For the first time since 2014, the Cleveland Browns are above .500 thanks to another big day from running back Nick Chubb, with fellow running back Kareem Hunt also finding the end zone. The Browns ran for 158 yards en route to a 34-20 win over the Washington Football Team, and while it wasn’t a smooth performance by any means, Cleveland emerged victorious nonetheless.[sv slug=mocksim]
Cleveland Browns ride Nick Chubb to victory over the Washington Football Team
Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt lead the way offensively
Nick Chubb finished Week 3 with 108 yards on 19 carries, scoring twice. He became the first Cleveland running back to rush for 100 yards and two touchdowns in two straight games since 1967. The Browns offensive line had its hands full with Washington’s defensive line, and even though Matt Ioannidis and Chase Young left the game early, it was still tough sledding for Chubb. Head coach and playcaller Kevin Stefanski stuck with the run game, and Chubb was able to put Washington away in the fourth quarter.
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Kareem Hunt didn’t have quite as much success on the ground, gaining just 46 yards on his 16 carries. However, he made two big plays through the air. The first was a touchdown catch while lined up wide. The second was a crucial third-down conversion late in the game that was made possible by an acrobatic catch by Hunt on the sideline. Hunt may not have had the impressive statistics that Nick Chubb had, but his impact on the game was just as important.
Baker Mayfield avoids mistakes and does enough to win
Heading into today, quarterback Baker Mayfield had thrown at least one interception in eight consecutive games. He snapped that streak by completing 16 of 23 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns, one to Kareem Hunt and the other to rookie tight end Harrison Bryant. He seemed indecisive and paranoid in the pocket and wasn’t as accurate as he was on Thursday Night Football in Week 2, but he did enough for his team to win. The Browns have now scored 30 or more points in two straight games; the last time they did that was in 2010 with Peyton Hillis in the backfield.
While Mayfield was good enough to win, that doesn’t mean he was good. He underthrew Odell Beckham Jr. on what should have been a long touchdown, and that throw would have been picked off if Beckham hadn’t transformed into an All-Pro defensive back and batted the ball out of safety Troy Apke’s hands. Mayfield also committed an intentional grounding penalty that ended a drive early. Instead of diagnosing the free rusher coming off his left side and knowing he needed to get rid of the ball quickly, Mayfield attempted an underhand toss while being dragged down, and the ball didn’t make it back to the line of scrimmage.
Mayfield is under a lot of pressure this season, and he’ll need to be better if he wants to prove he is a franchise QB. He’s shown flashes of elite play and has the talent to be a top-tier QB in this league. It’s just a matter of whether or not this team can get that version of Mayfield to show up on a consistent basis. The success that Nick Chubb and the run game are enjoying will certainly help his cause.
The offensive line meets its match
For two games, the Cleveland offensive line was fantastic. Mayfield wasn’t touched in Week 2, and the line handled the blitz-happy Baltimore Ravens quite well in Week 1. Even without Chase Young, Washington’s defensive line got more than its fair share of pressure and run stops. Jonathan Allen, Montez Sweat, and company tallied two sacks and five hits on Mayfield, and more importantly, clearly got into his head.
Right tackle Jack Conklin returned to the starting lineup after ankle and finger injuries sidelined him in Week 2, and had some issues. Rookie left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. committed two false start penalties, and Wyatt Teller was flagged for holding. Washington has one of the most talented defensive lines in the NFL, so it’s understandable that Cleveland’s offensive line would struggle some. But not having to deal with two starters should make that job easier, and that wasn’t really the case. They did a solid job in the run game, opening enough holes for Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to average a combined 4.4 yards per attempt.
The group will need to continue to gel and has another difficult matchup next week in the Dallas Cowboys. In that matchup, they will have Aldon Smith and DeMarcus Lawrence screaming around the edges after Mayfield.
The defense makes plays when needed
After forcing one turnover in each of the first two games, the Cleveland defense took advantage of (most) of its opportunities, generating five takeaways, which the offense scored 24 points off of. Dwayne Haskins routinely stared down his receivers and ended with three interceptions. He should have had four, if not for an impressive play on the ball by Isaiah Wright. The second-year signal-caller made some good throws but struggled overall. He was sacked three times; once by Sheldon Richardson and twice by Myles Garrett, who also forced and recovered a fumble on his second sack.
Garrett was double-teamed all afternoon, as usual, yet his presence was still felt. With Olivier Vernon out and Adrian Clayborn still nursing a hip injury, the rest of the line wasn’t able to make a huge impact, but they did enough.
Aside from those five turnovers, the defense played worse than expected. Denzel Ward did suit up despite a groin injury and dropped an interception early in the game. He then exited later on and did not return. Ronnie Harrison and Mack Wilson were more or less non-factors, barely playing. It’s starting to get weird with Ronnie Harrison, as he’s been with the team for more than three weeks now yet is still unable to get significant playing time, despite starter Andrew Sendejo struggling.
Kevin Johnson, returning from a lacerated kidney, was falling into the same boat as Harrison in terms of concerns about the lack of playing time before Ward got hurt and he took over on the outside, forcing a fumble.
Defensive coordinator Joe Woods’ refusal to work in his most talented players and inability to disrupt the short passing game is quickly growing old. His defense seems uncoordinated and confused, and opposing offenses are seeing weaknesses and exploiting them. If Haskins takes care of the ball, the game likely turns out much different, because Washington was able to put together some quality drives. They held the ball for over seven minutes more than Cleveland and outgained the Browns by nine yards. They lost the game because of turnovers, simple as that.
There is no reason to give up on a coach after three games, but Woods’ early performance is not encouraging in the slightest. This defense was always going to struggle because of injuries to key players and a lack of proven talent in the linebacker room. Those are understandable reasons, but schematical issues are not. It’s something to monitor moving forward, especially with Dak Prescott on the docket for Week 4.