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2 reasons why the Cleveland Browns could win their next 6 games

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Like the rest of Sooner Nation and Browns Backers worldwide, we toasted the weekend performance of not only Baker Mayfield but also Nick Chubb, Antonio Callaway, Duke Johnson, Joe Schobert, David Njoku, Rashard Higgins, Myles Garrett and the entire Cleveland Browns organization.

This wasn’t Thursday night magic against the Jets.

This was a complete team win, a whipping put on a good Atlanta Falcons club.

There is no doubt that Baker Mayfield showed enormous improvement this weekend: decisive passing, better improvisation and world-class play action. However, Mayfield also had much better protection Sunday than at any other point this season. Heck, watching Oklahoma’s 48-47 win over Oklahoma State, we Sooners fans bemoaned the protection for Kyler Murray, something we don’t typically have to worry about.

The Cleveland defense with Joe Schobert and Denzel Ward both back in the lineup is a different beast altogether, especially Schobert. They take on a completely different identity with the third-year linebacker from Wisconsin. He clogs the middle.

Dare I say that if Cleveland were to play like they did in their 28-16 win over the Falcons, they could win any or all of their remaining six games.

The Browns have two games against the Bengals, who are at the bottom of the NFL in passing yards per game and two spots lower than the Browns in points given up per game. Cincinnati and Cleveland are No. 30 and 32, respectively, in yards allowed per game.

And come to find out this week that the Bengals plan on hiring former Cleveland coach Hue Jackson?

Who is that supposed to help? Seriously, I’m asking.

Cleveland has a shot to win both of those games, as they do the Baltimore game. The Browns have already beaten the Ravens once, a 12-9 thriller at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 7. That game was one of four overtime games the Browns have played this season, and if you think about it, there is every possibility that the other three could have fallen Cleveland’s way, meaning they’d be 7-3 right now.

The Browns are not a bad football team fundamentally; they’re just learning to put it all together and to do it with consistency.

Cleveland has a tough two-game stretch at Houston, a team that has figured out how to put it all together, and against the Carolina Panthers at home. Both of these opponents currently sit at 6-3, and on the development scale, they’re seemingly far ahead of the Browns. However, the Texas notoriously under-achieve, and we get Cam Newton in front of the Dawg Pound.

No guarantees, but definitely not for-sure losses.

When you looked at the Browns’ chances against a Steelers team in Pittsburgh or even a hot Kansas City team at home, you had to think any win would be a significant upset. When faced with the task of beating the Texans or Panthers, the thought is — if the Browns execute like they did against Atlanta.

And if they were to somehow get past the Bengals, Texans and Panthers, a trifecta that could absolutely land the beloved orange-and-brown at 0-3 for the set, Cleveland would head to Denver for a Saturday-night showdown against the Broncos that could decide the Browns’ playoff fate.

No, I’m not drinking. This is a schedule that provides some room for hope for a club that is improving under Gregg Williams the way they’ve shown over the past couple of weeks.

Cleveland absolutely could run the table and finish 9-6-1.

If they did that, Baker Mayfield wouldn’t just be Rookie of the Year; there would be serious conversation about Baker as MVP.

But he’s not even the reason I think there’s hope for such a run.

It’s this: Cleveland’s takeaway-giveaway ratio is +12, second only to the Chicago Bears.

It’s also this: The Browns are third in the NFL in total rushing yardage and sixth in yards per game at 133.2.

It helps when your running back is also an awesome rookie:

Forget what the crazy blogger man here thinks. Take those two stats seriously. Being able to run the ball and being able to force some turnovers will keep you in ball games.

And then you have a coach who nobody believes would be given a shot at the gig full-time, a Kansas City boy named Gregg Williams looking for redemption after running afoul of league rules in New Orleans. You watch him make a speech like this and wonder if, really, Cleveland hasn’t found their guy:

Williams didn’t add “in miracles” to the end of his question. He just asked the team, “Do You Believe?”

In the process. In the details. In the coaching staff. In each other.

