunt has been injured, but D’Ernest Johnson has picked up the baton and is averaging 5.7 YPC. He is also averaging 5.3 YPC against stacked fronts!
I have been harping on this for weeks now, and I have been right. Just look at what happened in the Green Bay game. The Packers were weak against the run, and the Browns ground-game slapped them silly. What would have happened if the Browns had run the ball 10 more times, and passed 10 fewer times? I don’t know, but that would have been 10 fewer chances of an interception, right?
On Monday, the Browns face the Steelers who are just as bad at ground defense as the Packers are. For the season, the Steelers are tied with the Packers in last place, allowing 4.8 YPC in the “Opponent Yards per Rush Attempt” metric. The Steelers have actually done worse recently, slipping to 5.0 YPC over the last three games.
During the Steelers loss to the Vikings on December 9th, Dalvin Cook ran for 205 yards on 27 carries for 7.6 YPC. Can the Browns smash the Steelers? Hell, yeah. So, here’s my game plan: 25 carries for Chubb, 15 for Kareem, and 10 for D’Ernest Johnson. That will yield 300 yards and, let’s say, 3 touchdowns. Don’t laugh; the Colts ran the ball 48 times versus the Texans on December 5th and won 31-0. This plan will also cut down on interceptions by simply slashing the number of passing plays down to a dozen or so, the bulk of which would ideally be screen passes to the running backs.
If the Bengals win on Sunday, this will all be moot. But if they lose, then the Browns need to do something that is guaranteed to beat the Steelers. And that is, hit ’em where they are soft: on the ground!
Note: The numbers cited above do not include plays where the QB was sacked.
Note: Has Baker Mayfield tarnished his brand by insisting on playing with a demolished left shoulder? Yes.
Note: The cheating and crooked refereeing at Lambeau Field was reminiscent of the Browns playoff game with the Chiefs last year. The Packers held Donovan-Peoples Jones all day, and not a single pass-interference call was made. Shameful, but continuing to throw the ball to DPJ and praying for a DPI call just was not the way to handle it.
Note: My theory is still that HC Stefanski is desperately trying to put up points, so don’t be surprised if he has another passing game-plan on Monday night. Think about it: the Browns’ defensive coordinator is doing a great job, while the teams’ offensive coordinator can’t put points on the board. It’s the defense that’s keeping the team in games, and the offense that is blowing it. And what do teams do when they are behind? Pass, pass, pass. Right? So, the Browns have deprecated the running game because they are desperately trying to throw their way into some quick points – a strategy that is clearly not working.
Note: Overall, the Browns did a fantastic job versus the Raiders and Packers with half their team in Omicron jail.
Note: Even after averaging 14.5 YPC versus the Packers, D’Ernest Johnson doesn’t get anywhere near the kudos he deserves. When Nick Chubb was gassed-out near the end of the game, he didn’t hesitate to take himself out because he knew the team was in good hands with DEJ. The Browns Three-Headed Monster needs to be unleashed! Like Browns’ safety John Johnson III tweeted “RUN THE DAMN BALL.” Note to Stefanski: stop fucking up! Just stop! Relax. Let your horses run.
Note: Even on an incredibly terrible passing day, Rashard Higgins had a stellar game versus the Packers. This has become a Browns tradition. First, somebody, probably nerd-dork Paul DePodesta, orders Hig benched for some bullshit reason like he is too slow, or doesn’t play special teams. And then, a couple of games later, Hig is the Browns top receiver because of his proven chemistry with Baker Mayfield. When will this nonsense stop?
Note: Did you see Tommy Togiai’s “Superman” tackle? If not, see the 7:33 mark of this video where Togiai (#93) flies like Superman and crushes Packer’s running back Aaron Jones (#33). Now that’s what I call pursuit! Wow!
Everybody is, rightfully, criticizing that last third-down-and-three play-call versus the Raiders. However, let’s not neglect the wider context.
The Browns vaunted rushing attack has fizzled out in recent games. And now, perhaps, it has been revitalized by moving Joel Bitonio a few feet to the left, and filling in his spot with Michael Dunn.
