By: Gabriel Anderson
It’s been a long journey for the Cleveland Browns. What has it been? 100 years since they started this hot? Actually, they haven’t started this well since Bill Belichick was the head coach. They have gone through a laundry list of quarterbacks and losing seasons in the past decades but the pieces of the puzzle seem to finally be aligning and the Cleveland Browns are not only serious contenders in the AFC North but in the AFC as a whole! No one seems willing to admit it but it is the truth! Baker Mayfield isn’t a quarterback that is in MVP talks with the likes of Mahomes, Rodgers, Wilson, or Allen but he’s the first quarterback the Browns have found stability with and he is winning games. Mayfield isn’t the key to how head coach Kevin Stefanski or offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt has powered the Browns offense though. So how are the Browns doing it?
The Browns lead the league in the following rushing metrics: rushing play percentage (51.7%), rushing yards per game (188.4), rushes of 10 or greater yards (33 rushes). Additionally, they are second in the league in yards per carry (5.48). Don’t expect the Browns running game to slow down with their HB1 Nick Chubb sidelined for the next few weeks. The Browns have depth at halfback with Kareem Hunt and second-year man D’Ernest Johnson carrying the ball effectively. The Browns offensive line deserves all the love in the world with the performances they have put together so far in the season (Notable addition: Jedrick Wills is the highest graded rookie OT based on ratings by PFF). They will be tested in week 6 with a matchup against the stiff Pittsburgh Steelers defensive front. The Steelers rush defense ranks second only behind Tampa Bay but will face their toughest challenge in facing the Cleveland offensive front.
Stefanski, a former member of the Minnesota Vikings during Adrian Peterson’s dominance, has a commitment to the ground game but in today’s league, you have to be able to put the ball in the air effectively and without turning the ball over. So far this season Mayfield has met the mark but hasn’t had any earth-shattering performances. Baker’s stat line so far is a 62.6% completion rate, 729 passing yards, 7 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 93.7. Mayfield isn’t performing in a way that would excite fantasy football owners but as long as Mayfield can continue to keep the ball out of the hands of the defense he is doing exactly what Stefanski and the Browns need him to do.
Meanwhile, on defense, the Browns have the 4th ranked rush defense led by a defensive player of the year front runner in Myles Garret but the secondary is ranked third-worst in the league in yards allowed. However, the defense’s ability to create turnovers has been a game-changer for the defense. The Browns have forced the second most fumbles (7), and third most interceptions (6). It all stems from the Browns defensive fronts’ ability to harass quarterbacks and is led by Miles Garret with 6 sacks through the first 5 games of the season.
The Browns offense has been elite and their ability to take time off the clock while imposing their will on the offensive front is a lethal ability that teams are going to struggle to stop. The Browns have the opportunity to be serious contenders in the AFC North this season but to take the next step to contend against the strong Ravens and Steelers the Browns secondary will have to improve. The Browns are ranked at #9 on the NFL Power Rankings and no one seems to believe the Browns are legit. Be prepared to see them split wins with division rivals in the Steelers and Ravens. Get used to seeing the Browns in the top 10 rankings and be prepared to see them split wins with division rivals in the Steelers and Ravens. The Browns are for real… Get used to it.