Belief is a powerful drug. Add that to a +12 takeaway/giveaway ratio and an ability to run the ball well, and the Browns are going to have more of a chance in each of these games than virtually anybody will give them credit for.

Cleveland Browns Blog: ‘We Hardly Knew Hue’ + Next Coach From Norman, Okla.?

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The message from Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam was crystal clear on Monday. He was looking for a coach who would be more collaborative, and internal discord would not be tolerated.

Head coach Hue Jackson was fired, and so was offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

After a 33-18 loss to Pittsburgh, Jackson’s fate was all-but-sealed. The past seven dismissed Browns’ coaches were canned after the second Pittsburgh loss. Most of them fared better than the 3-36-1 record held by Hue. Haley’s role in stoking the flames of dysfunction sent him packing.

I liked Hue Jackson. Of course, I think any coach with a 3-36-1 record deserves to be canned. However, I had genuinely been impressed by his style and demeanor, calm and cool.

I largely disliked Haley. Thought he was kind of a jerk. That struck me the first time we saw him on “Hard Knocks,” making fun of Carl Nassib’s first name. I’d remind the former Cleveland offensive coordinator that his father’s name is Dick.

But let’s take a step back. I’m not your average Cleveland Browns fan. I’m brand new to the Dawg Pound, a baby Browns fan, if you will.

I decided to become a Browns fan in central Oklahoma for many reasons.

1. They drafted the greatest Oklahoma Sooner of all time, Baker Mayfield, and they didn’t just draft him. They had the balls to take him No. 1 despite his lack of size, amid draft experts saying they should definitely take Darnold or Rosen ahead of him. Instead, John Dorsey saw in Baker the same thing we did in Norman, Okla., and that’s greatness.

2. For me, it didn’t hurt that Cleveland was featured on “Hard Knocks.” Although “Hard Knocks” killed off more characters than Star Trek did red-shirted spacemen, we grew to like the organization as a whole. I don’t understand why more pro sports teams don’t do “Hard Knocks”-like shows all season long. It’s fantastic marketing.

3. I said “we” in point No. 2. My fiance Kristi and I started rooting for Cleveland at the same time, and so it makes it kind of our thing. She’s a Joe Montana 49er by raising, and I’m a Dallas Cowboys man per the will of the Rev. William Roy Welton, who had them on any Sunday we visited him in McAlester, Okla.

After Jerry Jones took over the Cowboys, I still rooted for them and loved Jimmy Johnson and my fellow-Henryetta Hen Troy Aikman. However, I moved away from Dallas (to Oklahoma City) in 2005, and we just grew apart, the Cowboys and I.

A lot of people bash those who have suddenly liked the Browns because of Baker, as if we’re obligated to root for anybody in particular. Jerry Seinfeld was right: we largely root for laundry. If one of my brothers or one of their kids took a scholarship to play football for the University of Texas, you know what I’d be saying? Hook ‘Em, Horns!

My fandom of the Dallas Cowboys absolutely intensified when Troy Aikman was drafted. There was nobody from Henryetta, Okla., who rooted for anybody else. The reality was that for the last half of my Dallas Cowboys fandom, I rooted for them mostly because of Troy. After Troy, I was definitely a Tony Romo guy.

And on and on.

What seems more sticky about this foray into fandom is that I find myself rooting for the entire Cleveland Browns organization, learning about their history and reliving Cleveland Browns moments not as the kid who watched the 1980 loss to Oakland or the 1987 fumble in Denver but as a fan growing to embrace the franchise’s history. The 14-12 loss to Oakland was one of the first non-Cowboys NFL games I remember watching as a kiddo. And in 1986, I watched all of Cleveland’s 23-20 win over the New York Jets, a double OT playoff game.

4. If you’re going to bandwagon a team, do it when they’re coming off an 0-16 season. What I can’t stand is those who have bandwagoned the Patriots, Red Sox or Cubs the past decade or so. The climb is more satisfying than the ultimate victory, if there is to be one. It’s apparent to me in watching John Dorsey that he’s a man who’s intent on building the Browns in the right manner. Even the press conference with Jimmy Haslam was indicative of an intent to do things the right way — collaboratively. I feel clean climbing onto this bandwagon; there’s only one way to go – up.

