After what feels like the longest, ever, offseason in NFL history, the Cleveland Browns are finally set to kick off the 2020 season against their division-rivals, the Baltimore Ravens, on Sunday. The team has plenty to prove this year as they attempt to erase the memories of a painful 2019 campaign. Here are three key Browns players to watch in Week 1 at Baltimore.
Who are the three Cleveland Browns players to watch in Week 1 against the Baltimore Ravens?
Facing the Ravens in Week 1 is somewhat an ideal test of where the Browns are entering the 2020 season. The Ravens will test Cleveland on both sides of the ball, with their tough style on both offense and defense.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield will be looking for a better start than in 2019
After a historically great rookie year, Mayfield struggled in 2020, although not to the degree that many thought. Kevin Stefanski’s offense seems like a perfect fit for Mayfield’s skillset; the Browns will feature a rich zone-based running scheme along with a hefty dose of play-action to push the ball downfield. The Ravens defense will be a massive test for Mayfield, and he’ll need to have a much better performance than he did in last season’s opener, as he tossed three interceptions against the Tennessee Titans.
Stefanski will be looking for Mayfield to limit mistakes and focus on properly executing the simple plays. Austin Hooper, Odell Beckham Jr., and Jarvis Landry will all need to be targeted, but those targets need to come naturally. Mayfield was trying to force the ball to Beckham in particular early last season, even when he wasn’t open.
Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb will also need to be featured in the passing game in addition to their carries. Perhaps we’ll even see fullback Andy Janovich gets involved. with all these options, the four verticals from shotgun repetition that Mayfield has been forced to endure over the past two seasons should be long gone. The Browns must find their offensive identity, and Sunday is the first chance to do so.
Mayfield’s comfort level within the pocket will also be something to monitor, and the X-factor for that comfort will be the play of rookie left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr.
Left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. will receive a stern test of his development in Week 1
Wills entered the 2020 NFL Draft after a stellar season at Alabama, where he dominated in the run game and made huge strides in pass protection. However, Wills played on the right side in college, and making the transition to LT is very difficult, especially when Wills didn’t have OTAs or preseason games to take his lumps in. He is very athletic, but his technique on the left side will be a work in progress for some time. Offensive line coach Bill Callahan helped Tyron Smith make the same switch back in 2012, but Wills faces challenges that Smith didn’t have to.
Baltimore presents a tough matchup for the rookie, as he’ll have to deal with Matthew Judon and Calais Campbell, among others. Wills should be able to make a significant impact as a run blocker, but his pass protection could be inconsistent for a while. The Browns must mitigate this by helping Wills with backs and tight ends, and scheming in designed rollouts for Mayfield away from Wills. Accounting for Wills’ potential struggles will not be easy, as the Ravens blitzed the most of any team in 2019, so the line as a whole will be stressed.
Rookie center Nick Harris could be filling in for starter J.C. Tretter, and will also be faced with a tough task. Wills and Harris should be mainstays of the line for years to come, so don’t write them off if they struggle in their first NFL action.
Linebacker B.J. Goodson could be a weak spot the Ravens try to exploit in the passing game
Defensive Coordinator Joe Woods aims to use nickel and dime formations as his base ultimately. However, even as the team attempts to marginalize the linebacker position, it still holds importance. Goodson was signed as a free agent. He is the veteran in the LB room and is going to one of the players to watch for the Browns, not just in Week 1, but all season. He is expected to start at MIKE, and while he’s been a solid run-stopper throughout his career, Goodson has struggled mightily in coverage. He has reportedly been good in that area in training camp, but camp and game situations are quite different.
The Browns will likely deploy extra defensive backs on most of their snaps, as that tactic seemed to leade to defensive success against Lamar Jackson in 2019. That means that Goodson will likely be one of only two LBs on the field, and given how much the Ravens like to use tight ends, Goodson could be picked on in coverage over the middle.
Goodson has also missed a few days of practice recently due to personal reasons, so if he is set to play this week, it remains to be seen how prepared he’ll be. Rookie Jacob Phillips is first in line if Goodson can’t go, and provides many of the same strengths and weaknesses as the veteran.