'That Team': Why It's Now Or Never For The Cleveland Browns
By Tayyib Abu
Despite a 9-3 record, there remains many unconvinced that The Cleveland Browns are ‘for real’. And for good reason. As they gear up for a huge AFC North clash against their hated rivals some fans will only refer to as ‘that team’, Tayyib Abu tells us why it is now or never for this long suffering franchise:
The Factory Of Sadness
November 6th 1995. Art Modell has had enough of living in Cleveland. He announces that he has signed a deal to move the Browns to Baltimore. Protests and pressure eventually meant that the Browns would stay in Cleveland. However, Art Modell could not take the name or the history like Indianapolis did with the Colts. Instead, Modell took the organisation and renamed them the Baltimore Ravens. The Browns went into forced exile for four years. They came back in 1999, and since re-entering, the Browns have known only hurt and humiliation.
Until now. The Browns are 9-3 this season, Cleveland just blew the doors off another contender in Tennessee in Week 13. The Cleveland Browns are legitimate contenders this year, they have a talent loaded roster, and Cleveland is once again becoming Believeland. Week 14 sees Cleveland alone in the primetime spotlight against, well, who else but the Baltimore Ravens.
A Rivalry Like No Other
One cannot underestimate the bitterness that flows through this game. Browns fans felt like jilted lovers as they saw the Ravens become a juggernaut, while at the same time Cleveland was creating new levels of ignominy. Since coming back, the head to head between these two teams reads 32-11 to Baltimore’s favour, plus the two SuperBowls they have in the trophy cabinet. These games are physical, high intense affairs. It is a tough rivalry, but the advantage has belonged to Baltimore.
Even in Week 1, the Ravens crushed Cleveland 38-6. After that game, there was chatter of another false dawn in Cleveland. Yet, the Browns recovered and have put together a strong season. However, the accusation from the football cognoscenti is that they have played a soft schedule. That is a fair argument; but last week was the perfect response. Now, the Cleveland Browns need to step up and defeat their most hated rival in the biggest game of the season. In reality, it is the biggest Browns game in the last 20 years. And Cleveland will need its star names to show up on the big stage.
Can Mayfield Make Hay Again?
Baker Mayfield played the best game of his career last week. He threw for 334 yards with four touchdowns. It was the Mayfield from Oklahoma as he rifled the ball around to his receivers. Mayfield targeted nine different players last time out. It’s proof that he can spread the ball out and get away from his primary receiver. Mayfield is not a new age dual-threat quarterback; he is a pure pocket passer. His strength is standing in the pocket and firing strikes on short and intermediate passes.
Kevin Stefanski is carefully moulding this offense around Mayfield. He has speedy wideouts in Rashard Higgins and Donovan Peoples-Jones that can get early separation. Jarvis Landry is the big-bodied contested-catch man that Mayfield can take a shot on a deeper pass. But, for all the talent, the Browns’ key to success is the offensive line. It is the best offensive line in the NFL. It ranks second in pass block success which is critical when Baker Mayfield is the quarterback. Joel Bitonio, Wyatt Teller, Jack Conklin and rookie Jedrick Wills are playing brilliantly as a unit.
Baltimore is one of the best blitzing teams in the NFL. Wink Martindale is a sorcerer at creating pressure from all over the field. The Browns line will need to communicate and be alert at the formations the defence shows. The protections may need changing, or Mayfield may need to audible if he sees something nasty. For Mayfield to play well, he needs protecting.
Nonetheless, Mayfield must mature this week as Baker will face pressure and he will have to change plays on the fly. He has had difficulty in his fledgeling career with that, but he has all the talent. Mayfield must solve the mental puzzle in his head; that is the key to success against Baltimore.
Help From The Backfield
Last week’s win coincided with the return of Nick Chubb. The bruising runner came back and looked healthy in his first outing since the injury. Chubb is the vital ingredient that the Browns need. Running the ball can negate a pass rush, as well as tiring out defences. Chubb is ranked first in the NFL in yards after contact. He is a punishing runner who repeatedly carries into contact. Chubb simply wears out defensive linemen.
Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe will not be shy in tackling Chubb; nevertheless, it will be a tough ask for them to tackle Chubb for four quarters repeatedly. Cleveland must establish the run if only to create more time for Baker Mayfield. If the play-action game can get started, the Browns will be in a strong position.
Defense Must Hit Hard & Often
The Baltimore Ravens pride themselves on physical football. In Week 1, the Ravens physically dismantled Cleveland. One could argue that is the common trend in these games. Baltimore beat up Cleveland almost always. However, the Browns have aggressive, powerful players as well. Myles Garrett is enjoying an amazing comeback year, Sheldon Richardson is super run clogger; meanwhile, Mack Wilson is starring as the weak side linebacker. The Browns possess a physicality that can make life difficult for the Ravens offense.
The Ravens offensive line is not a strong pass protecting line; Garrett and Oliver Vernon should have chances. Denzel Ward will also need a strong game; he has the physical tools to overpower the smaller Ravens receivers. If Ward can take Hollywood Brown or Willie Snead away, it will make Lamar Jackson’s game even harder. The Browns have the power on defense; they cannot allow Baltimore to bully them if they want to win this game.
Embrace The Pressure
The city of Cleveland will be bouncing in the build-up to this one. The players will have tremendous support as well as colossal pressure, and the Browns must embrace it because Baltimore will. The Ravens are dangerous when their back is on the wall; they will deal with the stress. Can Cleveland? They need to…
The Browns have waited for this moment for 20 years; they know their fans are behind them. Now the Browns must channel that pressure and conquer their greatest foe. The Ravens will not go down quietly; the Browns have to finish them off. The Browns have the chance to quiet the doubters once and for all with a win this Monday.
Tayyib is an avid NFL fan and, as a follower of the detroit lions, is a permanent resident in the honolulu blue heartbreak hotel. writing football articles since 2019, tayyib loves everything about the sport except that wins are not a qb stat. follow him on twitter @TayyibABU1