Browns Mailbag

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Browns Mailbag: What can be expected from Browns’ new-look backfield?

We’re barrelling toward the midpoint of the season -- can you believe it’s already here? -- and we’re tackling four of your questions before it’s on to Steelers week.

Mr. Gribble, I read your writings religiously and respect your points of view greatly. So, please, answer me this: Have I been out here in the Mojave for too long and my brain has become as dry as the desert? If they had scored more than two points in the first half then maybe the fourth and "fifth" to exercise their skills and intensity would not be so important. Why does a team with so much talent wait until near the end of the game to utilize that talent? This won't make the mailbag, of course. Just the ramblings of an old fan with too much time to waste -- a lot like the Browns during the first half. I guess I have been in the desert too long. -- Joseph C., Adelanto, California

Look at that! It not only made the mailbag, but it’s also the first question. Congratulations. Now grab a bottle of water and get to hydrating.

Your concerns about the Browns’ first half performances are valid and have emerged as a common theme as Cleveland reflects on all of the potential wins it let slip through its hands en route to this 2-4-1 start. The Browns, especially in the second halves of most of these games, have looked like a team that can compete with anybody. The offense, in particular, seems to play with an energy and efficiency that simply hasn’t been present in most first halves. The Browns have been particularly good coming out of the locker room, scoring on the majority of their first drives of the second half. From coaches to players, it’s prompted plenty of soul-searching. They know these kinds of finishes and extra periods would not be necessary if the team put together a complete performance.

“We have not started fast enough,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said Monday. “We have not had a very good start, and we are firing on all cylinders in the second half. My whole thing there is if we can put it together – first half and second half – then maybe we will have a better chance of finishing some of these games and winning.”

Hue Jackson could encourage the two dynamic running backs in this matchup with the Steelers to get more involved. T.J. Watt blitzes in many sub packages with multiple defensive backs on the field. Will we see Duke Johnson and Nick Chubb take some pressure off Mayfield much like Byner and Mack of the old Browns? -- Rob M., Fairmont, West Virginia

That’s the goal, and it was the goal even before the Browns traded away Carlos Hyde. Now with Hyde out of the mix, the Browns have a more typical, one-two punch that features your prototypical bell cow in Chubb and one of the league’s best pass-catching backs in Johnson. Johnson hasn’t had the same kind of opportunities in the passing game as he had in 2017, when he was the team’s leading receiver, but Jackson and others have been clear they’re looking to get the ball in his hands even more. In Cleveland’s traditional two-back system last year, Johnson had 10 or more touches on nine occasions. Only two of those, though, were before Week 8, so that could be something to keep in mind as the season unfolds, especially now that the backfield is a little less crowded.

The Steelers have been one of the best teams in the league at minimizing production from opposing teams’ running backs. Cleveland piled up 177 rushing yards in the season opener, but its running backs averaged just 3.3 yards per carry. The Steelers haven’t allowed opposing running backs to clear 78 yards in the weeks since, and they’ve largely bottled up their abilities in the passing game.

I admire players "fighting for those extra yards." However, how many times while “battling” for those extra yards have they lost the war (I mean game)? Doesn't or shouldn't someone REMIND them to protect the ball? The Browns aren't the only ones guilty of this, but how many times has it happened to the Browns this year? -- Elmer L., Bangor, Maine

The Browns have just three fumbles on the season, the most recent of which coming on a play where Jabrill Peppers fought like heck for some extra yards but unfortunately put it on the ground. The other two came Week 4 against the Raiders, and neither would fall into the category of a player losing the ball fighting for the extra yard. One was Mayfield getting strip-sacked and the other was a botched snap.

Peppers took full blame for the mistake after the game. It was a play that unfortunately overshadowed another encouraging performance from him on special teams.

"I fumbled and lost us the game," Peppers told Cleveland.com. "That's what's going to be remembered about this game. That's what I'm going to remember about this game. Getting the yardage on punt return, that's what I'm supposed to do."

Do you think the Browns will package some of the draft picks from the Gordon and Hyde trades to trade for a veteran WR to pair with Landry? -- Steven M., Amarillo, Texas

It’s certainly an option for Browns general manager John Dorsey, who is always trying to improve the roster with the moves he makes. And as Friday’s move with Hyde -- and all of the other offseason moves -- indicate, Dorsey isn’t afraid to make a deal if he believes it’s in the best interest of the Browns. The NFL’s trade deadline is next Tuesday, and there’s already been plenty of activity. Two former first-round picks -- WR Amari Cooper and DB Eli Apple -- have been traded, and more are expected to follow. 

Good wide receivers are hard to find, and teams that have them typically aren’t interested in parting with them at this point of the year. That said, the Browns have a bevy of picks at their disposal to aid in any potential deals. Remember, a handful of picks acquired from other teams were used in the trades Cleveland made at the start of the league year.

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