Eight weeks up, one week of rest and eight more to go.
That's where the Browns find themselves as they head into a weekend of much-needed rest. At 5-3, the Browns in a good spot but have plenty of work left to do if they want to accomplish all of their goals for the 2020 season.
We have a precious few days left to reflect, and we're not wasting them before the Browns hone their focus on the Texans in Week 10. That's why Andrew Gribble and Nathan Zegura are breaking down a handful of storylines, handing out a few awards and looking ahead to the final eight games of 2020.
Zegura: Myles Garrett leads the NFL with nine sacks, 39 pressures (per Pro Football Focus) and seven turnovers as a direct result of his pressure (per NEXT GEN STATS). The NFL leader for the entire 2019 season in terms of turnovers created as a direct result of pressure, tallied six. Garrett has outproduced that in just a half of the 2020 season. He has been the most dominant defensive player in the NFL and made a game-changing, sack-strip-fumble in four the of the team's five wins. Beyond MVP of the Browns thus far, Garrett is a legitimate MVP candidate for the league.
Gribble: It's Garrett, who has elevated his game from great to even greater by coming up big in the biggest of moments. It also can't be stated how much attention he is drawing from opposing offenses, as he often draws double- and triple-teams.
Top Offensive Player
Zegura: Nick Chubb was probably on his way to winning this award before he was forced out of the Dallas game with a knee injury. His loss has absolutely been felt, but Kareem Hunt has stepped into the lead back role and been incredibly productive. Hunt leads the Browns in rushing yards (529), total yards from scrimmage (642), receiving touchdowns (four) and total touchdowns (seven).
Gribble: It's Hunt because of what he's been able to do on the ground, even without Chubb spelling him for some plays, and also the big role he's played as a pass-catcher. He's not just taking short screens or dump passes. He's running routes and catching passes in tight spots in the same way a wide receiver would. His versatility and toughness has been huge for a Browns offense that has unfortunately had to deal with a number of injuries.
Top Defensive Player
Zegura: It would be redundant to go with Garrett here, so I will turn my attention to another standout on the Browns defense, cornerback Denzel Ward. Ward is currently third in the NFL with 11 pass breakups and had a game-saving interception in the Browns win over the Cowboys. Ward is also one of just 18 corners in the NFL allowing less than one yard per cover snap, according to Pro Football Focus, which is a truly elite metric.
Gribble: I don't mind being redundant. Garrett's first half of the season, which included an AFC Player of the Week nod and AFC Player of the Month for October, was simply fantastic.
Zegura: Jedrick Wills Jr. has stepped right into the big shoes vacated by surefire Hall of Famer Joe Thomas as the left tackle of the Cleveland Browns and looks to be a long time bookend tackle for this organization. Per Pro Football Focus, Wills has been the 13th-best pass protecting tackle among the 60 tackles who have played 50 percent of the snaps this year. That is an incredible accomplishment for any player, let alone a rookie, and yes, Wills is the top-graded pass blocking rookie tackle in the league as well. While there is still plenty of opportunity to improve as a run blocker, Wills has started at an elite level as a pass protector despite making the transition to the left side in this truncated season. He deserves a huge tip of the cap, as does offensive line coach Bill Callahan, for his smooth transition and early success.
Gribble: Wills has been fantastic and everything you could have hoped from a first-round pick. For me, though, I'm going to spotlight fourth-round TE Harrison Bryant, who has looked the part from Day 1 and provided a big boost not only to the Browns passing game, but also the run game, where he's looked solid as a blocker. Bryant used a big training camp to earn the No. 2 TE job and filled in nicely at TE1 while Austin Hooper missed two games following an appendectomy. Bryant doesn't look like a rookie out there and has proven to be a heck of a find on Day 3 of the draft.
