We’re heading into Week 5 with four of your questions in this week’s installment of the Browns Mailbag.
With Terrence Mitchell being out for some time, and seeing the Raiders pick apart Gaines and Carrie, could you see the Browns trading for or signing another corner? -- Darien W., Chicago
The loss of Mitchell, who underwent wrist surgery Monday, is a significant one for a Browns secondary that had been playing as good as it has in years. Mitchell, who has bounced around the league since he entered it as a seventh-round pick in 2014, was playing the best football of his life. He forced two fumbles, had the game-sealing interception against the Jets and was playing regularly tight coverage. Without him for the majority of Sunday’s game, the Browns surrendered 426 passing yards and four passing touchdowns. Was it all because Mitchell wasn’t on the field? Certainly not. But he’ll be missed for however long he’s sidelined, and the Browns need to step up better than they did in the immediate aftermath Sunday.
E.J. Gaines was Mitchell’s primary replacement against the Raiders. Gaines missed most of training camp and the preseason after suffering a scary-looking injury. He played 42 snaps Sunday after being used exclusively on special teams in the previous two games. He had his ups and downs but still came away with an interception. He’ll be in the mix along with veteran T.J. Carrie, who has been the team’s nickel corner since Week 2. Damarious Randall has been playing his spot at free safety as well as the Browns could have hoped but he presents another option because of his experience at cornerback.
I just wrote a lot of words about a tricky situation for the Browns without actually answering your question. Mitchell going on injured reserve presented an immediate opening for a cornerback, and the Browns promptly signed one. Jeremiah McKinnon was great throughout the preseason and has been with the team on the practice squad since Week 1. His transition should be relatively smooth. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibilities to see the Browns add another in the coming days.
As for trading for one? It’s always a possibility, but good cornerbacks are hard to find, and teams don’t like parting with them. It’s hard to find any NFL team with a surplus of good corners, especially ones who would present an immediate upgrade over what the Browns have in-house.
Why do you think the coaches didn’t trust the running game on fourth-and-inches after the play was reversed in the fourth quarter to seal the game up 8 points and the Raiders with no timeouts left? It’s frustrating to see the coaching staff not try to win a game with a run after getting 208 yards on the ground. -- Robert C., Bronx, New York
It’s all about field position. The Browns were on their own 18-yard line with 1:38 to play. You come up short, and the Raiders are already inside the red zone. Yes, the Raiders ultimately scored and converted the game-tying two-point conversion, but they had to work much harder for it. They would have had to work even harder for it if not for the Browns special teams surrendering a 14-yard punt return. Still, there’s a big difference from the 53 yards Oakland traveled for its touchdown than the 18 it would have if Cleveland failed in its fourth-and-inches attempt. The Browns defense, while understandably gassed, had shut out the Raiders on the previous two series.
“I just think fourth-and-1, here we are up by eight and our defense, even though it was not happening the way that we wanted it to, I still believe in our defensive players,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said. “You have to let our defense play. There is Myles Garrett on that defense. There is Kirko (LB Christian Kirksey) and Jamie Collins and Larry Ogunjobi. You have to give them a chance at it. They will be the first to tell you, we wish that we could have did it better, but obviously, we can’t let the ball come running back at us.”
The Cleveland Browns take on the Oakland Raiders at the Oakland Alameda Coliseum.
In the next three quarters of the season, can the Browns win with Baker and Todd Haley’s offensive play-calling and continued improvement on defense? And why doesn’t Hue turn the punt return unit into an offensive weapon by emphasizing it in practice? Did Josh Cribbs decide to coach after his internship? -- Rob M., Fairmont, West Virginia
The Browns have already showed they can win with the kind of offense and defense they’ve played through the first quarter of the season. There’s a case to be made for the Browns to be 4-0 with how close all of these games has been. The problem has been finishing, and that onus falls on every member of the team heading into the second quarter of the season.
“I get the sense that this is a team that is really starting to come together and understand how close they are,” Jackson said. “Now what they have to do is go finish those things. You have to play one snap at a time as well as you can, and let’s see where we are.”
As for punt returns, the Browns are drilling away at that and all of the other areas on special teams. Simply put, the Browns need to be better in every facet of special teams, and the return games have been particularly troublesome. Cribbs, meanwhile, is still with the team and has been a valuable asset for special teams coordinator Amos Jones.
I know that the season is still very young but I was wondering if Dorsey would go for offensive lineman next year in the draft and be active in free agent market again? -- Ron C., Englewood
You’re right. The season is very young. It’s not draft season yet!
I’ll tell you this: The Browns have eight guaranteed picks in the 2019 draft. They’ll have nine (seventh-rounder) if the conditions are met in their Cody Kessler trade with the Jaguars. As he proved in this last draft, Dorsey will take the best available players, regardless of roster composition. None of the Browns’ starters on the offensive line are free agents at the end of the season. And from a free agency standpoint, the Browns are poised from a cap standpoint to be active if they choose to be.