Week 12: Many Questions, Few Answers
Baltimore 16, Browns 10
Summary: Something between a tooth extraction and a colonoscopy.
The key moment: I guess it’s that moment in the third quarter when the Browns faced third-and-five and quarterback Baker Mayfield made a decent throw to the rookie Demetric Felton, who is now a go-to receiver because the Browns couldn’t figure out how to use Odell Beckham Jr., and Felton dropped it. And the camera flashed to our guy Kevin Stefanski who — in perhaps his first expression of real emotion since taking the job — just shook his head repeatedly as if to say: “How did my life go so wrong?”
Happiness level (scale of 1-to-10): 3. It should be lower after that stinker, I suppose, but I think the Lions game braced me for it.
OK, listen, other than a fumble on a ludicrously ill-conceived trick play that they ran JUST LAST WEEK, another fumble when the ball squirted out of Baker Mayfield’s hand like a bar of soap in a cartoon, a 12-men-on-the-field penalty, multiple dropped passes, multiple balls that should have been intercepted, the keen strategic decision to give their best player the ball eight times, another 12-men on the field penalty, a missed field goal, the keen strategic decision to not have their best player on the field for the final drive, a couple of blown coverages, a final drive composed of three incomplete passes plus a fourth-down completion nowhere near the first-down marker, and the mathematical magic trick of becoming the first team since 2013 to pick off four passes in a regular-season game and still lose, this was a solid effort by the Cleveland Browns. No other notes.
I’m torn between two choices for The Browns Diary main topic this week. Should it be:
— Why do the Browns hate Nick Chubb?
— Do the Browns have any real future with Baker Mayfield at quarterback?
I guess we’ll start with Chubb, even though by this point that feels like a Live, Die, Repeat sort of topic — every week, I scream about this, and every week we all wake up in exactly the same situation. It’s like Einstein famously said, “Insanity is having Nick Chubb, one of the most productive running backs ever, and not using him.”
Yes, Albert Einstein was a big Nick Chubb fan from his days at Georgia.
At least it’s becoming more predictable: On the second play of the game, the Browns gave the ball to Chubb and then forgot to block Baltimore’s Patrick Queen, who blew up the play for a three-yard loss.
“OK, Nick,” I shouted at the television, “see you again in the third quarter.”
That was an overstatement, as it turned out. Stefanski and company, wily strategists that they are, gave Chubb the ball THREE MORE TIMES in the first half. They also gave the ball five times (four in a row, actually) to Kareem Hunt, who was back after a lengthy injury absence.
So that’s nine rushes. Meanwhile, they dropped back Baker Mayfield 22 times, they tried to have Jarvis Landry throw once, this clever strategy led to 10 completions, two fumbles, three points and a throbbing headache that still has not gone away.
There are two things at play here, I think.
The first thing is that Kevin Stefanski panics. This is hugely disappointing because everything about Stefanski — from his explicitly boring press conferences to his blank sideline face — suggests a man who will not let his emotions get the better of him. That’s supposed to be his great strength. But it’s become crystal clear now that he will abandon the running game at the first sign of trouble.
The Sunday Night crew made a big deal out of the Browns leading the NFL in rushing, which they did — but almost all of that was because of the first five weeks of the season, when they averaged 188 yards rushing per game.
Since then, they are averaging 70 fewer yards per game, and Sunday was the fourth time in seven weeks that they did not even rush for 100 yards. The Ravens probably do have the best rush defense in the AFC, but that’s the point isn’t it? This was supposed to be a battle of strength vs. strength, a great run offense vs. a great run defense.
The Browns gave up on that battle basically after the first running play.
Well, being fair, they probably gave up on that battle before the game even began.
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