Browns Mailbag

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Browns Mailbag: Are the Browns going deep as much as they did last year?

We won’t be catching a plane any time soon because the Browns are set to begin a three-game homestand starting Sunday against the Bills.

We’re answering your best questions as we prepare for our long-awaited reunion with FirstEnergy Stadium.

Has any NFL team won all six of their division games and not won their division? — Bob R., Novelty

You know, I didn’t think I’d be able to find this answer. A quick Google search, though, revealed that it has, in fact, happened before.

The 2010 Oakland Raiders beat the Chargers, Chiefs and Broncos in all six of their opportunities but ultimately finished the season with a record of 8-8. It marked the first and only time it’s happened since the 1970 merger. What’s even wilder? Most of these games were blowouts. The Raiders went to overtime in a Week 9 win over the Chiefs, but that was the exception. They outscored the AFC West that season by a margin of 108! That’s an average of 18 points per game.

This question was asked, of course, because the Browns are 2-6 with a 1-0 record in the AFC North. Cleveland has a lot to clean up before it can start thinking about a perfect division record, but it’s still mathematically in play. So, too, are the playoffs, so let’s keep our eye on the prize, OK?

Looking at the Browns offensive woes, I can't stop wondering what a difference Kevin Zeitler would have made versus what we have seen from Oliver Vernon. The defense has allowed Myles Garrett more sacks but overall play, especially the run, seems worse rather than improved. Thoughts? — Elmer L., Bangor, Maine

Through eight games, I think it’s safe to say both teams made out all right if you cobble down the mega trade between the Giants and Browns to focus on just Zeitler and Vernon. Though Vernon is dealing with a knee injury at the moment, he’s been playing some of his best football of the season of late. His production goes beyond the basic statistics, and it can’t be overlooked how he’s enabled Garrett to flourish the way he has. Zeitler, meanwhile, has been for the Giants exactly what he was with the Browns — a top-level right guard. The Browns began the season with veteran Eric Kush at the position and are now rolling with Wyatt Teller, who was acquired in the preseason in a trade with the Bills. He elicited some optimism after his first start for the Browns last week.

“You could definitely see his bulk, his strength in pass protection in terms of the pocket,” offensive coordinator Todd Monken said. “He obviously has a little more pop when he comes off the ball. I think he will be better each week that we get him in there.”

Check out photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Bills Sunday by team photographer Matt Starkey

It seems like the Browns threw a lot more deep balls last year, which stretched the field. Can the Mailbag determine how many passes were thrown 25 or more yards downfield (not including YAC) in the last eight games of 2018 compared to the first eight of 2019? — Robert K., Coventry

I can’t do 25 yards, but let’s settle on 20 with numbers provided by Pro Football Focus. Over the final eight games last year, the Browns attempted 35 passes of 20 yards or longer compared to 33 in the first eight games this season. The big difference, though, is the success rate. Baker Mayfield was one of the best in the NFL on these throws last year, completing 18 of the 35 for 619 yards, seven touchdowns, two interceptions and a QB rating of 112.8. This year, he’s completed 12 for 385 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions for a QB rating of 75.9. 

Mayfield addressed this topic Wednesday, saying defenses have been effective in limiting these big plays.

“It would be great to do that, but I think right now with who we are offensively, we have to take what they are giving us,” Mayfield said. “I think teams have done a pretty good job for the most part of taking away our deep shots. They are trying to make us play patient, and I think that is a good game plan for these guys coming in. They know we have a bunch of playmakers and they are going to eliminate the big plays and try to make us play patient for four quarters. Yes, we would like that, but right now, we have to take the short stuff until they are really giving us that stuff.”

The first question is when does David Njoku come back? The second is why doesn't Rashard Higgins get more playing time? The Antonio Callaway experiment doesn't seem to be working. — Rich W., Cleveland

Njoku recently posted on social media that he had the cast on his wrist removed. That’s a positive step in the right direction, but there’s no word yet on when he could potentially return. The Browns have the ability to designate one more player to return from injured reserve, so the possibility remains for Njoku to return at some point this year. 

“We are really just taking that day to day and will judge that down the road when he is eligible,” Browns coach Freddie Kitchens said Wednesday.

As for Higgins, his playing time slight increased against the Broncos, going from 13 snaps against the Patriots to 15 in Denver. Monken said Thursday the Browns will continue to work to get Higgins more opportunities.

“First off, it is tough for Rashard just the way the year started and in terms of I thought had a really good preseason and camp, then had a real good start to the year and then he got hurt,” Monken said. “I would not say it was a setback, but it certainly does not help when you are not practicing and you are not out there. Obviously, last year, they also did not have Odell (Beckham Jr.). That is part of it as well. You had some other guys that were more role players. All of a sudden a player’s role changes and he is trying to find a niche, and we are, too. It is a little more complicated than that, but obviously, he is a guy that Baker has real comfort in. We do have to get him more involved. We do.”

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