The Cleveland Browns moved their record to 3 – 1 with a hard-fought victory over the Minnesota Vikings. Head coach Kevin Stefanski returned to the place he called home for over a decade and pulled out a victory.
It wasn’t a pretty victory. Far from it but it was a victory.
Much like the Browns Week 1 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, where some celebrated a close loss while others bemoaned a loss is a loss, how you see Week 4’s victory depends on your focus. Outcome-oriented fans will mostly care that their team found a way to win. Process-oriented fans will see some of the big concerns and find it hard to be very positive bout the victory.
By the end of the season, how Cleveland won in Week 4 won’t matter much at all. That they won, will. How they won on Sunday will, however, impact expectations and the narrative around the team.
So let us take a look at everything we know shortly following the Browns third win of the season:
Pass Rush is Legit
While the Browns will only be credited with two sacks against Kirk Cousins and the Vikings, watching the game showed how good the team’s pass rush was.
Myles Garrett, Jadeveon Clowney, Takk McKinley and a whole host of other Cleveland defenders were in Cousins’ face more often than not Sunday. The Browns pass rush affected so many passes that it is a clear reminder of why sacks alone do not define the success at getting after the passer.
Joe Woods brought all kinds of creative pressures outside of his front four as well. Even Denzel Ward (2) and John Johnson III (1) brought pressure a few times from the secondary to change up the look for the Minnesota passer.
A week after controlling the game against the Chicago Bears, the Cleveland pass rush once again was a huge part of their victory in Week 4.
Baker Was Bad
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There is almost no other way to put it when it comes to Baker Mayfield’s play on Sunday. He was bad.
The raw statistics don’t do it justice but he completed just 15 of 33 passes for 155 yards. No touchdowns, no interceptions. The number of players he missed that were open is the bigger problem.
Almost all of his misses were high or long, or both, except for the rocket he threw behind Odell Beckham Jr. late in the game.
There is real concern that his non-throwing shoulder, which is braced, could be causing his inability to release the ball as he normally does. Mayfield was very accurate prior to the injury, and even still against Chicago some, but that was nowhere to be found Sunday.
While his play was terrible, it does not “prove” anything about him as a player. As shared on social media, Aaron Rodgers’ Week 1 game was worse than Mayfield’s Week 4 showing (Rodgers is A, Mayfield is B):
Mayfield was honest about his performance after the game but must also make the improvements if the Browns will be able to continue their winning ways:
Run Game Still High Level
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Playing with a struggling quarterback, the two-headed monster of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt still did well. The Cleveland run game was also playing against a Minnesota defense that had a lot of experience against the wide zone attack from practicing against their own offense.
All of that, along with Jedrick Wills being limited then going out, and Chubb still had 100 yards rushing while Hunt added 69 yards and a score on the ground as well.
Defense and rushing attacks tend to travel well and be somewhat consistent in the NFL. While the Browns will need a strong passing game, their run game foundation on offense sets a very high floor.
Questionable Stefanski Decision Making
Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
The Cleveland Browns of 2021 are very aggressive. Most fans love aggressive play-calling and decisions, when they work. For the Stefanski and the Browns, the fourth down play-calling has been suspect recently.
Week 4 started out similar to Week 3 with Cleveland going for it on fourth down early. On fourth and four at the six-yard line, Mayfield was sacked for an 11-yard loss and a turnover.
Going for it may not have been the wrong idea but Stefanski hasn’t been able to dial up the right plays for those spots just yet.
The Browns head coach also challenged a clear catch along the sidelines. While the Vikings did their part by rushing up to the line, Stefanski wasted a challenge and a timeout.
Thankfully, Minnesota’s drive failed as they missed on a fourth-down try due to great pressure from Garrett.
Stefanski is a great head coach and has made a lot of smart decisions but his fourth-down play calls the last two weeks, and that poor challenge, need to be noted.
Kicking Good, Kicking Bad
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Who knew that Chase McLaughlin would be the next coming of Phil Dawson? He continues to be perfect on the year by adding two long field goals, 48 and 53 yards, in Sunday’s win.
The confidence that the Browns have in their kicker is growing leaps and bounds over the last few weeks. His ability to consistently hit from distance is starting to create the assumption that he will hit them all (hint: he won’t, we don’t think).
That is good kicking.
Bad kicking comes in the form of Jamie Gillan who continues to struggle with consistency on his punts. He did pin the Vikings back inside the 20 three times but he also had punts of 33 and 34 yards when the Browns needed him to boom them.
It will be interesting if Gillan’s inconsistency leads to punter tryouts soon in Berea.
More Credit to the Defense
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The Minnesota offense started off hot with a 14 play, 75-yard drive for a touchdown to open the game. Following that drive, the Cleveland defense shut them down and shut them out.
The Vikings had four possessions that were three and out plus one possession that ended after one play due to Greedy Williams’ interception.
After the opening drive, the defense gave up a total of 182 yards. Holding Minnesota, a team that scored 87 points through the first three games, to seven points is an amazing accomplishment.
Stats Don’t Tell the Whole Story
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Much like sacks don’t tell the whole story of the pressure the Browns were able to put on the Vikings Sunday, stats, in general, do not tell the whole story. This is one of the reasons for the rise of Pro Football Focus’ grading system.
Two defenders who had great games do not have eye-popping stats but we will likely see them grade very well for PFF. We saw with our eyes how Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was all over the field making plays and how Jadeveon Clowney was causing havoc in the backfield regularly.
Owusu-Koramoah ended up with five tackles to his name while Clowney only assisted on one tackle. PFF’s grade and a look at the film will tell a far different story about their impact on the game.
Offensive Line Concerns are Real
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Last year, the Cleveland offensive line was elite. This year, the Cleveland offensive line has had its struggles.
Jedrick Wills is injured and once again left the game early. Wyatt Teller has been far from the player he was in 2020 when he broke out and Jack Conklin seemed to be laboring in Sunday’s win.
The Browns do not need to have the same dominance on the line as last year but needs more consistent play than they are getting this year, especially in pass protection. Perhaps Wills sits for a few games to get healthy now that Chris Hubbard is likely ready to play. Perhaps Teller finds the magic he had in 2020. The veteran Conklin has a long track record of success and should come around, as long as he remains healthy.
Mayfield’s protection has been iffy, not as much as his own play, and needs to improve for Cleveland to meet their lofty goals in 2021.
Reinforcements on the Way
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The Browns are 3 – 1 and could easily be 4 – 0 on the young season. They have done this despite missing four starters for most of Sunday’s game and losing a fifth, Wills, during the game.
Reinforcements should be incoming soon:
Ronnie Harrison left Sunday’s game with a concussion but will return when cleared.
Greg Newsome II could miss one more game but should be back sooner rather than later.
Anthony Walker and Jarvis Landry could be back off injured reserve in the next couple of weeks.
A talented team will be getting more talent back shortly. Andrew Berry could also start to get aggressive in the trade market if he believes he can upgrade the team in doing so. With (almost) a quarter of the season gone (17 games makes the math more difficult on that), some losing teams could turn to selling.
The Browns are 3 – 1 and could get even better soon.