Since division realignment in 2002, the Seahawks and Browns have played exactly every four years, splitting those games 2-2. Seattle has won twice in blowout fashion, the latest being a 30-13 game in 2015. Cleveland has won twice by three points each time, the latest being the 6-3 Leon Washington return debacle of 2011.
Home teams have won all four games, and this Sunday the Seahawks travel to Ohio in an attempt to kick the Browns while they’re down and to push their 2019 home record to 0-3.
Cleveland’s fans and those within the organization expected more than a 2-3 start with a bottom-10 offense but following a 31-3 defeat on Monday Night Football to the San Francisco 49ers, they’re searching for answers on how to play less like that and more like the team that beat the Ravens in Baltimore by 15. You know who else is looking for answers?
I sent five Qs to Chris Pokorny of Dawgs by Nature and in turn he sent me five corresponding As. There was also a bonus that some of you wish I would stop sending for some reason, as if air would be better because of course everyone knows who an All-Pro is, but that has rarely been the case. Especially for AFC blog managers (as would also be the case for me if anyone ever asked me a similar question, I’m sure), so let’s find out.
Does Chris know Michael Dickson and five other important things to get As for:
Q: If 0 is not concerned at all and 100 was threat level: Manziel, where would you number your concern for Baker Mayfield’s future at this point? If the threat level is quite low, can you just sort of go through the reasons why Baker’s had such a poor start to 2019 statistically?
A: I would say that my threat level is pretty low, about a 20, which is to say that I’m not too concerned. That is speaking to long-term concerns; in the short-term, meaning these next couple of games, I am concerned in general. This offense can be one of the betters ones in the league once it ‘clicks.’ The problem is I don’t know when that will be. I thought we saw glimpses of it against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 4, but then the team was right back to struggling in Week 5. That’s the thing about judging Mayfield on his poor statistical start to the 2019 season -- yes, he has been part of the problem, but he’s not the problem. This is a collective effort and trickle down effect of Mayfield not trusting his protection, relying too much on his first reads, having his security blankets both out (his favorite slot receiver and tight end), inconsistent pass protection that throws Mayfied’s mechanics off since he’s bailing so quickly, a lack of red zone efficiency, etc.
.@49ers defensive line v @browns @bakermayfield was an episode of “Shark Week”. It should have been simulcast on the Discovery Channel. #Baker was nothing more than “Chum Bait”. You 49ers fans better enjoy this show. They are the new Nasty Boyz. #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/G1t6VgR5Dg— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) October 8, 2019
Additionally, the top reason the Browns are off to a poor statistical start this year is that the offensive gameplans haven’t made much sense. One of the reasons I, along with other Browns fans, advocated for Freddie Kitchens to become the head coach was because of how smart the offensive playcalling was last year. Namely, despite having a mediocre offensive line, Cleveland mitigated it with plenty of short passes to get Mayfield in rhythm. This year, in too many instances, receivers are running deep routes with no checkdown option, and the protection isn’t good enough to hold up for that long. So many plays have just been wasted by Mayfield rolling to his right and throwing the ball away. Regarding Mayfield’s issues specifically, he has been having trouble with zone coverage, getting off his first read, and is throwing off his back foot instead of stepping up in the pocket (although that last issue seemed to be more resolved against Baltimore).
Q: Do you think the ascent for Freddie Kitchens, although he isn’t as young as some other head coaches around the league, was too quick? He hadn’t exactly been a part of relevant offenses with the Arizona Cardinals and then one day he’s the leading candidate to be the head coach of the Browns, somewhat boosted, I assume, by his relative popularity in the media and with fans. Same guy running the offense, same quarterback, same Landry and Chubb, add Odell Beckham, Jr., and now it feels like the offense is bouncing somewhere between “boring” and “bad.” Landry and Beckham have combined for one touchdown and without David Njoku, there isn’t a fourth threat around Mayfield. So, is Kitchens in over his head and if not, what are the issues in the organization that have held them back this season? Or is it just dumb luck?
A: Cleveland’s struggles are definitely not dumb luck: there are a lot of issues that need to be cleaned up, mostly on the offensive side of the ball. I don’t think I’d complain about the ascent of Freddie Kitchens being too fast. His offense in the second half of last season was smart and played to the strengths of Baker Mayfield, so it felt natural to keep the two paired together. Personally, I preferred the thought of Bruce Arians being hired as the head coach, because he would’ve kept Kitchens as his offensive coordinator. However, if Kitchens did good again, he might have been hired away in 2020 -- so I understand why Cleveland hot-shotted him to head coach.
