Very few analysts and talking heads would have expected the Browns to have come out with a win against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday night. However, after holding Sean McVay’s offence to just 20 points in this matchup in Ohio, fans in Believeland will be cursing their team’s mistakes and inability to execute.
McVay’s Rams only lagged behind the Kansas City Chiefs in offensive production last year, whilst this offseason, the Browns acquisition of unrivalled talent at the skill positions, led many to talk up the unit’s potential during this campaign.
Steve Wilks’ defence came up with two interceptions of Rams quarterback Jared Goff, as well as a forced fumble, and restricted LA to 90 total rushing yards, including only 43 for lead running back Todd Gurley.
Nonetheless, Freddie Kitchens’ offence stuttered. Quarterback Baker Mayfield was held to just 195 yards passing, completing only 50% of his pass attempts. Mayfield was constantly flushed out of the pocket by Aaron Donald and his colleagues on the opposing defensive line, yet didn’t show the sandlot style playmaking ability that has seen the former Oklahoma Sooner compared to Brett Favre. When he fled the so-called ‘protection’ of his offensive line, Mayfield frequently had to throw the ball away and never really looked a dynamic force.
Part of those struggles can be attributed to the Rams defence and their maven coordinator Wade Phillips. The Rams secondary made Browns wideouts work for their yards, holding the highly touted duo of Odell Beckham Jr and Jarvis Landry to under 65 yards receiving each.
But the Browns were frequently the architects of their own downfall. Cleveland’s Achilles heel, as many identified in the offseason, was the offensive line. Mayfield was constantly under pressure, whilst Nick Chubb’s 96 rushing yards were hard won with a number of big runs. In fact, the plan for Kitchens and his offensive staff going forward should be to get Chubb going again like he did last season. Once the ex-Georgia Bulldog is ripping off those long gains that we saw last year, he could be the catalyst for getting this very expensive offensive machine off and running. Literally.
Kitchens’ and his staff may also want to look at their play calling. Beckham was restricted to making plays on slant routes, whilst on 4th and 9 with 9 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Cleveland bizarrely called a draw play to Chubb, which unsurprisingly failed.
It would have been a bigger shock had the Browns’ influx of talent across the roster suddenly gelled from the moment the season kicked off. Inevitably it will take some time for the franchise, with its brand-new coaching staff, to get into a groove. But in a division with the rebuilding Bengals, a Steelers team sans its franchise quarterback, and an explosive Ravens squad, Kitchens and co must get this sputtering offence firing soon.