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.
Odell is Full of Shit
ESPN’s Lisa Salters reports:
“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.