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Cleveland Browns 7-on-7: Week 9

Cleveland Browns 7-on-7 Week 9
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Coming off of a playoff run last year, the 2021 season continues to be a rough one for the Cleveland Browns. Odell Beckham Jr. wasn’t a real problem this season until he became one last week, and the organization compromised with the star receiver to release him. The drama only compounds issues on the team and for the fanbase. This all came after the Browns lost Week 8 in Cleveland to the Pittsburgh Steelers 15-10, in a game they could have won.

With the team’s season experiencing turbulence, the Browns must get a win in Week 9 against the Cincinnati Bengals. If they don’t, they not only fall further behind in the division, but risk falling apart should the losing continue. Before getting to that, let’s start with seven things from the Pittsburgh game that stood out.

1) Another Loss in the Turnover Battle

Cleveland hasn’t turned the ball over much this season, but when they have, the timing has been awful. In Week 1 against the Kansas City Chiefs, Cleveland started attempting to drain the clock midway through the third quarter by running the ball with Nick Chubb. An uncharacteristic fumble from the running back ultimately allowed the Chiefs to build momentum and come back to win.

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It was a similar feeling in Week 8 against Pittsburgh when Jarvis Landry fumbled as the Browns were driving in the fourth quarter. The lone turnover from either party in the game, the fumble proved to be the difference. Cleveland has turned the ball over on offense in four games this season, and they’ve lost three of those contests. The Browns are 4-1 when they break even in the turnover column or force their opponents to turn it over more.

2) Still “Just Enough” on Defense

Outside of the Browns’ 26-6 win over the Chicago Bears in Week 3, the Browns have mostly done just enough defensively to win or lose. For all of the shortcomings on the offensive side this season, the defense has failed to do their part in picking up any of the slack. With all of the money spent on playmakers this offseason, one would hope that Cleveland’s defense would be more impactful. In key moments of games, the Browns have failed to capitalize on turnover opportunities, managing just five this season.

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One of the strong points of the defense this season has been their rushing defense. They’ve held opponents under 100 yards on the ground five times this season. When opponents have topped the century mark, those three teams have won. While Cleveland works through their offensive issues, the defense needs to do a better job holding things together.

3) When Will Stefanski “Do a Better Job” Instead of Saying it?

After wins and losses alike, the Browns’ head coach Kevin Stefanski is quick to say that he wasn’t perfect in calling the plays. When following a loss, Stefanski at the podium always takes accountability for the loss, saying that he needs to do a better job. The statement always comes with a resolve to “get playmakers involved”, “put the offense in a better situation”, and “self-scout ourselves better”.  It was the same in the wake of the loss to the Steelers. With three losses in four weeks, fans are wondering when the talk will turn into action.

OBJ can’t be the only player frustrated with the lack of execution and the lack of dynamic plays on offense. Watching the games every week, the frustrations are understandable. If Stefanski is going to take the blame, then he has to be looked upon to spark a change in the Browns. The coach should be wary about shouldering more blame than he can carry before the fanbase’s frustrations toward him grow.

4) Distractions Are Mounting

Before the Beckham situation this last week, the trade deadline and even Halloween served as enough distraction for the Browns last week. Heading into the rivalry game, Cleveland’s players tricked the fans into believing they were ready to take on the Steelers, treating them instead to a performance that oozed lack of focus.

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It was a topic coming out of the weekend about the Halloween costumes that Browns players donned in their pregame walks to the locker room. If the game had ended differently, there would have been time to talk about how the Browns are having fun as they look to have their season back on track. Instead, the young and talented Cleveland team looks too immature to have full awareness of their situation.

5) Cleveland’s Identity Looks Lost

For just the second time this season, the Browns failed to reach 100 yards on the ground. D’Ernest Johnson showed against the Broncos that he can play a big role in filling the void of Kareem Hunt’s absence on the field. Instead, Johnson had just four rushing attempts, totaling 22 yards and Cleveland’s only touchdown. He wasn’t alone in under-usage, as Chubb only had 16 carries, grabbing 61 yards on the ground.

Last season, it was the passing game that came alive in the second half of the season to help the Browns reach the playoffs. After coming out of the summer with an understanding that it was going to be a run-first approach in Cleveland. Through eight weeks, the ground game hasn’t looked as effective as expected, and it is putting stress on the passing attack. Which way Stefanski decides to lean has yet to be seen, and that leads to the discussion on if Baker Mayfield can command a passing offense.

6) Landry’s Rough Return

The return of Landry from his sprained knee could not have seemingly come at a better time, and Mayfield certainly was glad to have him back. Landry was targeted 10 times in the game, catching five of the passes for 65 yards. His afternoon, of course, was ruined and defined by late drops and the critical fumble.

Missing on five of his targets was definitely a rare occurrence for Landry. In three previous games, he only missed on three passes. On such an important day for the team, the performance was less than inspiring, though without Landry’s presence, would Cleveland have been any more likely to win? Probably not.