So, why don’t we have some more of this? Browns center JC Tretter has been taken off to COVID-19 jail, so it won’t be exactly the same, but if the Browns can open up some more holes on the left side, then I say stand on it, pedal to the metal, red line.
Over their last three games, the Packers have allowed opposing rushers to wrack up 5 yards per carry. That stinks, and the team ranks at #27 in the league on that metric.
So, it looks like an ideal time to try out this new LEFT-SIDE rushing attack. And with Trettor out, the Browns need to give it some time to gel in the first half.
After being shut out in the first half of their Week 15 game with the Raiders, the Browns finally got some traction in the third quarter in the form of Nick Chubb running over left tackle. For the day, the Browns had:
Left Side Carries: 10 for 63 yards & a TD.
Up the middle carries: 9 for 31 yards.
Right Side Carries: 4 for -3 yards.
Too see how well running left was working, watch Chubb rampage for 30 yards and a TD in two plays at the 8:05 mark of this video. If the TD play was run from the Browns’ 20-yard line, it would have been an 80-yard run, and the stats above would have been even more lopsided.
So, running left was fantastic. Running up the middle was okay. And running right was dogshit. But when it came time to salt away the game, what did play-caller Alex Van Pelt do? He called for more dogshit. He sent Chubb into the black hole of the right side, and he gained zero yards. The Browns then punted, and the game was lost.
While it is true that the Browns ran left on the first two downs of that final series, and gained 7 yards, they could have tried it a third time. Would that have been too predictable? Maybe. But one thing we know in the NFL is that if something is working, you just keep on doing it until the opposing team puts a stop to it. The Raiders were playing like baby seals on the left side, and the Browns should have clubbed them one more time.
Even so, if Van Pelt didn’t want to run left again, why would he run right? Why would he run a play that had netted negative yardage on the day? When literally any other play would have been a better choice?
Perhaps it was because Van Pelt didn’t have running-backs Coach Stump Mitchell to advise him. Or Stump’s assistant, Coach Ryan Cordell, who was yet another COVID-19 hysteria casualty. So, Callie Brownson was the running-backs coach for the game. The Browns are collaborative when it comes to play calling, so we will likely never know who recommended the run-right call, but somebody really fucked up.
Note: I used to think that coaches were looking at plays on their tablets. Turns out, they are watching Seinfeld re-runs. A chimpanzee could have seen how running left was working like a charm.
Note: can the Browns beat the Packers on Christmas? If they were at full strength, they would have a chance. But half the Browns are still in COVID-19 jail, we don’t know who will call the plays, or run the plays, and the poachers have taken the entire Cheetah Package. Joe Woods’ defense, which has only given up 10,16,22,16 points over the last four games is poised to be mowed down by Aaron Rodgers. Let’s see if Woods can pull another rabbit out of his hat.
Before we address that question, let’s take a moment to congratulate Joe Woods and his defense, which is now ranked at #4 in yards allowed. After being humiliated by the Patriots during Week 10, the Browns’ talented defensive players seem to have finally gelled in the three games since.
Make no mistake; this is something opposing teams should take note of. The Browns D is hot as a pistol, and that’s the only thing that counts this time of year. On Sunday, versus the Ravens, we were treated to a plethora of huge defensive plays:
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah’s tackle of Lamar Jackson, which knocked him out of the game. Any other blitzing linebacker wouldn’t have been able to get a hand on Jackson.
Takk McKinley’s strip-sack with the Ravens threatening on the Browns 12-yard line.
Grant Delpit’s interception of a two-point conversion throw.
Jadeveon Clowney’s sack with 1:11 left in the game.
Denzel Ward’s tackle on 4th down that sealed the victory.
Joe Woods achieved this victory without three of his starters: LB Anthony Walker, CB Greg Newsome, and S Ronnie Harrison. The Browns defensive depth is pretty solid. Ironically, when you have lots of injuries, it serves as a rotation that actually builds depth over the course of the season. So, by time you get to the playoff run, the gelling doesn’t stop with the starters, but extends to your bench.
A few days before the game, Myles Garrett expressed his displeasure with how some of his teammates were practicing. Apparently, they sharpened-up, just like Myles requested. I think this is the third time he has done this sort of thing, and it has worked every time. Superb leadership.
