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Four Downs: Travis Benjamin's patience pays off as focal point in Browns passing attack


1. Travis Benjamin's patience pays off as focal point in Browns passing attack

For the second time in three games, the Browns could be without two of their top receivers when they take on Baltimore on Nov. 30.

Against the Bengals on Nov. 5, it was Andrew Hawkins and Brian Hartline sidelined with concussions. Against the Ravens, it could be Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel with the same ailments.

Since his breakout performance in Cleveland's first two games of the season, Travis Benjamin has been the focal point of opposing secondaries, more often than not drawing the team's top defensive back in coverage. When players of the caliber of Hawkins, Gabriel and Hartline are sidelined, the challenge only grows for Benjamin.

If it's bothering the fourth-year speedster, he's doing a good job of hiding it.

"We know that we can rotate and get certain guys on plays, but with those guys going down, it just puts more toughness on us," Benjamin said. "But we as a receiver group, we're willing to go in there and compete still without those guys."

Benjamin hasn't found the kind of rampant success he had on deep routes in Weeks 1 and 2, but he's solidified his standing as Cleveland's No. 1 wide receiver by hauling in passes on every other kind of route.

Benjamin is tied for the team lead in receptions (48) and is the overall leader in receiving yards (736). He's accounted for four of the six touchdowns caught by Cleveland wide receivers. His 81 targets lead the team and are 37 more than the second-most among Browns wideouts. He's received double-digit targets in half of Cleveland's games, including last week's at Pittsburgh, when he had seven catches on 11 targets for 113 yards.

It's enough of a sample size for the Browns to know they can count on Benjamin no matter the circumstances.

"He doesn't get frustrated. That is the thing as a receiver – you can't get frustrated and cut your route off or run the wrong route," Browns wide receivers coach Joker Phillips said. "The thing he has done is be consistent in what he is doing and trusting the quarterbacks read, and the quarterback has done a really good of going through the reads, and if he is not there, go to the next one."

Asked to assess Benjamin's season to date, Phillips used an unexpected word. He called Benjamin "conscientious" and explained how that attitude has benefited him since Day 1 of training camp.

"He always has concerns about his play and how he looks as a professional," Phillips said. "He carries himself very well on the football field. He studies the game, and I think that has given him the chance to line up in at a number of positions in our offense and make plays for us."

2. Browns lose more than catches when Hawkins is out

The status of Hawkins for Cleveland's Monday night game against the Ravens and beyond is uncertain while the veteran wide receiver goes through the league's concussion protocol.

Hawkins is coming off one of his best games of the season, catching seven passes for 69 yards in Cleveland's loss to the Steelers. That sort of production, especially when coupled with the potential absence of Gabriel, certainly will be missed if he can't play against Baltimore

Phillips stressed there's so much more to losing a player such as Hawkins, especially when he's unable to participate in some off-field activities because of the parameters of the concussion protocol.

"He is a guy who really came up the tough way," Phillips said. "He puts a lot into this game emotionally. He puts a lot of his emotions into this game. That is how the game should be played. That is why you see when guys retire how emotional they get because they have put so much into it. It has been tough not having him there because of his emotional leadership that he brings to us."

3. He said it

Amid a season full of injuries and unexpected struggles, K'Waun Williams has emerged as a bright spot in Cleveland's defensive backfield.

The second-year nickel back has been one of the team's most reliable players on defense. Secondary coach Jeff Hafley took it one step further when he met with reporters Wednesday.

"He might be our best cover guy right now," Hafley said. "We spend a lot of time watching our cutups, and there are not a lot of balls being caught in his direction. He has really good cover skills. His awareness is big time right now. His communication and his confidence are fun to see. He can blitz. He is showing up in the run game more. He is playing physical."

4. Stat to know

According to research by The 538, Gary Barnidge is the first player since 1989 to enter a season at 30 years or older with more than 500 career receiving yards and amass more than that total in that particular season. Barnidge had 603 receiving yards over seven seasons before 2015. He has 667 through 10 games this year.

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