5. My family has some roots in Ohio. Dad was a graduate of Fenn College, 1960. That school became Cleveland State University in 1964. Bill Welton didn’t give a shit about sports though, so there’s no gridiron sentimentality. I liken this to the ‘birthright citizenship’ of fandom.

Truth is, I figured Hue might not survive the season, and it was easy to understand both from a football perspective but also a management perspective why both Jackson and Haley had to go. What’s been encouraging is what Dorsey and Haslam have said post-dismissal. What was even more encouraging is how Gregg Williams, who is no choir boy, has talked since being named interim head coach. If you’ll recall, Williams was at one time suspended from the NFL for overseeing a bounty scheme that would pay players for injuring opponents, something he learned in his days with Buddy Ryan in Houston. Williams is very much a Darth Vader sort of coach, and it’s not a surprise that he and Bill Belichick are good friends.

Williams is fiery enough to be the kick in the butt the Browns need to finish out the season strong. However, my hope is that Cleveland looks outside the organization for its next coach. I hope they look for a visionary both in terms of strategy and management style, and I hope they look younger. Our Oklahoma Sooners coach Lincoln Riley has been mentioned as a candidate for the job. For some silly reason, so has Sean McVay from the 8-0 Los Angeles Rams. (Why would either leave for Cleveland?) Former Nebraska quarterback Zac Taylor, who by the way is from Norman, Okla., has also been tied to the gig.

Zac Taylor really, really intrigues me. Currently, he’s the quarterbacks coach for the Rams. Beyond leading the team and overseeing little things like, you know, wins and losses, the next coach of the Cleveland Browns has to first and foremost oversee Baker’s development. Everything else might just fall into place if the organization grows its Mayfield. Protects him. Builds that offense around him.

But I’m personally hoping that Dorsey and Haslam were true to their word, in spirit, that a collaborative environment is what they’re most interested in. I’m a believer that it’s important for a head coach to surround himself with people loyal to him. It sounds very Trumpian, but nobody is suggesting that the coach should hire dummies. Hear me out.

Haslam and Dorsey mostly need a change agent who will work collaboratively with them.

That coach will present the vision to his staff, who will sell it to the team. Whoever is hired has to be able to count on that staff to sell, sell, sell that vision even if they don’t love it. I suspect the discord within the Browns organization was largely Haley undercutting Jackson, which is an organizational killer.

The thought is that if the head coach is collaborative in spirit, he’ll not only work well with his superiors, he won’t overwhelm or strangle the people he supervises. If you recall Josh McDaniels’ tenure in Denver, I believe it was fraught with self-induced friction. On the contrary, I read an article a couple of weeks ago detailing the success Alex Cora has had with the Boston Red Sox. It all centered around the fact that Cora apparently gets along with everybody, and I mean everybody.

He’s either hyper-even-keeled, the coolest cat in the room or both.

If everybody likes you, they’re liable to listen to you. At that point, you’d better have good information and strategy.

Anyway, that’s a lot of rambling to say that the Browns have their work cut out for them in terms of finding a new coach. I certainly hope that the Browns do well the rest of this season, but I’d prefer – long-term – that Gregg Williams not be the club’s head coach. Given the history in New Orleans, I find him to be damaged goods.

I’m just enjoying being a new fan to a largely dysfunctional organization that is desperately trying to get its act together.

They’re going to do it, you know. I’m that big a believer in Baker Mayfield.

And it’s going to be really cool to see it all come together.

Cleveland Browns 21, Pittsburgh Steelers 21: Recap + stars + disappointments

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Our first game as official Cleveland Browns was quite the experience, and we didn’t lose!

We tied.

Cleveland battled back from a 21-7 deficit against Pittsburgh to send the game into overtime, but then offenses stalled for both teams. Not helped by a rain that was steady for all four hours of Sunday’s season-opening NFL broadcast, the Browns had a chance to win at the end thanks to a Joe Schobert interception that caused an earthquake along Lake Erie.