Now, imagine if they had covered Mark Andrews…
Have the Ravens Cloned Lamar Jackson?
Lamar Jackson was knocked out of the Browns-Ravens rematch by a blitzing Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. He was replaced by Tyler Huntley who completed 71% of his 38 passes, with 1 touchdown, and 45 rushing yards in three quarters. There wasn’t much of a drop-off according to DE Jadeveon Clowney:
“He is a little quicker. He made the whole defense miss. He juked us all. I said on the sideline that I think we need Lamar back out here (laughter). I thought he was quick and just as good.”
To see what Clowney was talking about, see the 8:29 mark of this video.
So, the Browns’ victory was legit, and the Ravens look like they have made quite a find with Huntley.
There are a lot of similarities between last year’s game with the Raiders, and the re-match coming up on Saturday.
The Browns were flying high after winning a shootout with Cincinnati where Baker Mayfield threw 5 touchdowns.
The Browns were missing key offensive players; namely RB Nick Chubb and his road-grader RG Wyatt Teller.
The weather in Cleveland precluded passing.
Oddly, the rematch is in Cleveland again this year, and the weather is forecast to be cold, wet, and windy, which is conducive to another defensive struggle in the trenches. And the Browns lost the struggle last year. This year, they have Nick Chubb, but Wyatt Teller is on the COVID-19 list along with a bunch of linemen and tight-ends: T Jedrick Wills, TE David Njoku, TE Austin Hooper, TE Ross Travis, G Drew Forbes.
Kareem Hunt was also injured, again, in the Ravens game, so right now, it looks like D’Ernest Johnson will be spelling Nick Chubb. WR Jarvis Landry and WR JoJo Natson are also on the list. With so many pass-catchers gone, maybe Rashard Higgins will get a target or two. Anything is possible.
While the Raiders are a team in disarray, and were smashed by the Chiefs 48-9 on Sunday, they were able to beat the first-place Cowboys 36-33 on Thanksgiving. If the Browns are without Wyatt Teller, Jedrick Wills, Jack Conklin, and their tight-ends, what is the running game going to look like? And if it is too windy to throw the ball accurately, what’s left for the offense? Not much.
Will the Browns have to rely on Myles Garret scoring another touchdown? Maybe. The Browns defensive players should go into the game with that in mind. They just might need to score some points to win this game. Stopping the Raiders might not be good enough. So, here is your mantra for the week:
Stop & Score.
Stop & Score.
Stop & Score.
Repeat one million times.
Over the past few blogs, I have been urging the Browns to adopt a nuclear-grade, smash-mouth offense for the simple reason that they are built for it, and their passing game is in shambles. But HC Kevin Stefanski did not take my advice. In fact, he did just the opposite. During his Week 12 loss to the Ravens, he only gave Nick Chubb 8 rushing attempts!
So, Stefanski didn’t listen. But Patriots HC Bill Belichick did. During his MNF victory over the Bills, Belichick caused a sensation by running the ball 46 times, and passing on only 3 downs. Something that hadn’t been seen for decades. According to The New York Times:
“An NFL team attempted three or fewer passes in a game only seven times in the 1940s, and just once each in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. But no team had done it since then.”
That glory could have been Stefanski’s – if only he had listened to me. But he did not. However, now that Belichick has blazed the trail, the conservative, and conformist, Stefanski can follow in the master’s footsteps without fear of criticism during Sunday’s rematch with the Ravens.
Here’s one of the things about smash-mouth football that I wrote a couple of blogs ago:
“Here’s the thing about crowding the line-of-scrimmage: if the offense is able to open just one little hole, the running back can burst through and run for a touchdown.”
And that is exactly what happened to the Bills. Here they are stacking the box with no less than 10 players (click image to enlarge):
What happened next? Damien Harris ran over left tackle for 64 yards and a touchdown. So, the Patriots ran for 2,4,2,4,-1,-1,6,64. And that is a normal sequence in smash-mouth football. In other words, it looks like you are losing until you blast through.
Furthermore, Damein Harris is averaging 4.6 yards-per-carry this year, and the Browns have *three* running backs averaging way more than that: Nick Chubb (5.8), Kareem Hunt (5.0), and D’Ernest Johnson (5.2). Can the Browns play smash-mouth football? Hell yeah. We should also note that while Blake Hance struggles in pass-pro, he does okay with run-blocking, so the ground game plays to the Browns’ strengths, such as they are.
