I have been watching Cleveland Browns football for just about 20 years or so, and there may not have been a more demoralizing loss in my lifetime than this Week 2 collapse against the New York Jets. On the cusp of their first 2-0 start since I was one, the Browns found a way to blow a two-score game with less than two minutes left.
Nobody is going to blame Nick Chubb for scoring a touchdown, even if the Browns could have knelt out the clock. Everybody is going to blame a busted coverage that let Corey Davis walk into the endzone, an onside kick that should have been recovered, and letting the ghost of Joe Flacco walk down the field on a game-winning drive.
Overall, it is a poor day to be a Browns fan as this colossal implosion was genuinely unbelievable. Despite this, however, what stood out the most as the Browns now prepare for the Pittsburgh Steelers on a short week?
First Down: Trying to make sense of the blown coverages
Sep 18, 2022; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Corey Davis (84) makes a reception for a touchdown against the Cleveland Browns during the fourth quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
These continued blown coverages just make no sense at all. This secondary is filled with quality talent, but their continued lapses in execution nearly cost them a win against the Carolina Panthers in Week 1, and absolutely cost the team yesterday.
Going back to the beginning of last season, the blown coverages were at least slightly understandable as only Denzel Ward had played in a Browns uniform the season before 2021. Grant Delpit popped his achilles as a rookie, John Johnson III was a Los Angeles Ram, and Greg Newsome was still playing for the Northwestern Wildcats. As the season went along, the secondary grew into a dominant unit in 2021 over the last seven games.
Then this summer, all we heard from Johnson III was how cohesive this unit was throughout training camp. Coming into the season, there were high hopes for a unit that was projected to start the season where they left off as one of the more dominant units in the NFL.
Yet they have regressed into blowing a plethora of coverages over the past two weeks. This lack of communication or constant confusion has no logical sense to it. Sensical or not, they better get it cleaned up in a hurry or passing game coordinator Jeff Howard may be looking for a job sooner rather than later.
Second Down: Jacoby Brissett, offense find a blueprint for success
Cleveland Browns Jacoby Brissett
The Browns could not have gotten a better performance out of Jacoby Brissett than they did yesterday against the Jets. He was efficient, he was sharp, and he led the Browns to 30 total offensive points on the day. His only turnover came as he was forced to push the ball down the field with 11 seconds left to try to drag the offense into field goal range.
The Browns need Brissett to just be manageable in order to keep them in games, and in this one he exceeded those expectations. Stefanski dialed up early-down pass plays with success, Brissett was drilling throws into tight windows, and kept the offense moving up the field. Once the Browns found a bit of space on the scoreboard, they could then fall back hard onto their rushing duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
It should have been enough for the Browns to come away as winners in this one as Brissett led the offense to a scoring drive to put the Browns up by two scores with less than two minutes left. There is quite a bit of blame to go around, but how much falls onto Brissett’s shoulders?
Absolutely none of it.
Third Down: his just might be the year Nick Chubb wins the rushing title
Cleveland Browns Nick Chubb
Through two weeks, star running back Nick Chubb is second in the league in rushing yards. He sits only behind New York Giants stallion Saquon Barkley. Chubb sits with 228 yards, eleven runs for first downs, with three of his carries going for over 20 yards. As the Browns work through the next nine games with Brissett under center, Chubb may just get the workload this fanbase has clamored for over the years to win the rushing title.
At this point, Chubb is averaging nearly 20 carries per game, which puts him behind only Barkley, Cincinnati Bengals’ Joe Mixon, last year’s rushing title winner Jonathan Taylor, and former top-five pick Leonard Fournette. As previously mentioned, the Browns have found a blue print that includes getting out early and leaning on Chubb later on.
There may not be a better running back in the NFL than Chubb, but he has never seen the volume to really put him in that conversation to preserve his career with the Browns. Yet the Browns know, for at least nine more games, that Chubb is going to be their key for staying in front of the sticks and in the driver’s seat.
Could he walk away with the rushing title this year? Through two games, he is on pace to blow his career high in carries out of the water and on pace for nearly 2,000 yards rushing.
That should do the trick.
Fourth Down: Mike Priefer not off the hook either
Cleveland Browns acting head coach Mike Priefer watches during the first half of an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders, Monday, Dec. 20, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
There is no doubt that Special Teams coordinator Mike Priefer went to leadership over the summer and begged for an upgrade in personnel. The Browns then went out and signed a punter in Corey Bojorquez, signed an All-Pro return specialist in Jakeem Grant (who suffered a season-ending injury in training camp), and drafted the best kicker in the 2022 NFL Draft in Cade York.
And yet the special teams woes continue. A fourth down conversion by the Jets on a fake punt, letting kick returns get brought out to the 30 yard line with prevalence, a missed kick, and a failed attempt to recover an onside kick put a massive stain on the special teams unit as a whole on the day.
Priefer has been with head coach Kevin Stefanski for a long time, dating back to their days in Minnesota, but the man in the big chair might be forced to act ruthlessly towards his friends if these trends continue. This has been a year-in-and-year-out struggle under Priefer, and there cannot be much more leeway for these mistakes to continue.
Flat out: special teams are continuously costing the Browns football games. This is a direct reflection of the man in charge of the unit in Priefer.
Extra Point: How will the team respond on a short week?
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (11) sits on the bench during an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Kirk Irwin)
The Browns have four days between this heartbreaking loss and their matchup with their divisional rivals. As the 1-1 Pittsburgh Steelers come to town, the Browns will need to flip their heads up and put this in the past.
The Steelers have not exactly been world beaters, especially on offense, so this is an incredibly winnable game for the Browns. With Mitch Trubisky undercenter, the Browns will have their shot to get home, but the back end has to at least give the pass rushers time to get home. This same script that worked today should suffice against the Steelers as well.
As long as the defense does not let up any lapses in judgment. Which could be asking a lot of this downtrodden unit.
Make Trubisky make throws. Make guys like Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, and Chase Claypool make plays. The talent is there and the execution has been lacking. While it is incredibly disheartening not to have a shot at 3-0, at least the Browns have a chance to start off 1-0 against AFC North opponents as the Steelers come to FirstEnergy Stadium.
How strong are the leaders in this franchise? Thursday night sure should say a ton about the makeup of this team.