Rashard “Deep Threat” Higgins

Last week, Joe Thomas suggested that Rashard Higgins could be the deep threat that the Browns allegedly need to replace Odell Beckham, Jr. Then, in the very next game, this happened:

That was a 43-yard bomb. And with a tiny bit more precision on the throw, Higgins would have probably scored.

Did Joe Thomas nail that, or what? Don’t forget, it was Thomas who selected (unofficially) Jedrick Wills as the Browns’ first pick in the 2020 draft. And it appears that he knows about other positions beyond the o-line.

Baker also hit Khadarel Hodge for a 42-yarder. And both bombs were launched in heavy rain.

In case you haven’t noticed, the Browns are 3-1 without OBJ. And that projects out to 12-4, a record for which any Browns fan would gladly ditch OBJ. Baker has also not thrown an interception since that last one where OBJ got hurt.

Coincidence? I don’t think so. Like I have been saying for a long time, the way you fix Baker is to ditch OBJ. The last three games were played in monsoon-like conditions, so I am looking forward to see how Baker does in sunny Jacksonville this week.

Now, look again at the video above and notice how much separation Hig had on Eagles CB Avonte Maddox, who is faster than OBJ. With a 4.39s 40-yard dash time, Maddox is considerably faster than Hig who runs a 4.64, and yet Hig still beat him. How is that possible?

Well, according to Paul DePodesta’s analytics, it’s not. And that’s why (I believe) Hig rode the bench for most of this season and nearly all of 2019.

But Hig did indeed beat Maddox. If you look at Hig’s route here, it looks like Maddox was expecting him to head for the sideline, and when Hig turned to the middle, it was too late. Maddox’s superior speed didn’t help him because Hig is wily, and knows how to get open.

So, considering how the Browns are winning, how well Baker is playing, and how he is hitting Hig & Hodge deep, I think we can declare the whole “replace OBJ” issue as settled. And instead of wasting resources on bringing in another prima-donna speedster to badger Baker for the ball, we can think about getting more help on defense where the team actually needs it.

On another subject…as fun as it is to watch Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb hurdle tacklers, Coach Stump should discourage them from doing so.

Here is what Tony Dorsett had to say on the subject:

“That’s one thing that I don’t like. When you get airborne, you’re at the mercy of the hit, and sometimes you can’t protect yourself.”

In the video below, we see an example of what can happen. This kid was miraculously unhurt, but he could have easily snapped his spine. This is Bijan Robinson of the Texas Longhorns:

Olympic high hurdles are 3.5 feet tall; NFL players are considerably taller. So, the math is working against you. Now, if you are on the goal-line, and want to jump over the d-line to get into the end zone, that’s a little different because there are bodies below you that reduce the height of your drop. So, that looks less risky to me. In any case, injuries in the NFL are far too common as it is, and even players like Kareem Hunt who think they are indestructible should heed the advice of the legendary Dorsett.

Rashard “Healthy Scratch” Higgins Does it Again

Last week, I was surprised to see that most analysts were picking the Texans to defeat the Browns. Everybody seemed to think that Deshaun Watson and his fleet of high-flying receivers would eviscerate the porous Browns defense, despite the fact that it was another too-windy-to-pass day in Cleveland. But when the dust settled, the Browns emerged triumphant.

And you might be surprised to learn that the top receiver in the game wasn’t Houston’s Will Fuller, Brandin Cooks, or Randall Cobb. It wasn’t even Browns’ Pro-Bowl receiver Jarvis Landry. It was none other than Rashard Higgins with his 3 catches for 48 yards.

During the Browns’ 64-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter, Higgins accounted for 35 of those yards. First, with a 21-yard catch, and then by drawing a 14-yard pass-interference call. These were big plays in such a low-scoring game.

Again, it was no-passing weather, but I’m discussing the passing game because I think it is important that Higgins played in a game with several superb receivers, and came out with the best stats. Now that he is finally getting some snaps, everybody is remembering just how good of a player he is.

But there is still a notion going around that without Odell Beckham, Jr., the Browns need a speedster deep-threat to keep DBs from coming in to help stop the Browns’ ground game. I guess adherents of this notion don’t think a Pro-Bowl receiver like Jarvis Landry is sufficient, and want to acquire a faster receiver. But the Browns don’t lack speedsters. Both Taywan Taylor and KhaDarel Hodge are faster than OBJ.

Furthermore, after the Houston game, Joe Thomas suggested that “Higgy” could be the deep-threat that the Browns need to stretch defenses vertically. Higgy isn’t an elite speedster, but defenses should definitely fear him. They may not have picked-up on it yet, but the Baker-Higgins duo is lightening in a bottle.

Joe Thomas went on to downplay the need for a speedster by pointing out that the Browns’ awesome ground-game is like a magnet sucking in the DBs. In other words, it’s not the lack of a passing threat that is bringing safeties into the box, but rather the necessity of having more bodies to catch Chubb, or add to the pile that Kareem drags around with him wherever he goes.

I think it’s safe to say that Joe Thomas is a bonafide football expert, and if he thinks Higgy can be the downfield threat, then there is a good chance that Higgy can do exactly that.

The fastest player on the Browns isn’t a wide-out, or even an offensive player. It’s cornerback Denzel Ward. See the list below. Higgins is not fast, but he’s not slow either. He’s neck-and-neck with Kareem Hunt and David Njoku, so he is in good company.