So, if the Browns run the ball 46 times like Belichick did, will they beat the Ravens? Maybe, maybe not. But you don’t know unless you try. And there’s the problem. The Browns probably won’t even try. Unfortunately, a “we can’t run the ball” mentality has taken over the Browns recently. For an example, listen to Nicole Chatham’s comments at the 41:42 mark of this podcast where she says:
“I saw one comment consistently all game. [Dumb-guy imitation] This is what you get when you abandon the run. This is what you get when you abandon the run. Run the ball, run the ball, run the damn ball. [/Dumb-guy imitation] They tried; it didn’t work. And it didn’t work because the Ravens had eight in the box the whole game.”
Eighth in the box? Oh, my! How terrifying!
Last year, Nick Chubb was asked by a reporter about how he felt about stacked boxes. I forget his exact reply, but he was simply indifferent. Speaking of Chubb, he faced stacked boxes during the Browns playoff game with the Chiefs last season. Here’s how he & Kareem did in the 3rd quarter of that game where the Browns did the bulk of their rushing: 23,18,2,9,7,3,6,1. That’s 8.6 yards per carry. Not too shabby. That’s just a snapshot, but the point is that a stacked box is far from a death knell for your running game – especially one as potent as that of the Browns.
Until somebody matches him, Bill Belichick is the King of Smash-Mouth. To top him, you would have to do something even more extreme. How about my idea of dispensing with the QB in favor of another fullback, who would then block for the running back after he takes a direct snap? On Monday night, all Mac Jones did was hand off the ball. Why not get some more oomph out of that player?
David Njoku went on the COVID list today, so if the Browns don’t have their #1 receiver available on Sunday, that’s all the more reason for an extreme smash-mouth effort. The passing game failed last week in Baltimore, and may be even weaker on Sunday. Now it’s time to unleash the Three-Headed Monster.
The winning formula: elite defense + persistent smash-mouth ground game = victory over Ravens.
Note: Damien Harris’ 64-yard TD run was the longest by a Patriots back in 24 years. And it would have never happened without a hyper-stacked box. While a stacked box looks fearsome, it is in reality a risky defensive play.
During the 2020 season, before he had his own breakfast cereal, Nick Chubb ate “stacked boxes” for breakfast, averaging 6.1 yards-per-carry against the “terrifying” defensive formation. That’s an astounding number. How is it possible? Well, as the defense crowds the line-of-scrimmage, and is able to stop the running back most of the time, they leave themselves open to a catastrophic breakthrough.
Imagine there are 11 defensive players in the box, and then Wyatt Teller flattens one of them, and Chubb bursts through the hole. What are the chances of anybody catching him? Slim to none. Whether it is a goal-line stand, or the defense trying to smash-mouth the Browns on the first play of the game at the 25 yard-line, Chubb is gone.
So, why is HC Stefanski so afeared of stacked boxes when he has a literal arsenal of ground power? My theory is that he is staring down the barrel of a losing season, and feels the need to score points right now. So, instead of running his elite running back behind his elite guard, he has his one-armed quarterback (Baker) throw another incompletion to his one-legged receiver (Landry). As you may have noticed, that strategy didn’t work versus the Ravens.
The Browns’ stellar defensive play was pissed-away, and what would have been a glorious victory in Baltimore was lost.
After the game, “boxes” were the talk of the town. Looking at the data, it turns out that Chubb has only 3.2 YPC versus stacked boxes this year. Maybe his next chunk play will goose that number back up. But it’s not like the Browns are getting blown-out versus stacked fronts because Kareem Hunt has an amazing 6.4 YPC, and D’Ernest Johnson has a stellar 5.8.
Turns out, the Browns can run the ball. Who knew? Now, perhaps Stefanski has analytics proving that the Ravens are the more physical team and trying to beat them mano a mano is simply not feasible. Even if that were the case, I would still want to see the smash-mouth showdown.
Who’s with me?