I think one of the complications I didn’t anticipate was bringing Todd Monken in as the team’s new offensive coordinator. Monken is putting together the offensive gameplan, but Kitchens is still calling plays. For the first three games of the season, the offense looked more like Tampa Bay’s offense with Monken last year as opposed to Kitchens’ offense...which defeated the whole purpose of wanting Kitchens as a head coach. No one is giving up on Kitchens, but it’s fair to say that we’ve had to taper our expectations with him and remember that his quick rise to the top might require some patience before he gets things down pat.
Q: Speaking of bad seasons, I’m now going to turn my attention to something that’s not a bad season: seven sacks by Myles Garrett. I was surprised by this figure not because it’s Garrett and it’s unimaginable, but because it’s Garrett and I hadn’t noticed this? Well, he’s one of the greats and he’s only 24. He could start topping 20 sacks. Can you speak on the growth of Garrett in year three and has his presence opened up opportunities for his teammates or is it a one-man wrecking crew like Aaron Donald often is?
A: A few different things I’ve noticed about Myles Garrett this season is that he seems stronger with his ability to bull-rush a lineman better at times, and also the team is more willing to move him around to either defensive end spot throughout the game instead of always lining up against the left tackle. I am encouraged by Garrett’s progress, but I think we’re still waiting for his teammates to take more advantage of his presence.
Regarding being a one-man wrecking crew, that is the number one I hope we can start seeing more out of Garrett. Through five games, I’ve seen it once, which was against the Jets. He punished Jets quarterbacks all game long and impacted the game for four quarters. In the other games, sometimes he (and the rest of the defense) is a bit invisible, and then all of a sudden at the end of a half, Garrett will beat the tackle around the edge for a sack. Am I complaining about that? Heck no -- but, I get jealous when I see Aaron Donald’s more consistent impact, or how Nick Bosa of the 49ers destroyed Cleveland all game long last week. Garrett is a former No. 1 pick, so I want to set the bar higher for him.
Q: I’m imagining myself being unoriginal and asking if you there’s any OBJ buyer’s remorse but instead I want to focus on what was lost: Jabrill Peppers, who I saw make a great play for the Giants last weekend. Is the safety position seriously missing Peppers and what’s the status on the two corners you really want to see out there, Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams?
A: There is no buyer’s remorse with Odell Beckham. If there’s any buyer’s remorse with that big package deal, it’s actually trading right guard Kevin Zeitler away for Olivier Vernon. That’s not necessarily a complaint about Vernon, but Zeitler is sorely missed. Peppers had a great end to 2018, but Cleveland’s secondary hasn’t been an issue this year, even with Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams missing most of the season with hamstring injuries (both players suffered the same injury in practice within ten minutes of each other). Both players were just starting to get into the swing of practice this week, so the expectation is that they’ll continue to use the bye next week to heal up and then return against the Patriots after the bye.
Q: Okay, so the Browns ARE 2-3 right now and they DO have to play the Seahawks and Patriots in their next two games, but then they might have the easiest remaining schedule in the NFL according to my eyes. Lots and lots of winnable games, including in the division -- they haven’t played the Bengals or Steelers yet -- and so even 2-5 feels like something they could potentially recover from. But 3-3 or 4-3 is going to give them a significant advantage to hit 12 wins maybe. Maybe! I know things don’t feel that great yet. Are you at the point where you feel like every game is must-win just to get the confidence stirred up or do you think it’s only been five games, everyone needs to chill, and by January we could definitely be talking about Kitchens and Baker as a playoff duo?
A: Going into the bye week at 2-4 would be less than ideal, because it’s hard to imagine getting past that Patriots defense after the bye. The Browns’ schedule for the second half of the season is tailor made for them to make the postseason. Cleveland already owns a road victory over the Ravens, which is the team that figures to be their only serious threat for the AFC North title. Simply put, the Browns need to aim to go 6-0 in the division. If you add those 5 division wins to their 2-5 record, that’s 7-5 -- and then we’ll see how the other games go. There is definitely a lot of optimism in Cleveland still; we’re not at the must-win point yet, because that will be dictated by how big of a division lead the Ravens can put together as the season goes along. As of today, I’m still expecting the Browns to win the AFC North.
bonus: have you heard of michael dickson?
a: No, but I should have, given the success of our own punter, Jamie Gillan, to start the 2019 season!