Just for fun, I included a couple of linemen in the list. Turns out, Myles Garret is faster than several Browns pass-catchers, faster than Kareem Hunt, and nipping at Nick Chubb’s heels. Amazing.

If you are not able to run in a straight line, don’t be surprised if Sheldon Richardson in-pursuit catches you from behind.

Baker Mayfield is as fast as his fullback, Andy Janovich.

40-yard-dash times for some Cleveland Browns players:
4.32 – Denzel Ward (CB)
4.33 – Taywan Taylor (WR)
4.39 – KhaDarel Hodge (WR)
4.43 – Odell Beckham, Jr (WR)
4.48 – Donovan Peoples-Jones (WR)
4.51 – Jarvis Landry (WR)
4.53 – Nick Chubb (RB)
4.57 – Myles Garrett (DE)
4.62 – Kareem Hunt (RB)
4.64 – Rashard Higgins (WR)
4.64 – David Njoku (TE)
4.71 – Stephen Carlson (TE)
4.72 – Austin Hooper (TE)
4.73 – Harrison Bryant (TE)
4.81 – Andy Janovich (FB)
4.81 – Baker Mayfield (QB)
4.86 – Sheldon Richardson (DT)

Note: on his first day back, Nick Chubb immediately resumed injecting Browns fans with heroin via his dazzling running abilities. Did you know that even after missing 4 games, Chubb is still the NFL leader in runs of 20 yards or longer with 7 such outbursts? Kyler Murray is in second place with 6. If he weren’t injured, Chubb would probably have double Murray’s total.

Note: Joe Thomas made his remarks on the “Cleveland Browns Daily” podcast on November 16, 2020. Skip forward 37 minutes.

Note: It doesn’t look like there is any organized program to speed-test players after the combine. I’m sure that players are clocked during training camp, but those numbers don’t seem to get published. And sprinting is like anything else, if you practice, you get better, and players certainly do train for the combine. So, while the times listed above may have been accurate at one point in time, they may not be quite so accurate now.

With Beckham Out, the Browns Need a New Scheme

As I discussed in my previous post, the Baker/Beckham duo stank up the NFL so bad last year, Coach Stefanski had to develop a special “Baker & Beckham are Bums” scheme to reduce their roles. Instead of throwing incompletion after incompletion to Odell, Baker Mayfield’s new job was to hand the ball to Nick Chubb & Kareem Hunt, and throw short passes to his tight-ends, while Beckham’s new role was to get in the way of his cornerback as Nick Chubb steamed by.

It worked pretty well, and I congratulate Coach Stefanski on being able to work around such rotten players. But now that the OBJ “reality distortion field” is no longer warping Baker’s mind, he is free to go back to his 2018 self. We saw proof of this in the Cincinnati and Oakland games, so now it’s time for a new scheme where Baker gets to air it out a bit more. He’s earned it.

Also, now that Nick Chubb is back, I, and plenty of other fans, would love to see him and Kareem Hunt on the field at the same time. That’s just crazy exciting for fans. Commentators are raving about how wonderful it is to have Kareem “spelling” Chubb, but does Nick really get tired? Somehow, I doubt it. In fact, if you needed 25 carries a game, both Chubb & Kareem would be more than happy, and capable, of giving them to you. I don’t want to see either player doing the punishing work of a fullback, so why not have Kareem as your slot receiver?

No receiver on the Browns has more touchdown catches than Hunt (4) and he is way more reliable than OBJ ever was. Hunt has caught 72% of his targets compared to OBJ’s 53.5%. Defenses should be more afraid of Hunt than they were of OBJ. Throwing the ball to Hunt in the defensive backfield should keep defensive coordinators up at night. Hell, linebackers have trouble bringing down Hunt, let alone DBs.

One of the most eagerly anticipated developments of the preseason was how the new coach would use Chubb & Hunt. Then, when Stefanski announced that Hunt would be spelling Chubb, fans felt let down. They wanted both guns blazing, but instead were told that Chubb needs to nap between possessions. It came across as a terrible lack of creativity.

So, here’s a play: Landry is wide-out left, Higgins is wide-out right. There is one tight-end on the left. Chubb is in the backfield, Kareem is in the slot on the right. Chubb goes left, Baker fakes it to him, bootlegs right and throws a short pass to Hunt. Next play, same thing only Baker pump fakes to Kareem, and throws downfield to Landry or Higgins. Next play, same thing, only now the defense has gone to sleep on Chubb, and Baker hands it off to him. Next play, same thing only Baker stops short on his bootleg, and throws it back to the tight-end. Depending on the defense, Baker could choose any of these options.

So, there’s some ideas about how to use the team’s two super-star running backs simultaneously.

In case you were wondering, Rashard Higgins is the team’s most-reliable receiver, with OBJ being the worst. This is: “percent of targets caught”:

80.0% – Rashard Higgins
72.0% – Kareem Hunt
71.4% – Harrison Bryant
66.7% – Austin Hooper
66.0% – Jarvis Landry
61.5% – David Njoku
53.5% – Odell Beckham, Jr.

Honorable mentions:
Chubb only has 3 targets but he caught all of them.
DPJ is off to a good start, catching 3 of his 4 targets for 75%.