Cleveland Browns 7-on-7: Week 11

Cleveland Browns 7-on-7: Week 11

by November 20, 2021 1 comment

The red flags raised in the Week 10 Cleveland Browns’ 7-on-7 played a major role in last week’s loss for the to the New England Patriots. After the opening drive, Cleveland’s offense never got back to their identity of running the football. Turnovers compounded and all of the team-focused energy after the win over the Cincinnati Bengals seemingly evaporated.

Before the Browns can move onto Week 11 and the Detroit Lions, it’s time for one last look at Week 10 and the seven things that stood out.

1) Rinse and Repeat

Myles Garrett received mixed reviews this week when he criticized the coaching staff for not adapting as the game went on against the Patriots. “We didn’t make adjustments as in they kept on scoring, and we weren’t countering that,” the USA Today quoted him saying. “So, I mean, we need to be better.”

To the eye-test, last season, in-game, and week-to-week adjustments were instrumental to the team’s overall success. Seeing the same issues plague the team each week in both wins and losses is worrisome. On offense, the tendency to get away from the strength of the running game has gotten old. Defensively, there never seems to be an anticipation for how the opposing offense will adjust to the Browns after the first half. The late-game collapses that one local journalist points out may be attributed to Garrett’s exact concern.

2) Outcoached

Head coach Kevin Stefanski said as much to the media following the game on Sunday and echoed it again in Monday’s availability. There’s little shame in being outcoached by the most successful coach in the last 20 years (and arguably in NFL history) in Bill Belichick. The shame, however, comes from looking completely lost on offense, Stefanski’s side of the ball.

Expecting D’Ernest Johnson to shred the Patriots’ defense like he did the Denver Broncos’ just weeks ago would have been a lofty expectation, but for one drive, he met it. On Cleveland’s first possession, he carried the ball four times for 58 yards, setting the Browns up at New England’s two-yard line. From there, the offense looked to the passing game, rattling off eight consecutive passing attempts from the remainder of the first drive and into their third. Johnson finished the first half with just six carries.

3) Outplayed

Part of this starts with coaching, but the players are not without fault in this loss. Tight end David Njoku cited his own “lazy” play on a would-be touchdown catch in the end zone. Defensively, the Browns struggled to wrap up on tackles. Downfield, Cleveland’s receivers seemed to have trouble separating in order to get open for Baker Mayfield to have a chance to find them.

The one area of the team that looked ready to play on Sunday was punter Jamie Gillan and the special teams. Cleveland’s “Scottish Hammer” pounded the ball with a precision that has been missing this season. He pinned the Patriots back inside their 10-yard line twice, and another time at their 20-yard line. Unfortunately, the defense couldn’t stop New England’s offense, which put together three drives of 90-plus yards.

4) Stefanski Protecting Mayfield From Himself

After the first quarter, the game never felt as close as the scoreboard may have looked. Nearing the end of the third quarter, Mayfield took a hard hit from Matt Judon, causing Stefanski to pull his starting quarterback. In a game that felt that out of hand, it was surprising that the second-year coach left Mayfield in as long as he did, especially given his list of injuries this season.

One of the admirable qualities about Mayfield is his ownership of the quarterback position and as a leader on this team. Earlier this season when he initially took the hit that tore his labrum against the Houston Texans, it was inspiring the way that he was back on the field for the start of the next drive. The beating he’s taking, however, is getting worse. If the passing game is too tempting with Mayfield on the field, take him out and put Case Keenum in. This should help the team stay on track with running the ball in order to create passing opportunities thanks to an effective rushing attack.

5) Zoned Out

Enough is enough, it’s time for Cleveland’s defense to man up – literally. To even the Madden quarterbacks sitting at home last weekend, it was obvious that the zone coverage Joe Woods’ defense was in wasn’t working. A week after his secondary was glued to the Cincinnati Bengals’ receivers in man-to-man, it was a bad look. A rookie, Mac Jones carved up the Browns on 19-of-23 passing for 198 yards and three touchdowns. Kendrick Bourne is no Ja’Marr Chase, yet he caught all four of his targets for 98 yards and a score, unlike Chase’s frustrating day in Week 9.

6) Identity Crisis in Cleveland

Stefanski’s offense once again didn’t portray the identity that the unit claims to have, being run-first. Cleveland put their money where its mouth is last week, extending premier guards Wyatt Teller and Joel Bitonio, seemingly further committing to the run-game via the offensive line. The game plan, however, failed to walk the walk, and the Browns rushed just twice the rest of the first half, despite trailing by 17 at the intermission.

7) Missing (and Validating) OBJ

When Odell Beckham Jr. was on the field with Cleveland this season, he was targeted more than any other player on the Browns. Without him the last two weeks, the receiver position has had just 21 targets against 29 for the other position groups. It has also been noted that a number of the wide receiver targets came after Mayfield had already left the game.

This is not a crime against the offense, because the Browns don’t have three pass-catching tight ends out there just for show. Njoku, the team’s leading receiver for most of this season, received four targets last week, catching one. For all of the scrutiny that OBJ received on his way out the door in Cleveland, the lack of targets to receivers seemingly validated his grievance. It will continue to be a monitored stat this season. The other receivers seem to miss the attention opposing defenses paid him, as well.

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Looking Ahead at Week 11

Cleveland has only lost back-to-back games once under Stefanski, and that was earlier this season. The Lions have played the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers closely, and Browns fans know well the desperation of chasing a win. Last week, the Lions played the Ben Roethlisberger-less Steelers to a tie, and have competed well in a number of games this season.

