Four downs on Browns (2-3) v. Seattle Seahawks (4-1)
First down: Home sweet home?
When the list of historical barriers the Browns needed to knock down to make a serious run at the AFC North was compiled, winning at home wasn’t one of them. It was taken for granted that this was taken care of last year when they went a respectable 5-2-1 in FirstEnergy Stadium. And yet, here they are trying to avoid an 0-3 start at home after gagging on a 43-13 loss to Tennessee in the opener and bowing to the Rams, 20-13, on their lone Sunday night appearance. Those two games set the tone for what so far as been a disappointing lift-off to their Season of Great Expectations. With a game against undefeated New England next up after a bye week, the Browns can ill afford to fall to 2-4. “Our season can go either way. We’re at that fork in the road,” receiver Odell Beckham Jr. said on Thursday. Failing to reward another sold-out home crowd with a winning performance undoubtedly would result in a most unwelcome reception (read: loud booing and angry epithets). Ordinarily, a team visiting from the West Coast would seem to be at a distinct disadvantage, what with the cross-country trip and unaccustomed 1 o’clock Eastern kickoff. But the Seahawks are seasoned travelers. They are 30-19-1 over their last 50 road games and 12-6 in their last 18 with a 1 p.m. EST kickoff.
Second down: Russell the Magnificent.
Russell Wilson makes his first-ever visit to Cleveland at the absolute height of his career. In his eighth season, there is practically nothing Wilson, 30, hasn’t accomplished. He’s won a Super Bowl, lost one, earned six Pro Bowl berths, shattered all of Seattle’s franchise passing records, led the NFL in passer rating. There is one accolade that has eluded him, however – Most Valuable Player. And he is on track for that this year. Wilson is first in the league in completion percentage (.731), third in average yards per attempt (9.03), first in touchdowns (12), with no interceptions, and first in passer rating (126.3). Wilson’s accuracy while scampering away from pressure presents the greatest challenge to defenses. “He is a better passer out of the pocket than when he is in the pocket,” said Myles Garrett. “When you think you have him corralled, he is able to elude sacks and tackles. He directs traffic, he is able to throw it downfield and make big plays. He is also going to scramble and get yards himself if need be. He is the real deal and the complete package.” Wilson’s primary targets are receivers Tyler Lockett (30 catches, 379 yards, 3 touchdowns) and D.K. Metcalf (12, 267, 2), and tight end Will Dissly (23, 262, 4).
Third down: Then there’s BRM -- Baker Reagan Mayfield.
GM John Dorsey said on draft weekend that he expected a 25 percent improvement in Baker Mayfield in his second season. Others (me included) predicted Mayfield would be “in the conversation” for league MVP honors. As it’s turned out, everyone is at a loss to explain a marked regression in Mayfield’s play and production. Through five games, Mayfield is 33rd among quarterbacks in completion percentage (.559), 32nd in passer rating (68.5), and dead last in interceptions (eight). He is in the midst of one of the worst sophomore slumps in Browns history. Mayfield has been unable to distribute the ball consistently to high-priced receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. This week, the two good friends, in different ways, called out their quarterback to get them the ball. “We just have to find ways to be more intentional,” Landry said. “I believe in that. Just find ways to get guys we believe are game-changers the ball. Defenses should have their hands full and have to stop us.” Beckham said, “He’s got a lot on his plate right now. We all need to do a better job of playing better and take something off his plate. I’m more than happy to take something off his plate. Just put it on me and see what happens.”
Fourth down: Signs of immaturity.
Sam Rutigliano used to call them “SIW’s.” Self-inflicted wounds. They are the stupid things that keep a team from winning – primarily penalties and turnovers. In Freddie Kitchens’ first five games as head coach, the SIW’s committed by his team are a foreboding sign of immaturity. Whatever is the opposite of smart football, that’s what the Browns have played under Kitchens. Their 48 penalties are second-most to Atlanta’s 49. Their 423 penalty yards are second-most to Minnesota’s 439. (Not coincidentally, Atlanta and Minnesota are two of the most under-performing teams in the NFL.) Now, Browns opponents have committed 32 penalties for 242 yards. The Browns’ net minus-16 in penalties and minus-181 in penalty yards are the worst figures in the league – by far.
Prediction: Seahawks, 23-19.
My record: 3-2.