The Cleveland Browns played a great first half of football in North Carolina but needed a long field goal from rookie K Cade York to defeat the Carolina Panthers.
The Browns dominated with 355 net yards and 38:26 time of possession compared to the Panthers at 261 yards and 21:34. That the game went down to the wire despite no turnovers by the visitors tells you how strange the game was.
Carolina’s new starting QB and former Cleveland QB Baker Mayfield had 125 of his 235 yards come on two blown coverages by his former team. He ended the day 16/27 for 235 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
The Browns were carried by their two running backs and their rookie kicker.
Here a few takeaways from the game with much more coverage to come:
Brissett Plays it Too Safe Early, Struggles Throughout
(AP Photo/David Richard)
The Browns slowly maneuvered down the field on their first drive but Brissett overthrew a wide-open Amari Cooper on third down. On the next play, Cleveland opted to go for it on fourth down.
Similar to last year, the conversion didn’t work as Brissett was too far outside on a pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones.
Both of the misses by Brissett were cautious throws. The one to Cooper would have been a big gain or touchdown. The one to Peoples-Jones should have kept the drive going.
Brissett overthrew RB Kareem Hunt on the next drive, once again being too safe with the throw.
Beyond being safe, Brissett’s accuracy and decisions were questionable throughout the day. He finished the game 18/34 for 147 yards and a touchdown.
Defense Starts Strong Versus Mayfield, Gives Up Big Plays
(AP Photo/Nick Cammett)
The Panthers totaled six plays for five yards and -5 net yards due to a penalty. The Browns defense was very fast in attacking downhill. The fumbled snap by Mayfield, as was the hold, but the defense started the way they expected to.
On the third possession, Carolina got their first first down. That it came because of a roughing the passer that was iffy, at best.
Unfortunately, that didn’t last for the defense which gave up multiple big plays with blown coverages. Ben McAdoo started using Cleveland’s aggressiveness against them with a few screens, quick passes and draws to take advantage.
A couple of big plays counted for just under half of the Panthers overall yardage Sunday.
Mayfield Struggles with Deflections
(AP Photo/Kirk Irwin)
DE Jadeveon Clowney got his hands on two different passes from Mayfield in the first quarter. It is something Browns fans are used to seeing. Clowney may have had extra joy in the deflections:
— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) September 11, 2022
Rookies DE Alex Wright and DT Perrion Winfrey both got passes deflected in the second quarter frustrating Mayfield. That frustration led directly to the interception by Grant Delpit on the next play.
Little Things: Bojorquez Punting Strong Early
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
The Browns offense was full of struggles early in the game but new punter Corey Bojorquez nailed his first two punts. Bojorquez pinned the Panthers inside their 10-yard line both times, once at the 5 and the second time at the 8-yard line.
With the offense struggling to find a rhythm, having a solid punter is vital.
Unfortunately, the most important punt of the game went into the endzone with 2:16 left in the game and Cleveland up only two points.
Nick Chubb and the Extra Yards
Everyone knows that RB Nick Chubb is great but it is important to point out all the different ways he is great. One of the little things is his ability to get the extra yards needed. A 2 yard gain for most backs becomes a 4 yard gain for Chubb.
He rarely allows bad blocking or a great play by the defense to get the team behind schedule.
Chubb finished the game with 141 yards on 22 carries.
Creative Use of Hunt
(AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
Lead blocker, primary rusher, pass catcher and sideline cheerleader, RB Kareem Hunt does it all for Cleveland’s offense. Lined up as a fullback at the goalline, Hunt snuck out for the first score of the game.
Well-designed play to finally get points on the board:
Kareem Hunt gets the easy receiving TD after the Browns force a Baker Mayfield pick pic.twitter.com/n68kXhDFj3
— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) September 11, 2022
Hunt ended the game with 70 total yards and two touchdowns.
DT Togiai Great Back to Back Plays
Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
In back-to-back plays, second-year DT Tommy Togiai made huge plays for the Browns defense on the possession after the touchdown. He first got a sack on Mayfield as coverage down the field held up.
On the next play, Togiai felt the screen coming and stuck with RB Christian McCaffrey which forced Mayfield to throw the ball into the dirt and abort the play.
A lot of questions about Cleveland’s defensive tackle room but Togiai made the most of those two plays.
Donovan Peoples-Jones Trying to Answer WR Question
Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
Donovan Peoples-Jones was supposed to be a breakout star last year. It didn’t happen for a variety of reasons but he showed strong hands and good route running in Week 1.
Back-to-back receptions in the second quarter turned second and long into a first down. Both had defenders in tight coverage but the third-year receiver still made the plays.
Late in the fourth quarter, Peoples-Jones went down to get a very important 3rd down reception to keep the drive alive. During the last drive of the game, DPJ came down with another difficult catch in the middle of the field which led to the game-winning field goal.
Peoples-Jones was by far the most targeted receiver (11) and led the team with six receptions for 60 yards.
Wide Open Panthers Twice Changed the Game
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Despite the great start by the Browns defense, a wide-open Ian Thomas caught a pass and sauntered down to inside the five yard line. Good hustle by S John Johnson III kept him from scoring but the Panthers pushed it over the goal for a score.
Somehow, Cleveland’s defense has often struggled to cover tight ends. DC Joe Woods’ defense struggled with wide-open players a few times last season.
The Panthers offense was struggling until that huge play put them in a position to score their first points. Can’t have that kind of blown coverage. In this case, it looked like Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and/or Grant Delpit were not in the right position.
Then, late in the fourth quarter, with a nine-point lead, WR Robbie Anderson was wide open for a 75-yard touchdown pass:
It looked like a confusion between CB Greg Newsome II and FS Johnson. Either way, two wide-open Carolina players created game-changing plays.
McCaffrey Shut Down Mostly
Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
While there are a lot of concerns related to how the Browns defense finished the game, they did well to shut down Christian McCaffrey. The Panthers best weapon had just 10 carries for 33 yards and four receptions for 24 yards.
The speed Cleveland’s linebackers play with is a huge part of shutting down shifty running backs. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Anthony Walker Jr. and Jacob Phillips all have the ability to go sideline to sideline quickly.
Assuming today’s performance will translate into future games is dangerous but it is a good sign for their ability to contain fast backs out of the backfield this year.
Myles Garrett Closing in on Team History
Late in the third quarter, DE Myles Garrett ended a drive by himself with two sacks of Mayfield. The second was a strip sack that Garrett almost recovered himself.
Off a botched snap, Mayfield was tackled behind the line of scrimmage by Garrett on another play but that was counted as a tackle for loss.
Going into the game, the Browns sack record was just four away for Garrett.
Cade York Worth the 4th Round Pick
Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
The legend of Cade York may have started earlier this offseason but it finally “matters” as York hit a 58-yard field goal to win the game for the Browns in his first regular season game:
#Browns rookie kicker Cade York drills a 58-yard FG and Cleveland takes the lead over Baker Mayfield and the Panthers.
What. A. Kick. pic.twitter.com/zUuFTp0V9G
— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) September 11, 2022
So many things to talk about in this game but York’s kick is worth a lot of celebration.