In other words, just because the defense decides to “take away the run” doesn’t mean the Browns have to acquiesce. Suck it up buttercup! Here’s the first-quarter game plan: run, run, run, punt, run, run, run, punt, run, run, run, TD. Having a good punter helps with such siege-warfare. Lather, rinse, repeat for the remaining three quarters and put up 28 points, which should be child’s play for the defense to protect.
The way the Browns’ defense is playing means that the offense only has to do a modest amount of scoring to win. So, there is no need to rush. Just keep the pressure on, wear the Ravens defense down, and then start popping the chunk plays.
The Browns’ passing-game, especially with Rashard Higgins benched, yet again, is a shambles. Whatever slim chances the Browns have to make the playoffs, it’s pretty certain that the only way they can get there is by leaning on their only remaining strength: the ground game.
Before the Ravens game, OC Alex Van Pelt said this about Baker:
“The ball was flying off of his hands. He was very accurate. I do not know if we had an incompletion yesterday.”
How was Baker’s accuracy in the game? Dogshit. He was 18 of 37 for a 48.6% completion-rate. The only QBs with worse numbers were Jalen Hurts (45.2%) and Cam Newton (23.8%).
Playing a smashed-up Baker is tantamount to abandoning the passing game. And when you consider how Stefanski has abandoned the running game, that doesn’t leave much on offense, now does it?
Note to Browns defense: you are going to need some pick-sixes to win games going forward because you literally have no offense to help out with the scoring.
Note: To look-up player stats, go to this site, type in the player’s name, and then scroll down the page to the “Formation-Specific” section. This section will not be present if the player doesn’t have enough carries.
For some reason, many Browns commentators like to piss on D’Ernest Johnson. They will spout bullshit like: “he’s no Nick Chubb.” Really? DJ is not Nick Chubb? No shit Sherlock. Guess what? Nobody is Nick Chubb, aside from Chubb himself, of course. But make no mistake, DJ is elite. Take a look at this yards-per-carry chart:
That’s right, the Two-Headed Monster has sprouted another head. D’Ernest Johnson is no joke, and the Browns need to extend him.
This data is through Week 11, and includes running backs with 50 or more carries. It does not include other positions such as quarterback. So, you won’t see Lamar Jackson listed here though he would have been slightly ahead of Chubb at 6.03.
D’Ernest doesn’t show up in most rankings. I think that the apostrophe in his name might be confusing some stats systems out there. This data came from FantasyFootballers.org, however since they don’t let you set the date-range, you won’t be able to reproduce this exact chart.
I needed to post this now because not only is DJ’s contract coming to an end, but the Browns have all but given up on their ground game, and DJ might not have enough carries at the end of the year to rank. Hell, at the rate the Browns are going, Kareem Hunt might not get enough carries. During their Week 12 loss to the Ravens, Chubb only had 8 carries! Kareem had 7, and DJ got 0.
With Derrick Henry injured, I was thinking that Nick Chubb could win the rushing crown this year. But not only is he still behind Henry, he is also behind Joe Mixon, and way behind Jonathan Taylor.
This reminds me of 2019 when Freddie Kitchens didn’t give Chubb enough carries to win the rushing crown. Derrick Henry stole it from Chubb during the last game of the season when his coach gave him 32 attempts while Chubb only got 13. With the Browns playoff hopes pretty much gone, getting Chubb the rushing crown, and keeping Kareem & DJ in the top ten, is a worthy goal that fans would take satisfaction in.
I’m not saying that would be a bad thing, per se, but it would explain why we see the Browns fielding injured players when they have perfectly good backups on the roster. After all, it takes a special kind of crazy to put Jedrick Wills on the field and expect him to do his very difficult job while hopping on one foot.
David Goggins is a retired Navy SEAL, ultra-marathoner, and sort of a motivational speaker type of guy. I haven’t read his book, and don’t pretend to be knowledgeable of his philosophy, but I have heard him on Joe Rogan’s podcast (embedded below), so I am familiar with his approach. And it strikes as masochistic. Here is a quote:
“Pain unlocks a secret doorway in the mind, one that leads to both peak performance, and beautiful silence.”
Right now, Baker Mayfield is wracked with pain from multiple injuries, but he soldiers on Goggins-style. So, has he achieved peak performance? Not hardly. Just the opposite, actually.
