Through three weeks, the Browns’ offense hadn’t quite gotten going, in large part because Baker Mayfield seemed to be frequently under duress.
Then, Sunday arrived, and with it came over 500 yards of offense and an on-field version of Mayfield that everyone expected to see weeks ago.
The quarterback has always been the same leader and face of the franchise that he was expected to be when the Browns selected him No. 1 overall in 2018. The only difference with him is experience gained, which is always a positive.
The difference in the offense, though — the 260-yard difference between Weeks 3 and 4 — was in the play of the offensive line.
Right tackle Chris Hubbard returned from a foot injury suffered in the Browns’ Week 2 win over the New York Jets, and with him came a newfound sense of stability up front. Mayfield was no longer anticipating the rush, instead surveying the field behind a reliable line that gave him time to find the open man. And find, he did.
Mayfield completed 20-of-30 passes for 342 yards, one touchdown, one interception and his first plus-100 passer rating of 2019 at 102.4. He most frequently found Jarvis Landry, who finished with eight grabs for 167 yards, but also spread the ball around to Ricky Seals-Jones, Odell Beckham Jr., Dontrell Hilliard and Nick Chubb. Cleveland Heights product Pharaoh Brown even recorded his first career reception in the game, an 18-yard gain that was pivotal in the Browns’ first scoring drive.
All the while, the Browns’ offensive line remained stout. After finishing 23rd in the NFL in pass blocking efficiency and 17th in pressure percentage in Weeks 1-3, Cleveland vaulted to seventh in pass blocking efficiency and sixth in pressure percentage in Week 4, per Pro Football Focus. Joel Bitonio was the No. 8 guard in pass blocking grade (82.7) and center JC Tretter was the ninth-best center (78.3) in Week 4, while Hubbard was the 22nd-best tackle with a solid grade of 73.8. Among all offensive linemen in the NFL, Bitonio, Tretter and Hubbard all landed in the top 52 in Week 4 pass protection grades.
It was clear that Hubbard’s presence was a boost for this group.
“I thought Hub played his best game to date,” coach Freddie Kitchens said Tuesday. “I know he missed one, but I think he played his best game up to this point, which I fully expect him to do forward.”
Chubb, meanwhile, ran for 165 yards and three touchdowns by doing a lot of extra work (i.e., making four defenders miss on a 14-yard touchdown run), but also by following his blockers. On his 88-yard touchdown run, Chubb took a quick toss to the right and moved toward the point of attack when he saw a pulling Eric Kush take two defenders outside, clearing a lane through which Chubb ended up cutting and bursting upfield. No one else touched the running back the rest of the way.
Check out the best photos from the Cleveland Browns win over the Baltimore Ravens yesterday by team photographer Matt Starkey
“All I saw was I took my 3-technique down, and when Chubb went right past us and I was like, ‘Man I do not see anyone else in the back making that play,’” Hubbard recalled to reporters Tuesday. “I saw (Ravens safety) Earl (Thomas) give up. He is a great player. Chubb is fast. I do not think people notice his speed. When he took off running, I was like, ‘There is no way anybody is catching him.’”
In all, it was a banner day for every position group wearing orange and brown, perhaps none more than the offensive line.
“Confidence boost is much needed,” Hubbard said of the team’s winning performance. “We came out there well-planned, and as a whole O-line unit, we played together, we played sound and kept (QB) Baker (Mayfield) clean for the most part and we made holes open for (RB) Nick (Chubb). Nick makes things possible. When he puts that foot into the ground, he makes things go.”
They sure went Sunday. It’s up to the offensive line to keep it going.