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Browns Mailbag: How can David Njoku, Browns offense build off his big game?

Senior Writer Andrew Gribble answers your questions every week

The Browns are in the throes of playing three games in 12 days, and we're making sure to take ample breaks when necessary.

That time … isn't now.

We're knocking out four of your queries in the latest edition of the Browns Mailbag.

With only about 3 minutes left to play, why didn't Baker Mayfield just run the ball and throw short passes to eat up the clock and WIN the Game? — Paul M., North Olmsted

This sequence has been discussed plenty over the past 48 hours, and Kevin Stefanski spent a good chunk of his Monday press conference lamenting the three-and-out that ultimately set the table for the Chargers to score what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown.

Stefanski said he had plenty of regrets about the three-play drive, which began with a Kareem Hunt 1-yard run on first down, was followed by an incomplete pass on second down and then concluded with another Hunt run on third down that came up well short of the first-down marker. The Browns ran just a little more than a minute of clock, and the Chargers only needed to use one of their three timeouts. 

"In hindsight, I definitely wish I did something different," Stefanski said. "This is where I have to put our guys in positions to succeed, and I did not do that there, and I am sick about it. Definitely got too wrapped up in the previous play call with the clock stopping and how that unfolded. Again, I have to put our guys in position, and I can't do that to our team."

One thing that was true on this particular drive that holds weight on any other drive at any point in the game: Success, or lack thereof, on early downs has a trickle-down effect on the money downs. Third-and-9 was going to be tough to convert no matter if Stefanski called a run or pass.

Check out the best photos from the Browns game against the Chargers yesterday by the Browns photo team

The Browns will regroup and rebound from a tough loss to the Chargers. What are the most impressive performances in a game that could have gone either way? — Rob M., Charleston, West Virginia

It's worth recognizing the impromptu, every-down role A.J. Green played after Denzel Ward went out with a neck injury. Green, who has been a star for the Browns on special teams, held his own and helped the Browns in a precarious situation, as multiple defensive backs battled through injuries throughout the game. The same goes for T Blake Hance, who played every snap at left tackle in place of Jedrick Wills Jr. and helped the Browns rush for 230 yards and rack up more than 500 yards of offense.

"I thought he did a fine job," Stefanski said. "He battled. Had some good moments."

Back on defense, LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was once again all over the field while playing the most snaps of his career. Owusu-Koramoah has seen his role grow more and more because of his ability to handle everything defensive coordinator Joe Woods is throwing at him.

"In the pass game, you can see his ability out in space just to make plays, whether he is in coverage or he is just making the open-field tackle," Woods said last week. "We are doing the same systematically. Just giving him a little bit more each week. We do not want to put too much on him, but he has definitely earned the right to get some more defenses."

And then there was the game David Njoku had. We'll cover that in the next question…

Njoku is starting to shine as a tight end and could provide a needed addition to get the passing game out of a slump? — Rob M., Charleston, West Virginia

Njoku was simply outstanding Sunday, and he was a problem all game for the Chargers defense. He got the Browns rolling early, catching Mayfield's first three passes in the first quarter. He had a 31-yard catch on the Browns' first touchdown drive of the game and finished the day with three receptions of 20 yards or more. The biggest, of course, came in the fourth quarter, when Njoku made the best play of his career. He took a slant from Mayfield, broke a tackle and outraced the defense all the way to the end zone for a 71-yard touchdown.

Njoku finished with seven catches for 149 yards and the touchdown. It's the first 100-yard game by any Browns pass catcher in 2021, and Njoku is now the team's leading receiver with 14 receptions for 260 yards on the season. Now in his fifth season with the Browns, Njoku has embraced his role in an offense that utilizes all three of its tight ends at a high volume. He's playing more snaps at this part of the season than he did last year and will continue to pose a big-play threat to opposing defenses.

"I try to better myself in all aspects of being a tight end," Njoku said last week. "The dirty work, the blocking, the catching and the route running, everything that it takes to be elite, I want to better myself."

How many players from teams' original 53-man rosters are on the rosters at the end of the year? There seems to be a lot of roster movement for every team. — Skyler T. Petaluma, California

The 53 is always fluid, and there's churn from Week 1 all the way to the Super Bowl. When rosters across the NFL drop to 53, it's important to remember those are the "initial" 53 and not the "final" 53. It's never final. The average number of different faces from the beginning to the end — whatever it is — likely doesn't do justice to just how much back-and-forth there is because of injuries and other situations that keep general managers busy. That churn has really picked up over the past two seasons thanks to a change to the injured reserve rule that allows teams to bring back an unlimited number of players — so long as they miss three games — throughout the season.

The Browns' 53-man roster currently features 47 of the initial 53. The other six — WR Jarvis Landry, C Nick Harris, FB Andy Janovich, T Chris Hubbard, LB Jacob Phillips and M.J. Stewart — are all on injured reserve. Five of those players' six spots are currently filled by G Hjalte Froholdt, DE Joe Jackson, DE Ifeadi Odenigbo, FB Johnny Stanton IV and LB Elijah Lee. Froholdt and Odenigbo are the only two who did not spend training camp with the team.

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