And in northwest Oklahoma City.

Kristi and I were out of our chairs on that one, reminiscent of Torrance Marshall’s pick against Texas A&M back in 2000. (Oklahoma Sooners) Schobert’s pick should have sealed a win for Cleveland except for a block-in-the-back penalty on Myles Garrett.

Ugh.

Zane Gonzales’ field goal attempt from 10-12 yards back was blocked.

And the Browns would have to settle for a tie, and so would we, their new football fans in Oklahoma.

The reason so many Oklahomans are now Cleveland Browns supporters? Easy. Baker Reagan Mayfield.

He didn’t play a single down against Pittsburgh, and that’s OK. The weather was 58 degrees and rainy, not ideal conditions for a newbie signal-caller. However, I’ll present this: Tyrod Taylor’s box score.

Taylor went 15 of 40 for 197 yards for a quarterback rating of 51.8.

Just sayin’.

He showed some poise at times, and to be fair, he didn’t make nearly the mistakes that Ben Roethlisberger made. Big Ben went 23 of 41 for 335 yards with three interceptions and a quarterback rating of 60.5.

What Baker Mayfield could have brought was some downfield urgency to Cleveland drives at the end of the first half, fourth quarter and overtime periods. Mayfield was used to working super fast at Oklahoma, and his accuracy is uncanny. I get that he’s new, but I’ll stand on this until my dying day: the Cleveland coaches played this week to “not mess it up” today instead of playing to win.

Kudos to Gregg Williams and the Cleveland defense, and major kudos to new cornerback Denzel Ward. Ward signed a four-year contract worth a little more than $29 million, and I think he’s got the early clubhouse lead on Rookie of the Year honors, finishing the day with six tackles and two interceptions for 26 yards.

Todd Haley’s offense failed to capitalize on momentum, I thought. In the third quarter, running back Carlos Hyde went off, leading the Browns to a touchdown and a 7-7 game. While Taylor finished off the drive with a 20-yard run, Hyde accounted for 34 yards on four carries.

And then the Browns pretty much abandoned the run.

Pittsburgh immediately made it 14-7, and while Cleveland attempted a couple of Hyde runs, Taylor threw incomplete on first down deep to Jarvis Landry. Landry finished the day with seven balls for 106 yards. Hyde lost a couple on second down, and then Taylor was sacked by T.J. Watt, who had a monster game for Pittsburgh.

I don’t believe Watt is J.J.’s brother. I believe he’s a clone. Phenomenal player. Watt finished the day with 11 tackles, including four for loss.

The Steelers opened up a 21-7 lead, and Cleveland worked a little magic to tie it up. After a fumble was recovered and then nearly squandered by Jabrill Peppers at the goal line, Hyde rammed it home from the 1 to make it 21-14 with 7:32 to play.

After a pair of quick series, Taylor did his best work with a two-play drive that culminated in a 17-yard touchdown pass to Josh Gordon with 1:58 left to play. The first play of that series was a 38-yard pass to Rashard Higgins.

Zero complaints there, and from Haley’s perspective, it was the right play-calling at the right time.

Cleveland got the ball back one last time, but Taylor was intercepted on a deep ball to Gordon.

The story of the day was: nice comeback and plenty of chances for the Browns at the end. If there was a disappointment for me as a new fan who absolutely watched the “Hard Knocks” series on HBO, it was David Njoku. The TE from the University of Miami caught three balls for 13 yards, but it sure seems like he dropped a whole bunch of easy balls. I’d also cite end-of-period game management as a frustration.

No, we newbie Oklahoma fans of the Dawg Pound have nothing to complain about. We haven’t suffered like you guys in northeast Ohio, but I wish you would have seen us when Schobert intercepted that ball in OT. We damn near brought the house down.

And you’d best believe we’ll do it again for Cleveland-New Orleans next week.

Go Browns!

Featured photo by Erik Drost

 

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