The reason why I think the Browns are now Gogginites is the way both use the word: “accountable.” The Browns have a slogan: “smart, tough, and accountable.” And it has always struck me as odd because nobody seemed to be held accountable for anything. Here is Goggins talking about his “accountability mirror” concept:
This is different from the normal usage of the word “accountable” where if you are responsible for something and you screw up, you are subsequently held accountable, and punished by an authority such as your boss, your priest, or a judge.
So, Goggins has a different usage of accountable. And so do the Browns. For example, over a year ago, it was statistically proven that Odell Beckham, Jr. was wrecking the chemistry of the Browns’ offense. And yet, the team continued to employ him as they plunged from a playoff team to last place in their division. Nobody in the franchise (that we know of) has been held accountable for that incredibly bad decision despite the Browns constantly trumpeting that they are smart, tough, and accountable. Because when the Browns say “accountable” they have in mind the Goggins technique of shouting at yourself in the mirror.
So, have the Browns elevated pain-seeking above winning football games? It sure looks that way. Since he was benched for the Denver game, Baker has completed 58.8% of his throws during the subsequent four games. That’s a terrible number. Meanwhile, the uninjured Case Keenum has completed 64.4% of his attempts (versus the Broncos & Patriots). While that is below the league average, it is substantially better than Baker.
We know that, when healthy, Baker can play at an elite level. But when smashed up, not so much. Logically, one would play Keenum, give Baker some rest, and then in two or three weeks, if he looks good in practice, put him in again. The problem is that the concepts of “rest” and “healing” are frowned upon in a Goggins milieu.
Is the Goggins approach suitable for NFL teams? Well, for one thing, NFL players don’t have to seek pain; they get plenty of it all season long. Secondly, Goggins is an ultra-marathoner, and such athletes run very slowly while NFL players run very fast. According this site, ultra-marathoners run at a tortoise-like speed of 13 minutes per mile. The two sports are very different.
If the Browns want to castigate their reflection in the mirror every morning, I say: have at it. But when an injured player’s performance suffers, I say: put the fucking back-up in and win the fucking game!
Note: Baker is tough, but you don’t get points for that in the NFL.
Note: this reminds me of when Howard Stern came under the spell of the “Getting Things Done” cult years ago.
Note: NFL players are constantly lauded for playing through pain, but nobody ever mentions the game-day Toradol injections.
Note: Last week, I urged the Browns to increase the number of rushing plays, and they did, to great effect. They should continue this policy versus the Ravens. Not only are the Browns built for running the ball, but they insist on fielding a smashed-up QB. Last week, the Colts ran the ball 69.7% of the time, and smashed the Bills 41-16. So, let’s see the Browns take their rushing percentage up over 70%. Unleash the three-headed monster!
Note: why not just hang a tire from a rope and have Baker and Keenum throw balls through it? The guy with the best accuracy gets the start.
Note: according to reports, Donovan Peoples-Jones has been riding a stationary bike since his groin injury is preventing him from practicing. Well, it just so happens that I have a groin injury of my own. Guess how I got it? Cycling. Without crashing, you can still easily injure your muscles and joints while cycling – especially while racing. DPJ could probably rehab faster just by watching TV all day.
Note: a perplexed softball player once told me that he could hit longer home-runs when he did not lift weights in-between games. I introduced him to the concept of over-training. I would bet that the vast majority of NFL players are chronically over-trained.
Note: and finally, D’Ernest Johnson had another good outing versus the Lions with 26 yards on 5 carries for a 5.2 average. DJ is now a nose ahead of Kareem Hunt on the leader board. Chubb is #1 with 6.99 YPC, DJ is #6 with 5.25, and Kareem is #7 at 5.23. (Hunt only has 8 more carries than DJ now.) That’s THREE Browns in the top 10! The very definition of a three-headed monster!
The NFL is like a demolition derby where drivers crash their cars into each other until only one is able to move. The Browns were flying high going into Boston on Sunday, but then Bill Belichick crashed his junker into the Browns and knocked them clean over. The Browns never saw it coming.
