In preparing for Sunday’s matchup against the Cleveland Browns, Dawgs By Nature’s Executive Editor Chris Pokorny and I sat down for a small Q&A for one another’s publications.
The last game the Browns played was against the Baltimore Ravens. Since then, they enjoyed a bye week and now return to face the Ravens. Was this a much-needed rest for the Browns? Did they get anybody back from injury?
We don’t know if he’ll be activated, but linebacker Jacob Phillips was designated to return from IR. He suffered a torn biceps during a joint training camp practice with the Giants after being a third-round pick in the 2020 draft. He has some potential and good speed, but if he does return, it would only be as a rotational player since Cleveland typically only plays with two linebackers in Anthony Walker and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. The tight end room is also a bit thin, as Harrison Bryant hurt his ankle near the end of the last Ravens game and David Njoku just went on the COVID-19 list. Other than that, it’s been about getting guys healed up in general. Players have been playing through nagging injuries for awhile, so I’m sure the rest will be much appreciated. It’s not often that your team’s bye week doesn’t come until December.
Last game, the Browns managed 40 yards on the ground. Do you expect that to be repeated? What was impeding them from greater success?
It was a bit disheartening because it seemed that Baltimore was run blitzing and loading the box, and Cleveland couldn’t handle that. Now, we just saw the Patriots run the ball every play against the Bills’ defense with success, so that kind of makes it seem like, “Hey, if Cleveland is truly a good running team, they should be able to get the job done regardless.” The Patriots are just a different breed when it comes to gameplanning. The Browns’ receivers lack speed right now, so Baltimore was able to trust their secondary in one-on-one matchups and live with making Baker Mayfield execute enough times to beat them. I would have said that Baltimore’s success could be repeated, but that changed with a certain injury on the Ravens’ defense that leads me into your next question.
The Ravens will be playing this match without Marlon Humphrey after a season-ending injury against the Steelers last Sunday. How will the Browns look to capitalize on this? Who on offense benefits most from Humphrey’s absence?
I think of Humphrey as a solid cornerback, even if he hasn’t been too highly-graded by PFF this season. Cleveland doesn’t have a No. 1 receiver really, so I don’t think any player in particular benefits, but rather the collective group of the offense because I don’t know if Baltimore can confidently run their same aggressive style of defense with the same level of success. We saw how it influenced the game this past Sunday against Pittsburgh, when Ben Roethlisberger was able to lead the comeback, and then John Harbaugh was concerned about the defense’s ability to hold Pittsburgh in overtime. I think Cleveland will try to take more chances with their receivers in one-on-one situations along the boundary if Baltimore continues to blitz.
What do you think the Browns will change offensively to make this game go in favor of them this time around?
Hopefully they run a lot more screen passes. Cleveland was an outstanding team throwing the screen pass to Nick Chubb or Kareem Hunt to begin the season, multiple times per game — and yet, it has largely seemed to disappear from the offense. Two weeks ago, one screen pass was called to Hunt, and if Baker Mayfield hadn’t fumbled when double clutching the throw, Hunt had room to possibly score a touchdown. I also hope the team reconsiders how often they run the spread formation (empty backfield), because it rarely leads to much besides a quick completion to the tight end. There has been some chatter about a package involving both Chubb and Hunt, but I think that will ultimately be more continued wishful thinking by the media — it’s been wondered about for two years, and we still haven’t seen it deployed yet.
Who are two players (one offense, one defense) that could be the determining factors in this becoming a Browns’ win?
On offense, I’m definitely picking Kareem Hunt. I was excited about his return from injury before the bye week, but his usage seemed rather limited by the coaching staff. He is exactly the type of weapon who should’ve been used as a receiver to counter how often Baltimore was blitzing, and he has the tackle-breaking ability to help alleviate some of that mentality Baltimore had of having no respect for our other receivers’ speed or ability to get separation. On defense, I’ll take linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. Much like Patrick Queen was flying all over the field last matchup against Cleveland, JOK was doing the same thing against Baltimore, and that will continue to be key to keep the Ravens’ offense limited.