The Browns are coming off a 27-0 shutout win over the Cardinals in Week 9 and are set to face another AFC North opponent when they travel to Baltimore to face the Ravens in Week 10.
As we head into Week 10, we opened up the mailbag and answered a few of your questions.
As we reach the midpoint of the season, what would you say has become this particular Browns team's identity? – Nick Dolance, Surprise, AZ
I think much of the identity has stayed the same throughout the first portion of the season, and that lies in their defense. They lead the league with the least amount of passing yards allowed on the season with 1,160. They also allow the least amount of first downs through the air with 53. They have given up just 34 rushing first downs, which is second in the league. Teams struggle to convert on third down against the Browns, as teams have only converted on 27-of-104 third-down attempts.
Now, that's not to say they haven't had their struggles defensively. The Browns have given up big, explosive plays in games against the Colts and the Seahawks. They fell into an early hole in Week 8 when the Seahawks went up 14-0 in the first quarter. However, they battled back and limited Seattle to only a field goal, until the game-winning touchdown.
Then in Week 9, the Browns defense resurged as the stifling unit they were when they shut out the Cardinals for the first time since 2007.
The defense continues to play with a level of confidence and swagger that has spilled over to the other side of the ball. They celebrate one another's successes on the field, and it has created a culture in the locker room. They pride themselves as a team on their defense, and I think that has really encapsulated the Browns' identity as an entire team.
What areas of the Browns performance do you believe needs the most improvement? – Phillip Clancy, Smyrna, GA
When we evaluate where the Browns are in Week 10 of the season, the area that needs the most improvement to me is in the production of their wide receivers. WR Amari Cooper has been the top target for the Browns. He leads the team with 617 receiving yards, as well as the most targets with 65 and the most receptions with 35. He's averaging 17.6 yards per catch and has two touchdowns this season.
But after Cooper, there is a bit of a dip in production from the remainder of their receiving corps. Elijah Moore is second behind Cooper with 270 receiving yards this season on 29 catches. David Bell has just 33 yards on four catches, while Marquise Goodwin has 10 yards on three receptions and Cedric Tillman has eight yards on two receptions.
Cooper gets a lot of attention from opposing defenses, which could create opportunities to target other receivers. It's just about finding those opportunities for their other receivers.
"The ball goes where the ball goes," HC Kevin Stefanski said. "It's just based on coverage. All our guys are doing what they're supposed to do. And when the ball finds their way, we have a ton of trust in all of our receivers, tight ends, you name them."
This question feeds off the previous question about the overall production of the receiving corps, and this was a main topic of conversation following the trade of Donovan Peoples-Jones.
Stefanski said on Nov. 3 that Tillman would have more of a role and has been diligent in learning his assignments. Stefanski believes in what he saw from Tillman from practice and preseason games that he can step into that bigger role in their offense. Tillman has been an inactive for three games this season but played in Week 4 against the Ravens when he had one reception for five yards.
"It is the reason we liked the kid when he was coming out. He's big, physical, ball skills," Stefanski said on Nov. 1. "So, he's been working very hard, have not to date been able to get him going. And a lot of that becomes roster-based on who's available. And you can only bring so many to the game. But he's remained very diligent, works hard at it."
OC Alex Van Pelt said that during training camp and preseason, Tillman made a number of plays and that they were high on him coming out of camp. While Tillman was inactive for three games early in the season, now, they see an opportunity to accelerate the maturation for him in the offense. Van Pelt said that Tillman also brings something to the run game as a force blocker and can make contested plays and can high point the ball.
In the first game following the trade against the Cardinals, Tillman had one target and one reception for three yards. However, there is still room for more involvement in the remainder of the season.
"Obviously, we put him in there quite a bit and put him in that role that Donovan (Peoples-Jones) has done for us, which is a lot of dirty work role in the run game," Stefanski said on Nov. 5. "So, first time out there getting some reps under his belt. I think he'll continue to just get better."