How did the Browns get blindsided like that? Well, it’s really pretty simple. After Odell Beckham, Jr. bailed out, and the Browns offense went on a tear verses the Bengals, there was a celebratory atmosphere in Berea. So much so that the Browns “made it rain” on Wyatt Teller and Joel Bitonio.
Not only was the team elated, but their Week 10 foe had a longer injury list than the Browns did. For once, it looked like the Browns would actually have a health advantage.
But of course, the NFL’s talent-parity means that talent is rarely the deciding factor. And psychology is actually far more important. You can’t play like a cornered animal if you don’t feel like you are cornered. Parading around, throwing money in the air is just not a good way to prepare for your next game. Teller & Bitonio are deserving, of course, but their extensions should have been held for the bye week.
We see surprise bitch-slappings like this all the time in the NFL, and we will continue to see them for as long as the league maintains talent-parity. It’s embarrassing, but inevitable. At the moment, the Patriots are riding high and are now more susceptible to being upset by the Falcons on Thursday night. Meanwhile, the Browns are definitely feeling like a cornered animal, and are far more likely to destroy the Lions than they otherwise would be.
Having said that, Baker did play badly, and it looks like his multiple injuries have caught up with him. I’d like to see him get some rest and go into the first Ravens game refreshed.
Patriots rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson ran roughshod over the Browns defense which gave up 452 yards, but who had more yardage, Stevenson or D’Ernest Johnson? Answer: Stevenson had 114 all-purpose yards while DJ had 157. Not only that, but DJ averaged 5.2 yards per carry versus Stevenson’s 5.0. Stevenson & DJ were tied on rushing yardage at 100 and 99, but DJ poured on the passing yardage with 58 compared to Stevenson’s 14.
D’Ernest Johnson Gets No Respect
Clearly, DJ was the only bright spot in the debacle, and yet all people could talk about was how the Browns offense just doesn’t work without Nick Chubb. Not so. There was no drop-off at the position. On the Brown’s first drive, DJ had carries of 5,10,24,and 19 yards and brought the Browns to the 2 yard line of the Patriots. That’s 14.5 YPC! Could Nick Chubb have done it better? Could he have punched the ball into the end zone instead of being stopped on the 2 yard line? Perhaps, but even if there was a drop-off at the position, it was in infinitesimal one.
Back on October 21st, I tweeted that the Browns’ two-headed monster had sprouted a third head. And indeed DJ has only improved since then. As of Week 10, DJ’s stats now exceed those of Kareem Hunt. Not only that, but with Hunt injured, DJ’s carries have come up close to Kareem’s. DJ is now averaging 5.3 YPC on 56 attempts compared to Hunt’s 5.2 YPC on 69 attempts. DJ’s average pass-reception yardage also exceeds Hunt’s by 8.5 to 8.1 though DJ only has half the receptions that Hunt does.
Imagine this: the Browns promote Hunt to slot receiver so that he can be on the field more. Then they promote DJ to the “spelling Nick Chubb” role. Maybe you have to divert some Jarvis Landry targets to Hunt, but guess what? Hunt will get you way more YAC than Landry will.
Having a 3-headed monster is a fantastic development, yet DJ has received few accolades. For example, I just listened to a 48-minute long “Orange and Brown Talk” podcast and they literally didn’t even mention DJ. But not only that, the haters at Cleveland.com have actually poured derision on DJ. Can you imagine? You have to have a heart of stone (not to mention a low IQ) to hate on somebody like D’Ernest Johnson.
But make no mistake; the emergence of D’Ernest Johnson might be the single most significant event for the franchise this year.
How to Beat Stefanski
All that you have to do to defeat the Browns’ world-beating rushing attack is to crowd the line-of-scrimmage. Stefanski will give up on running the ball, which the entire team is built around, and pass for the rest of the game.
If you are behind by two touchdowns, does that mean you have to give up running the ball? Maybe for some teams, because as they plod down the field with 4.3 yards-per-carry, they burn too much clock. But exactly how long does it take Nick Chubb to run a 70-yard touchdown? 10 seconds? Is that too much? Apparently.
Here’s the thing about crowding the line-of-scrimmage: if the offense is able to open just one little hole, the running back can burst through and run for a touchdown. You see this a lot in the red zone: all the big-bodies are in there, and then the running back pops through a hole for the TD. But if this play is transported to the other end of the field, the running back goes for 98 yards because there is no secondary!
