Typically, we use "3 Big Takeaways" to take a deeper look at the most recent Browns game. Today, we're using it to reflect on how the Browns got to this point of the season, carrying a 5-3 record as they head into the bye.
1. Browns aren't satisfied but know all of their goals are in front of them
The Browns weren't ready to reflect on their 5-3 first half of 2020 in the moments after Sunday's disappointing loss to the Raiders.
Cleveland's players, chiefly Baker Mayfield, believe the team can be better than what the team's current record indicates. Sunday's performance, a game in which the offense couldn't generate much consistency and the defense couldn't get off the field, wasn't a reflection of the team's potential, they said.
It was a frustrated group because they've seen both sides of the ball play so much better. They've seen an offense score more than 30 points in all five of their wins. They've seen an opportunistic defense that makes up for its lack of success on third and fourth downs with more game-changing turnovers than most of the other teams in the NFL.
"Not anywhere close to where we want to be. We have a 5-3 record. It should be a lot better. We believe that," Mayfield said. "That is why our locker room is pissed off. We believe in this locker room, and we are going to continue to get better and hopefully going on a streak right after this bye week, like I said, be healthy and focus on getting better. We know what we can improve, and after we watch this film, we will do that even more so."
All three of the Browns' losses have been by double digits, with their road defeats at Baltimore and Pittsburgh clearing 30+. The Browns forced just one turnover — losing the turnover margin in all three games — and had a combined two passing touchdowns in those games. Contrast that with the team's five wins, which featured at least one defensive turnover in each game — peaking at five against Washington — and multiple passing touchdowns — peaking at five at Cincinnati.
The recipe is there, and the Browns have executed it more times than they haven't. That's why a feeling of optimism pervades heading into a second half of the season that features two more big AFC North games against Baltimore and Pittsburgh, both of which will be at FirstEnergy Stadium, along with a trip to Tennessee, which played for the AFC Championship in 2019.
"I definitely feel we are better than (5-3), and a lot of these games are games we could have won," CB Denzel Ward said. "We just have to find a way to finish next time. Get better during this bye week and see what we can do to get the win next game."
Check out the best photos from the Browns game against the Las Vegas Raiders yesterday by the Browns photo team
2. Restarting the Run Game
The Browns couldn't be stopped on the ground during the first half of the first half of the season. It's been a different story for the second half of the first half.
In the first four games, Cleveland averaged a whopping 204.5 rushing yards and took a commanding lead as the NFL's top rushing offense. Over the past four games, the Browns have averaged 95.5. Cleveland now ranks fifth in the NFL with an average of 150 rushing yards per game.
There are a handful of factors to consider with this drop and a handful of reasons to believe Cleveland can get it turned around.
First, and perhaps most obvious, the Browns have been without Pro Bowl RB Nick Chubb for the past four games and without G Wyatt Teller for the past three. While Kareem Hunt is one heck of a backup, the Browns have lost the one-two punch variable to their running attack, as Hunt has taken the vast majority of snaps and carries over the past four games — all while dealing with a couple of injuries that have limited his practice time. Teller and Chubb both could be back as soon as Week 10, though we'll learn more about their respective timelines in the coming days.
Second, the Browns have squared off against two of the league's top five rush defenses — Indianapolis and Pittsburgh — and another in the top half of the league (Las Vegas) during this stretch. The Browns' next four opponents — Texans, Eagles, Jaguars and Titans — all rank in the bottom half of the league in rush defense.
3. Help On The Way
The Browns have dealt with injuries on both sides of the ball dating back to the start of training camp. CB Greedy Williams has yet to play a game, rookie S Grant Delpit was lost for the season with a torn Achilles and WR Odell Beckham Jr. won't return this year after tearing his ACL in Cincinnati.
Then there are the key players who have missed chunks of games, such as Chubb, Teller, TE Austin Hooper, WR KhaDarel Hodge, DE Olivier Vernon, CB Kevin Johnson, LB Mack Wilson and more. It's been a grind, but the Browns will be the last to make excuses about it.
Still, there's reason to be optimistic about the overall health of the team moving into the second half of the season. Simply put, this bye week comes at a great time.
DE Myles Garrett is expected to be ready for Week 10 after dealing with a knee injury during the Raiders loss. So, too, is Hooper, who has missed the past two games following his emergency appendectomy.
The Browns will learn more about Teller and Chubb in the coming days, but both are expected back in the near future. Whether or not that will be Week 10 remains to be seen.
"They are both progressing. They are hitting every landmark and milestone that they need to hit in terms of their rehab," Stefanski said. "We will just figure that out as these days go by."
There are plenty of others who have been playing through the pain of nagging injuries. The next week-plus will be huge for them as they get some much-needed R&R while mentally preparing themselves for what promises to be an exciting second half of the season.
"This is not a question on whether we can regroup. Nobody is going to be worried about this two weeks from now," Garrett said. "It is just about getting the guys that we need back healthy and coming back and executing our gameplan."