Despite two catches and one drop, the Browns sounded pleased with Odell Beckham Jr.'s limited role in the 42-point game against the Chargers. (Associated Press)
Have the Browns turned Odell Beckham Jr. into a run-blocker and offensive decoy?
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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland.
Takeaways from Browns practice and interviews …
On the surface, Odell Beckham Jr. inexplicably was a non-contributor in the 47-42 loss to the Chargers, one of the most productive offensive performances in the Kevin Stefanski era.
Beckham dropped a fourth-down pass in the first half that resulted in the Browns settling for three points rather than seven. In the second half, he caught two passes for 20 yards.
And then he wasn’t even targeted on the final two offensive possessions with the game on the line. In fact, on the final Hail Mary pass thrown by Baker Mayfield, Beckham was lined up alone on the left and not part of the three-man bunch formation to the right which Mayfield targeted on his 50+-yard pass. Which fell untouched, to boot.
But the story on Wednesday was that Beckham, whose 58 snaps led everyone except offensive linemen and quarterback, contributed a lot as a blocker on run plays and decoy on pass plays.
So think about that for a few seconds.
Mayfield said Beckham’s performance in the run game was “off the charts, physicality-wise.”
“We talk about our identity is run-first and we are physical team, and we are trying to finish people in the run game and dominate that,” Mayfield said. “You go back and watch him in the run game, and he is physical.
“You do that, and then go look at Rashard Higgins’ touchdown and see how many guys are covering Odell compared to Higgy, and you will see exactly what kind of value he brings to us.
“Whether it is numbers on the outside or whoever wants to put a label on it, we are just trying to win ball games. However that comes, if teams want to roll coverage over the top, he understands that is going to happen. We have to take advantage of his opportunities when they are there because they are not going to come that often. That is the emphasis right now.”
Asked if Beckham needs to be targeted more than three times in a high-scoring game, Mayfield answered, “I look back at the end of the game and say I need to do whatever it takes to win. There is not one specific thing that I have to do this or this. The opportunities we left on the board in the first half are ultimately what came back to bite us on offense and then not taking advantage of the last two drives.”
In his first three games back since last season’s ACL surgery – which coincide with Jarvis Landry being out of the lineup with a knee sprain – Beckham has 9 catches in 19 targets for 124 yards.
Stefanski remains typically unperturbed.
“I kind of look at each game and what do we have to do to win and what do we need to do to go score a bunch of points,” he said. “As I have mentioned before, he is a dynamic football player. He is very front of mind when we are game planning and when we are calling plays. Sometimes the defense dictates if the ball goes elsewhere, and we are comfortable with that because we have good players elsewhere.”
Bad news, good news
The list of Browns not practicing was nine-deep: Running backs Nick Chubb (calf) and Kareem Hunt (wrist, knee), defensive linemen Jadeveon Clowney (elbow, knee) and Takk McKinley (ankle, knee), offensive linemen Jack Conklin (knee) and JC Tretter (knee), linebacker Malcolm Smith (abdomen) and tight end David Njoku (knee).
Stefanski said, however, he was not ruling anybody out for the game.
That included left tackle Jedrick Wills (ankle) and cornerback Greg Newsome (calf), both of whom saw limited participation in practice after missing the Chargers game.
Newsome joined cornerbacks Denzel Ward (neck) and Greedy Williams (shoulder), who didn’t finish the Chargers game because of injuries.
One last positive morsel: Landry (knee) did some work on the side for the first time, which was progress. Landry is eligible to be designated for return from injured reserve, but that decision hasn’t been made yet.
After posting one of his most inaccurate passing games in Minnesota, Mayfield rebounded with a 71.8 percent throwing day (23 of 32) against the Chargers. Mayfield said he thinks he was helped by a long-distance consultation with former Browns backup quarterback Drew Stanton.
“Drew is a guy who was a veteran quarterback when I was drafted here,” Mayfield said. “His role was to be my mentor, and he continues to be that, even though he is not being paid by the Browns. He is just somebody who I have a great relationship with. We talk about on the field stuff and off of the field. Just a great human being.
“He was just helping me out with – whether you want to call it accuracy – it was more of my fundamentals within throwing and just getting back to the basics, following through my throws and finishing towards the target. It is somebody who he has seen a lot of my reps and knows exactly what it is supposed to look like compared to what it was. Obviously, it helped out.”
Three-time NFL defensive player-of-the-year J.J. Watt, who was pursued by the Browns in free agency before he signed with Arizona, has no sacks through five games, but Stefanski said Watt has been a “very disruptive player” in the Cardinals’ defense. “[He’s] huge. We faced him last season [against Houston]. Every run, every pass, he’s slippery, he’s long, he’s got that swim move, can bat the ball. He may not have a sack but he’s very disruptive on game day.” …
Rookie linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah leads the team in freak injuries. He missed a few days of training camp when a weight room accident resulted in stitches in his forehead, and then had to spend Sunday night in an LA hospital in observation after his helmet impacted his throat during a tackle in the first quarter. “Nothing that’s too detrimental. I’m still playing,” he said in a raspy voice …
As a big fan of puns and malaprops, hats off to Mayfield, who, when asked if he’d received word of an NFL fine for criticizing officiating in the Chargers game, responded, “I’m sure the mail’s in the letter.”