We see plays like this sometimes early in a game when the defense is bound and determined to stop Nick Chubb. And they do – for a while. Then Chubb pops one for a huge gain. So, he has runs of 3, 1, -2, 0, 4, 3, -1, 75. What’s so wrong with that? Think of the defense as a door, and the o-line as a battering ram. Sometimes it takes a while to break down the door. But once it is broken, the Browns have four guys who can blow through it: Chubb, Hunt, Johnson, and Felton. To save wear-and-tear on the running backs, you could even have the initial battering be done by your fullbacks.
Taking the “playing to your strengths” theme to its extreme, you deploy 8 linemen, the QB, a fullback, and a running back. You run the ball on every play. If you go three-and-out, you do it again next series. And you keep on doing it, with no passing at all, for however long it takes for the running back to pop through on a chunk play. In such a scheme, the QB doesn’t do much, so why not replace him with a second fullback? So, you have Janovich and Stanton line up behind the guards, and then the ball is snapped directly to Chubb. Imagine you are a linebacker and you see Teller & Bitonio coming at you. Then, behind them, Janovich & Stanton, and behind them, Nick Chub. Terrifying!
If you can move the ball, then you wear out the defense, break their will, and trample them for the rest of the game. If you can’t move the ball, then they are the better team. It’s like a one-round boxing match: things get settled quickly. More often than not, the Browns should win because they are built for it.
In other words, Stefanski should stop giving up so easily and be more creative with the strength he has built into his team. Right now, the Browns are built for running, but wind up throwing, which doesn’t make a lot of sense when you think about it. Over the last three games, the Browns rank at #17 for team rushing plays (40.74%). So, there are *16* teams in the NFL that run the ball more than the Browns! There’s your trouble right there.
Curiously, the Ravens have done the same thing as the Browns. Formerly a smash-mouth offense, they are the #18 rushing team right behind the Browns over the last three weeks. And they have done badly during that period. They got smashed by the Bengals, squeaked by the Vikings in overtime, and beat by the Dolphins.
Note: see this site for stats on the last 3 weeks.
“I spoke to Odell Beckham Jr. on the phone last night, he told me he didn’t really want to talk about what happened in Cleveland and what led to his release there,” Salters said. “But he did say that every detail was crazy to him, he said, ‘I don’t have words for it. It stinks. It was never intended.’ And he said he never could have envisioned any of it. Beckham said he doesn’t blame anyone, he enjoyed his time in Cleveland…
Just some more passive/aggressive gibberish. Meanwhile, everybody knows exactly what happened. OBJ’s father launched a social-media attack on Baker Mayfield and OBJ failed to tell him to stand down thereby tacitly condoning the attack. “Never intended?” Bullshit. Note to Matthew Stafford: you’re next.
Meanwhile, in OBJ’s grand debut with the Rams on Monday Night Football, he caught two balls and had exactly one yard of YAC.
Oddly, during his ESPN2 Monday Night Football show, Eli Manning was asked why things went wrong for Odell Beckham, Jr. in Cleveland. Being OBJ’s first victim, you would think Eli would have an informative take on the situation. But he did not. In fact, he doesn’t appear to have followed OBJ’s career at all.
Note: last week, before the New England game, I highlighted this article. What happened next? The Browns got manhandled in the trenches by the Patriots.
Note: the beat-down at the hands of the Patriots reminded me of those Freddie Kitchens games in 2019 where he would brilliantly script the first 15 plays, and then…nothing. The other team would make a few adjustments, and the Browns would get beat. For example, Week 1 versus the Titans: the Browns scored a TD on their first drive, and then got crushed 43-13.
Note: in baseball, they say that hitting is contagious. I think the same thing happens in football; and the opposite. So, when a team is behind, everybody tenses up, and receivers start dropping balls. So, I’m not too worried about the drops and fumbles the Browns had on Sunday.
Note: after Baker threw his interception, Anthony Schwartz came in for the tackle like a lightening bolt, but when he arrived he was brushed off like so much dandruff. See the 3:08 mark in this video. I don’t think Schwartz is going to be breaking many tackles in the future.