Sunday is a game the Browns should win on talent alone, but they’ll need to outplay the heart of the Lions. Reports late this week have favored Cleveland, as Nick Chubb and Demetric Felton Jr. have both been activated from the COVID-19 list. News out of Detroit has further gone the Browns’ way, as quarterback Jared Goff has been listed as doubtful with an oblique injury. Fourth-year pro Tim Boyle is likely to start. There’s no way around it, this is a must-win game for Cleveland.

1) A Game for Reflection

Just four short years ago, Cleveland joined the Detroit Lions (2008) as the only franchises with an 0-16 record in their history. The Browns’ Timehop to that period would likely feature a gameday graphic with Cody Kessler, Isaiah Crowell, and Duke Johnson. In some ways, Cleveland has come so far since then. In other ways, it feels all-too familiar, like scar tissue that has yet to heal.

Should the Browns find a way to lose on Sunday (no ties, thank you), the team might look more like the Jacksonville Jaguars of that season. They were just two years away from having the worst record in the league. Of course, “Believeland” would rather look the part of the Los Angeles Rams in the wake of drafting Goff first overall. He played well enough to help them to the playoffs before a Super Bowl appearance.

2) Back to the Basics

There isn’t much time left to punt on another week, with the Browns’ staff to “look at the tape” to figure things out. Cleveland needs a “get right” game, and the Lions present just that. The Browns are set to play four games in their division in the final six weeks of the season.

There is no reason to overthink this one. Mayfield is banged up and deep-threat Donovan Peoples-Jones is questionable. More importantly, both Chubb and Felton enter this week after two weeks of not taking hits in practice, so they should be fresh. The status of the offensive line is listed as healthy, as well. Even if the Lions try to take away the running game, they shouldn’t be effective in their attempt. That said, good teams can play to their strength even when their opponent tries to limit it. No excuses – Run. The. Ball.

3) No Whammies

Cleveland’s offense has a tendency to “press their luck” through the air when playing against good teams. Unfortunately, just as it goes in the classic game show, pressing one’s luck can lead to a whammy, which in this analogy means a turnover. With Mayfield’s interception last week against the Patriots, the Browns are now 1-4 when they turn the ball over on offense this season. The lone win was the Texans game where Cleveland turned it over twice. If The Browns can protect the football, they’ll likely get the victory. They are 4-1 this season when they keep a clean sheet in that category.

4) Time for a Defensive Clinic

When the Browns played the Chicago Bears in Week 3, they dominated on defense as recapped in the Week 4 edition of 7-on-7. Facing another NFC North opponent who may be playing with yet another backup quarterback, Cleveland should put on a repeat performance. Expecting nine sacks and 47 yards of total offense again may be a stretch, but the Lions are 0-8-1 for a reason.

Detroit is one of 13 teams in the league that has yet to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing on the season. That’s a bad thing for a team playing without their starting quarterback. Through the air with Goff, the Lions are in the bottom 10 of key offensive statistics like yards and touchdowns, despite being ranked near the league average in attempts. Even if Goff is the starter, Woods’ defense needs to take advantage of the moment in front of them and this time around, build upon it rather than eat the cheese and regress.

5) Home-Field Advantage?

Yes, this is a question. Frustrations with the team are high; understandably so within the fanbase, and across the city. At 5-5, this season is not a wash, but the tough losses to Pittsburgh and New England in the last four weeks have been hard for fans to watch. With Mayfield starting this week, it is difficult to say how long until the Dawg Pound stops barking and stops biting. Cleveland crowds have booed many a team, and of course, there’s Bottlegate, which is a scarlet letter some fans wear like a badge of honor.

Under Mayfield, the Browns have done pretty well when playing in the state of Ohio, and at home, Mayfield is 17-10. This only goes to say that the team deserves a chance to show improvement over last week. If the crowd at FirstEnergy Stadium decides that they have  seen enough, the home field advantage could dissipate, and actually work against their desires. Outside of this year’s New York Mets, what team feels inspired to play well when being booed? Instead, every little thing becomes more frustrating by the distraction.

6) Hold Nothing Back

An Ivy-League graduate and reigning NFL Coach of the Year, it is hard to assume Stefanski is anything but a smart man. After the confusion at head coach that Hue Jackson was and the lack of discipline that was the Freddie Kitchens year, Stefanski brought an even-mannered, calculated culture of accountability rooted in data. Everything he did had a measurable reason behind it, and the production supported it.

Stefanski and the Browns drew the ire of sports bettors last season when he had Chubb run out of bounds at the one-yard line against the Texans. The decision allowed Cleveland to run the clock out rather than give Houston the ball back with time on the clock. The Browns held on to win 10-7, and Stefanski let it be known that he was focused on ball control and winning more than scoring. On Sunday, there needs to be no holding back whatsoever. Cleveland’s offense has gone anemic and needs to flex any iron it has against Detroit.

7) Another Historic Hurdle

As bad as the Lions have been this millennium, it may be hard to imagine that the Browns may have had it worse. It isn’t that hard to imagine, but the history is still interesting. Since the 2000 season, the two Lake Erie franchises have each gone through their fair share of coaches and quarterbacks. The seemingly constant turnover has unsurprisingly led to a struggle for sustained success. Detroit has mustered just five winning seasons, while the Browns have put together only three of their own.

The worst record for each team, of course, is the infamous 0-16, achieved by the Lions in 2008 and Cleveland in 2017, while both teams share their best record in that time at 11-5. Head-to-head, however, the advantage goes to Detroit, winners of four of the five matchups since 2000. The Browns were one of just two victories for the Lions during the 2009 season, and they have not beaten Detroit since 2001. Cleveland lost the most recent game between the teams in 2017, a 24-38 result at Ford Field. Can the Browns get over the hump?


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