Some offensive and defensive highlights shine in an otherwise lackluster performance
As the old sports adage goes, “A win is a win.” Browns fans should be happy that they the team came out of Monday night’s game with a victory. Winning on the road in the National Football League is hard. After the shock of last week, The Browns were looking for a decisive win. Being so depleted with injuries and losing their starting quarterback, Sam Darnold, to mono, The New York Jets were supposed to be the sacrificial lamb to the slaughter for a Browns coming out party. The 23-3 victory last night at MetLife Stadium was by no means as decisive as it appears. This was a good victory, not a great one.
Until The Browns offense finally syncs together, good wins will be all that Browns fans can hope.
One positive emerging pattern of the past three games (including the last preseason game) is that the offense prefers to start fast. Every opening offensive drive has resulted in a score. This time, instead of airing the ball out, head coach Freddie Kitchens and offensive coordinator Todd Monken remembered they had running back Nick Chubb on the team. Chubb had some big gains early, but he and the offensive line sputtered around the goal line. Quarterback Baker Mayfield did make some plays downfield this drive as well, helping to set the ball up for an Austin Seibert twenty-three yard field goal.
The second offensive drive was basically lather, rinse, repeat for the Browns, ending this time in a forty-eight yard kick from Seibert. This drive, and other in the game, was aided not so much by the abilities of the offense as it was by the penalties by the defense. The Jets committed 12 penalties for 89 yards, and The Browns took advantage by scoring almost every time.
The first Browns touchdown came off of a nineteen yard run by Chubb. He made the best of great blocking from his line –which played significantly better than last week– and ran with purpose to the end zone. Chubb ended his day with eighteen carries for sixty-two yards, and he caught four passes for thirty-six yards. Fellow running back D’Ernest Johnson was also more of a pass catcher as he grabbed three for forty-two yards. The early offensive results show that Browns running backs will be heros of points-per-reception fantasy leagues, not being called upon to run much.
The highlights on offense belonged to none other than Odell Beckham Jr. Recording another 150+ yard receiving game at MetLife Stadium, OBJ had Browns fans wishing to play all their road games there. OBJ had a ho-hum one-handed tightrope-walking catch in the first quarter for thirty-three yards, and an ordinary seam route he sped eighty-nine yards for a score. OBJ finished his day with six receptions for 161 yards.
While Mayfield benefited from the copious receiving yards, his statistics were still quite pedestrian. He went 19 for 35 in attempts, with 325 yards passing, one touchdown, and one interception. Mayfield continued his uncharacteristic inaccuracy this week with passes too high for his receivers. Normally, this is a result of being too amped for the game, as opposed to last week when he was running for his life. This week, The Browns’ offense committed to moving the pocket, giving Mayfield more time and confidence to throw the ball. His only flaw this week making the balls uncatchable either by sailing them or throwing them too hard for his receivers to catch.
The offensive line played better, and so did the defensive line. Myles Garrett continues to prove to be unstoppable as he recorded four sacks. Penalties did not escape him, however, as he caused two roughing the passer infractions, one resulting in extending a drive for The Jets who were pinned deep near their own end zone. Garrett even sent Jets starting quarterback Trevor Siemian, in for Darnold, out of the game with a wicked ankle injury. Garrett quickly learned he was earning a reputation, so, when he sacked The Jets third-string QB Luke Falk twice, he merely bearhugged and wrestled him to the ground to avoid any more flags.
Falk himself ended going 20-25 with 198 yards, more than a third-string QB should have against a starting defense. Most of these yards were desperation yards, but there were too many nonetheless. Other than Garrett, there were some bright spots on defense. They held All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell to only sixty-eight yards running and sixty-one yards catching, which is a victory in and of itself. Several rotating defensive linemen stepped up for noticable contributions, including Daniel Ekuwale and Chad Thomas who had their names called multiple times throughout the broadcast. Even Chad Smith, who did not score any statistics, played hard enough for his teammates through his own personal tragedy. Smith’s girlfriend and mother to his newborn, Petara Cordero, was killed in a traffic accident last week.
There are some positives to take from this game. Both sides of the ball were more aggressive, and plays called were generally better. However, this victory was good, not great. If the Browns have any machinations of beating the defending National Football Conference Champion Los Angeles Rams next Sunday at home, they need to play even better than great.