It was a tough Sunday in New England, but we're on to Detroit and, more importantly, on to a return to FirstEnergy Stadium.
We're cooking up three questions before we get to experience the joys of a home game Sunday by the lake.
Are the Browns the same team without Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb? — Rob M., Charleston, West Virginia
The Browns have proven they can win without one of the two on the field, and they've even proven they can win without both. Last year, the Browns went 2-2 in the games Chubb completely missed and 3-2 if you count the Week 4 win against the Cowboys, when Chubb exited in the early second quarter with a knee injury. This season, the Browns have won twice without Hunt on the field, and once without Chubb. That win without Chubb, Week 7 against the Broncos, also came without Hunt, as D'Ernest Johnson led the way in a feel-good, Thursday night win over the Broncos.
That said, the offense adjusts when one or both are sidelined. That's unavoidable considering how talented both players are. Without Hunt, the Browns don't necessarily have someone who can thrive equally as a runner or receiver who runs with the kind of reckless abandon Hunt has trademarked since joining the Browns. Without Chubb, the Browns lose one of the NFL's best running backs, period, who is better than almost anyone in the NFL in breaking off explosive runs. When both are healthy, the Browns split their snaps roughly in half and rarely have both on the field. Not only does that allow the Browns to put them in the best possible position to thrive based on the play call, but it also allows the backs to remain fresh well into the fourth quarter, where they can close out the game. So, when one is out, that inevitably means an increase in playing time for the one who is still playing. Simply put, the Browns have something most teams don't when Chubb and Hunt are both available.
Still, the Browns have confidence in the next men up no matter who is out — Johnson has certainly merited that confidence — and the opposition won't feel sorry for them when one or a number of their star players are sidelined. Hopefully, the Browns can have one or both RBs back soon. Chubb remains on the reserve/COVID-19 list while Hunt is four weeks into his recovery from a calf injury. Browns coach Kevin Stefanski did not rule out Hunt from being able to practice at some point this week.
"We will see over the next couple of days as we go," Stefanski said. "He is progressing. He is working through his rehab. We will see."
From a Canadian fan, how do you think the pass game could take a step forward in the next week? What's up with Schwartz, Higgins and Harrison Bryant? — Simon M., Montreal
The step in the right direction for Cleveland's passing game would be to replicate what happened just a week ago in Cincinnati. That game was arguably Baker Mayfield's best of the season, and it saw the Browns break off a number of explosive plays. That's what was missing in a big way against the Patriots, when Cleveland couldn't get anything going through the air.
"We need to do a better job of finding some explosives [plays] in the pass game," Stefanski said. 'They were not going to be a team that was going to give up a lot of downfield plays so some of those underneath plays that we could turn into 10-11-yard gains, that was going to be how you were going to play for a lot of the game and then try and find one of those explosives, if you can."
As for the three players you inquired about:
— Schwartz saw his playing time increase in a big way in the Browns' first game without Odell Beckham Jr. He made a big catch across the middle against the Bengals and provides speed that keeps defenses honest. Unfortunately, Schwartz exited Sunday's game with a concussion he sustained on a second quarter kickoff return.
— Higgins didn't play much against the Bengals but saw the field for a good chunk of Sunday's second half after Schwartz exited. He has 14 catches for 168 yards and a touchdown on the season.
— Bryant is seeing the field on a steady basis this season and currently has 13 catches for 161 yards. That puts him on pace for better numbers than he had as a rookie, when he had 24 catches for 238 yards.
The wide receivers, in general, are under the spotlight after Sunday's game, when the position accounted for just five catches for 52 yards. The Browns will look to get them more involved Sunday against the Lions.
"I think we certainly want to get our wide receiver group going," Stefanski said. "I think we did it a couple of weeks ago. Did not do it well enough yesterday. The truth is we just have to be better. I do think there is something to us playing as much 13 [personnel] as we play. It keeps only one receiver out there, and we do that quite a bit on first and second down. We have to make sure we put our guys in position to make plays, and of course, I want our wide receivers to be making plays."
How can Mayfield be accurate with his brace? Doesn't it affect his follow through? Isn't this similar to baseball? If his follow through is off, won't his passes be high? — Elmer L., Bangor, Maine
Mayfield talked about this very subject last week and indicated he's getting more and more comfortable wearing the harness.
"I definitely would say there is more comfort with that on," Mayfield said. "Just as the weeks go on, it is going to continue to hopefully improve each day with the rehab and everything we are doing here. Yeah, more comfortable with that, and just trusting those guys down the field, as well."
That said, Mayfield is dealing with more than just a shoulder injury at the moment. He was listed with a foot injury heading into Sunday's game in New England and exited in the third quarter with a knee injury. Mayfield is optimistic he will play against the Lions but has indicated he's playing through a number of injuries.
"Got to find a way to get as healthy as possible. I'm pretty beat up right now," Mayfield said. "But, yeah, it was just an awkward hit and landing, like I said. So we'll see. Day by day."