7) Late Downs on Defense

Cleveland does a good job on the first and second downs but after that is another story. The defense is allowing their opponents to convert on 43-percent of their attempts on third down. To make matters worse, when they do get the stop, teams are converting 61-percent of their fourth-down attempts.

Time and time again in the Pittsburgh game, when the Steelers needed nine yards they found 10, and when they needed 20 on first-and-20, they found it too. This comes back to a continued issue with Joe Woods’ defense that must be figured out. The talent is slowly working its way back onto the field, and the scheme must allow them to be successful.


Looking Ahead to Week 9

With all of the negativity around the Browns at this moment, the team needs to win. Long believed to be a problem on the team, Beckham is no longer there, and he can now be the scapegoat for their struggles if the Browns can start winning. Getting that done against the Bengals this weekend would be a great start.

Cincinnati has stolen the thunder from Cleveland this year. On Sunday, they aim to stake their claim as the division’s true “new thing”. The bye week won’t come until next month for Cleveland, and the season could be lost by that point. Before the doomsday thoughts settle in, however, much can be done this weekend to turn things around.

1) Week 9 Starts in the Secondary

Cleveland is still banged up in the secondary with A.J. Green, John Johnson III, and Denzel Ward, and each of them experienced limitations in practice this week. Playing against another group of physical receivers. Things may get handsy downfield, and the Browns’ defensive backs need to make sure they play clean. Defensive pass interference calls have really added up against Cleveland this season and made a major impact at times. Playing in hostile territory already, the Browns can’t afford to let the officials play a bigger role in this one than necessary.

2) Can the Browns Generate Their Own Spark?

The Browns have benefitted from a home-friendly schedule through the first portion of the schedule. So far, they’ve played just three games on the road. Now, Cleveland has back-to-back games as the visitors, starting with Sunday in the Jungle of Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals are 2-1 at home this season and return after three weeks of travel.

The Bengals are going home with two more wins under their belt entering Week 9. Cincinnati and their fans are going into this week confident they can take down the Browns. Cleveland will have to create their own spark without the environment of the Dawg Pound. The team is 1-2 on the road, with losses to the Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers and a narrow victory over the Minnesota Vikings, they have yet to show they can.

3) Debut Against Chase

Cleveland has a number of premier players in the secondary. Before the season they looked prepared for Ja’Marr Chase in the AFC North. As it stands now, however, the back end of the Browns’ defense has been a liability to this point. On the other side, Chase has had some huge games. One party or the other will look to capture the moment on Sunday and make a statement to the other moving forward.

Along with Chase, the Bengals have Joe Burrow back, and together the two can stretch the field. The Browns have twice been powerless against similar quarterback-wide receiver combinations this season. Justin Herbert found Mike Williams eight times for 165 yards and two scores, while Patrick Mahomes hit Tyreek Hill for 197 receiving yards on 11 catches, including a touchdown.

4) Take the Turnover Opportunities

Burrow is slinging the ball well this season, but he’s been prone to throwing interceptions as well. There have been a number of opportunities for the Browns to intercept a pass, as with late against Pittsburgh last week, only to see it fall to the ground incomplete. This weekend, the numbers suggest that Cleveland will have a pass or two that they can capture on defense. To get the win, they’ll need to.

As stated above, the Browns’ defense has done just enough to win or lose their games this season. Thus, they have not done enough to control an outcome. Expecting more of the same against the Bengals, Cleveland needs to take hold of the chance they’ll be presented to steal the moment.

5) Big Day Needed for the Front Line

The key to defeating the Bengals this weekend lies in limiting Burrow’s ability to manage the game. Along with his propensity to throw an interception, Burrow has been sacked 20 times already this season. Cleveland has one of the best front units, even given the injury to Jadeveon Clowney.

Myles Garrett added another sack to his total last week against Pittsburgh but should be ready for a big day. An afternoon like the Bears game would be welcomed. For all the access that they may find getting to Burrow, the front needs to remain aware of Joe Mixon in the backfield.

6) Cleveland Needs a Statement Game

The Beckham saga in Cleveland has reached its end, but the fallout will continue to come throughout the season. At this point, the players need to take control of the narrative. They can do that by speaking with their play on the field.

Starting with Stefanski, there will be a need to show that OBJ wasn’t taking advantage of his opportunities. In comparison to previous weeks, the Browns may make a point to get more dynamic this week on offense. With focused play, they can unite together and show they won’t let one player detour the team’s postseason expectations.

7) All Eyes on Mayfield

When Odell Beckham Sr. called out the Browns for not utilizing his son’s talents properly, he was calling out Mayfield. Though OBJ and Mayfield have trained together during the offseason since Beckham was still with the Giants, things just never clicked. Granted, due to injuries, they had limited opportunities under Stefanski. Now, Mayfield must move forward without his friend. His play has to show that he can lead these Browns.

Usually one to play best with a chip on his shoulder, Mayfield must not allow it to be too heavy. After all, as he’s still got that torn labrum. Bad things happen when players try too hard, as with the Landry fumble last week. Sunday can quickly get away from Mayfield if he isn’t dialed in entirely. The pressure will be on him to hit his receivers, but he must not force things.


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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images

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