Zegura: All offseason, the only question that seemed to exist about the Browns offensive line was, "who would be the right guard?" Wyatt Teller seemed to be the favorite, and as the offseason unfolded during the pandemic, he became the last man standing. While the hope was that Teller would become a solid starter in an otherwise highly thought of line, he blew all such hopes and expectations out of the water. Before suffering an injury in Week 5 that has kept him out of the last three games, Teller was arguably the best guard in the NFL. He was the top-graded guard in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus, and only MVP candidate Russell Wilson earned a higher grade on the offensive side of the ball. I don't think anyone saw that coming, but it most certainly has been a welcome development, and I can't wait to get Teller back on the field after the bye week.
Gribble: The Browns' defense has struggled at times, especially when it comes to getting off the field on third and fourth downs, but it's been among the best at generating turnovers and rising to the challenge during big moments. Garrett's had a huge role in this, of course, but the ball-hawking nature of the group has been unilateral. Most everyone on the defense has played a role in forcing 14 turnovers, which is tied for the most in the NFL. Making these plays even sweeter is an offense that has been very good at turning those turnovers into points.
Zegura: The Browns' explosive ability on offense really stands out in the first half of the season. The Browns topped 30 points in a game five times and, at one point, had four consecutive 30-plus games, which had not happened for 50 years. The Browns' ability to put points on the board by capitalizing on the league-leading 14 takeaways by the defense, and executing in the critical red zone area to produce touchdowns, not field goals, is absolutely a critical piece of the winning formula.
Gribble: In his second go-around with the Browns, Cody Parkey has been fantastic. He's missed just two of his 32 kicks thus far and come up big in tough spots. That kind of consistency has been refreshing at a position that has been in a constant churn since Phil Dawson attempted his final kick for the Browns.
Zegura: Boy, there are a bunch of them so far this year from the Mayfield to Peoples-Jones' walk-off touchdown against Cincinnati to the Jarvis Landry to Odell Beckham Jr. trick play touchdown that started the win against Dallas. However, I am going to go with the Beckham 50-yard reverse touchdown to seal the win over the Dallas Cowboys in Week 4.That was one of those "oh no, oh no….oh YES" types of plays that looked doomed until an incredible talent just simply made the seemingly impossible look easy.
Gribble: Mayfield's touchdown pass to Peoples-Jones to seal the victory in Cincinnati was the cherry on top to arguably the best half of football of the quarterback's career in Cleveland. His only incompletion was an intentional spike as he completed 21 straight passes and threw for a career-best five touchdowns. On that particular day, the Browns needed every single one of them, and Mayfield delivered in a big way.
Biggest Game of the Second Half
Zegura: I hope Coach Stefanski reads this one because I feel like he would be so proud. My answer is the next one! That's right, Week 10 at home against the Houston Texans is the biggest game of the second half for many reasons, in addition to the obvious of it being next on the schedule. A win pushes the Browns to 6-3 on the year and keeps them right on track for a playoff berth. A win would ensure the Browns would have made it through nine games without losing back-to-back games at any point this season. A win would demonstrate the team maintained its focus over the bye week and, most importantly, would absolutely set the tone for what is to come in what should be the most significant football played in November and December in years.
Gribble: I'll agree with everything Nathan said, but look a little bit more into the future. The Browns weren't thrilled with how they played Week 1 in Baltimore, and they get a big opportunity for redemption when the Ravens come to Cleveland for Monday Night Football in Week 14. The trajectory of both teams is pointing to that game being an absolutely huge one during the final month of the regular season.
Biggest Storyline of the Second Half
Zegura: Can the Browns hang with the Big Boys of the AFC North? The first two meetings with the Steelers and Ravens did not go well, to put it mildly. The Browns will get the chance to even the score at home in the second half of the year. I think beating at least one of them will be critical to the confidence that this team can carry into a potential trip to the playoffs. At the very least, playing the Steelers and Ravens incredibly tight is an absolute must.
Gribble: While Nathan went macro, I'll go micro. After storming out of the gates with a rushing attack that averaged more than 200 yards per game, the Browns have fallen back to fifth in the NFL after averaging 95.5 rushing yards in the past four games. The eventual returns of Chubb and Teller should be big for the Browns who are seemingly at their best when they jump on teams early and put them away at the end with a punishing rushing attack.