The Cleveland Browns are a good enough football team to easily handle one that’s not at their level. That was clear from start to finish in their 23-3 win against the Jets in Week 2.
New York finished the first half with -14 (yes, negative) passing yards and couldn’t do much of anything offensively. That was largely because Jets quarterback Sam Darnold is sidelined with mono, backup Trevor Siemian had his foot twisted underneath him in the second quarter, and third-stringer Luke Falk was forced to play the majority of the game. It was also because the Browns’ defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage and gave the Jets no room to breathe.
But for all the defensive success Monday night, the Cleveland offense was quiet. Outside of a couple of vintage Odell Beckham Jr. plays, the Browns never found an offensive rhythm.
The same was true during the team’s 43-13 loss to the Titans in Week 1. Baker Mayfield threw three fourth-quarter interceptions and the Browns converted just one third down all game.
The Cleveland hype train ran rampant all offseason and — after just two games — the team hasn’t lived up to the expectations. It’s not so much that the Browns aren’t good; they’ve just been kind of boring. While that’s been a surprise, there’s still plenty of time for it to change.
The Browns’ offense looks out of sync and predictable
Anticipation for the Browns’ season was high even before a trade for Beckham whipped Cleveland into a frenzy. Most of the excitement was already in place thanks to Mayfield. The 2018 No. 1 overall pick set an NFL rookie record for touchdown passes and endeared himself to Cleveland with his take-no-shit attitude.
So far in 2019, though, his gunslinging style has been closer to sporadic than creative.
Mayfield finished with one touchdown and three interceptions against the Titans in Week 1 and struggled with his accuracy through much of Monday night, completing 19 of his 35 passes and throwing another pick. His 68.9 passer rating for the season is currently 30th-best in the NFL among starters.
His slow start has bogged down much of the offense, but he hasn’t been helped out by subpar protection from his offensive line and an underwhelming offensive gameplan either.
Play-action, run-pass options, and up-tempo drives were all key elements of the Browns catching fire offensively in the back half of the 2018 season. That was expected to continue when playcaller Freddie Kitchens became head coach. Instead, the offense has been painfully vanilla and predictable.
In fact, the only touchdown of the night for Mayfield was an 89-yard touchdown pass to Beckham that wasn’t called by Kitchens.
“It was a called run, and then and adjustment by Baker and Odell.”— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) September 17, 2019
Browns HC Freddie Kitchens explains Odell Beckham’s 89-yard touchdown catch.https://t.co/8azcNxTE3n pic.twitter.com/S88v8lKxKI
That touchdown was one of two dazzling highlights from Beckham, who has at least provided optimism that this offense will get rolling eventually.
Odell Beckham Jr. is still a star
The Browns’ most significant investment of the offseason was trading a first-round pick, third-round pick, and Jabrill Peppers for Beckham. He showed Monday why he’s worth every bit out of that trade package.
On the first drive of the game, Beckham made the kind of one-handed grab that has become his signature play in the NFL.
Uhhh... @obj— NFL (@NFL) September 17, 2019
: #CLEvsNYJ on ESPN
: NFL app // Yahoo Sports app
Watch on mobile: https://t.co/ESIacEHjwJ pic.twitter.com/GUNGLPqyur
Later, he took a quick slant 89 yards for a touchdown, another type of play he has made a staple of his game:
Mama there goes that man again! @bakermayfield ➡️ @obj = 89 YARD TD❗️— NFL (@NFL) September 17, 2019
: #CLEvsNYJ on ESPN
: NFL app // Yahoo Sports app
Watch on mobile: https://t.co/ESIacEHjwJ pic.twitter.com/zeBHXhLPJc
The latter — as Kitchens said — came on a called run that was changed by Mayfield and Beckham.
At the end of the game, Beckham had 161 receiving yards on just six receptions. It was a more explosive performance than his seven-catch, 71-yard Browns debut, and he also produced the kind of buzz moments we expected to see all season long from Cleveland.
Beckham isn’t the only player on the Browns who can make the offense must-watch TV, either. Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb, and David Njoku are all capable of chunk plays, and Mayfield is as thrilling as any quarterback in the NFL when he’s on his game. They’re all too talented to continue being boring.
While the Browns are still soul-searching on offense, this team is full of personality and is primed to be America’s darling if it finally can figure things out on field. I mean ... how can you not want to root for this group?
B • R • O • W • N • S (2019) pic.twitter.com/sMyCJYHj0w— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) September 17, 2019
The Browns still have a chance at becoming who we already thought they were: the NFL’s most entertaining team. Just give them a little more time to put it all together.