Want to know the most damning stat of the increasingly horrific 2019 season for the Cleveland Browns?
Try this one on for size: Through eight games for the 2-6 Browns, Odell Beckham Jr., unquestionably one of the four best receivers in football, has one fewer reception this season (39) than Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette.
Is it bad that everyone I’ve told that stat to has reacted with a combination of shock and disbelief reminiscent of the audience at the end of “Joker”?
It’s that bad.
Need I remind you, Fournette was not thought of highly as a receiver coming out of LSU. He has gotten better, and he deserves credit for that. But there’s no scenario where he should have more catches than one of the best receivers in football, regardless of him having an extra game under his belt.
So who is to blame in Cleveland? Well, in the finely produced video posted above — expertly stitched together by my main man Ron “The Truth” Schiltz — I went through several of the Browns’ third-down plays in their embarrassing loss to the Broncos on Sunday, and detailed the reasons why they are so incapable of getting the ball to their best player on “money downs.”
Watch the video Browns fans, but here’s a hint — it ain’t OBJ’s fault.
Here’s what Baker Mayfield had to say on the matter Wednesday:
“I think people have this picture perfect thing where it was going to be sunshine and rainbows and he was going to have a whole lot of one-on-ones. It is Odell Beckham, he is going to have double coverage and we have to find ways to format things to get him the ball and force-feed him early on to where he can make an impact before we can have the perfect look to have a shot [at a] play.
“That is something we have learned the hard way, but I think as the weeks have gone on, we are continuing to improve on how to get the ball to him.”
Better hope so. If the Browns don’t utilize their best offensive weapon, the Browns — whose schedule will get a lot easier down the stretch — will be staring at their 12th straight losing season faster than OBJ can say “trade me.”
Deshaun Watson’s escapability is keeping him in MVP race
One of the things aiding the MVP candidacy of Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson is the litany of foes he repeatedly leaves in awe.
Shortly after the Texans’ dominating 26-3 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in London, in which Watson finished with a passer rating of 120 while making defenders chase him while doing a slimmer, in-his-prime Donovan McNabb impression, Jaguars coach Doug Marrone became the latest to sing the praises of the maestro of the 6-3 Texans.
“We knew going into the game that Deshaun Watson is an MVP candidate and we weren't able to get him down a couple times early on,” Marrone said. “[He’s] elusive, [he] ran the football, extended the play, made good throws … we weren't able to get him into the third-down situations where we felt it kind of tilted our way.”
Join the club, Doug. Watson is on pace to finish with 4,300 passing yards, roughly 41 total touchdowns and nine interceptions. His ability to slip oncoming opponents and make tough throws with defenders hanging off of him will make the Texans a tough out in the playoffs, where quarterbacks who can do things like that typically find success.
Kirk Cousins’ misses are concerning for otherwise complete team
The Minnesota Vikings dropped to a still-good 6-3 with their 26-23 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, so the loss wasn’t the end of the world. But Vikings fans should still be angry about the defeat.
The Vikings boast one of the league’s deepest teams. Defensively, they get after it, and offensively they boast a strong running game with multiple top-notch targets in the passing game. So I’m putting their inability to beat a spunky Patrick Mahomes-less Chiefs team on their $84 million quarterback, Kirk Cousins.
On the surface, Cousins was fine. He completed 19 of 38 passes for 220 yards and three touchdowns, and if you didn’t watch the game, you’d never guess he was a primary culprit.
But if you saw the game, you would have seen an assortment of eyebrow-raising misses that left his receivers with that “what am I supposed to do about it” shrug and slow walk back to the huddle:
Cousins is an OK quarterback. He’s on pace to finish with another strong statline in 2019 — a completion percentage of 68.8, nearly 4,000 yards, 28 touchdowns and five interceptions — but he’s one of those guys you always want a little more from, one of those guys who needs to get hot in the playoffs for a team that has nearly everything in place around him to win a Super Bowl.
Every once in a while that happens in the NFL, and maybe Cousins will be the next guy. But if you’re a Vikings fan, it’s tough hoping to be the outlier when the game has never been more wide open, and your team is otherwise so complete.
Baltimore's pressure portends well for the future
Perhaps the most stunning thing about the Ravens’ 37-20 win over the New England Patriots was not that they won by 17 points over the previously undefeated juggernaut, but how they won … which was, namely, by generating a ton of pressure on the G.O.A.T, Tom Brady.
Of course, Lamar Jackson and the offense deserves credit for a 210-yard rushing performance. But anytime your defense can hit Brady 10 times — 10 times! — you deserve special kudos. So that’s what I’d like to give Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale and his crew credit for their effort Sunday, even though it resulted in only two sacks:
Understand, it’s difficult to touch Brady, who gets the ball out in 2.5 seconds or less 55 percent of the time, according to Pro Football Focus. Only three quarterbacks do that faster, and while Brady may look 32, it’s important to remember he’s 42, an age when pressure historically makes quarterbacks more skittish than a Chicago Bears kicker with less than a minute left in regulation.
That’s why Ravens coach John Harbaugh gave props to his defense earlier this week.
“It's really hard to rush the way we rushed him — very direct rushes in front of him,” Harbaugh said. “I thought we impacted him as much as we could.”
With a Ravens-Patriots showdown in the playoffs looking like a possibility, it’s good for the Ravens to gain some confidence against a Patriots team that has historically been an incredibly difficult January out. And if the Ravens actually face the Patriots again, you better believe their ability to get to Brady may make all the difference in the world.
Minkah Fitzpatrick is transforming Steelers’ secondary
A week ago, I shouted out rookie inside linebacker Devin Bush Jr. for helping transform the Steelers’ old and slow defense into a fast, young unit.
Fitzpatrick has been a revelation. He has helped a defense that generated only 15 turnovers in 2018 to one that is on pace to nab 44 this season.
Opposing coaches have noticed.
“You look at the acquisition of Minkah Fitzpatrick,” said Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay, who will face the Steelers on Sunday. “[He’s] been a big add for them.”
Indeed. Fitzpatrick is on track to finish with 84 tackles and an absurd eight interceptions to go along with 12 passes defended. If the Steelers — winners of three straight after a 1-4 start — finish .500 or better, he’ll be well worth the price they paid for his services.
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