Cade York's franchise-record 58-yard game-winning field goal in his first NFL game immediately put him in the good company of the elite kickers each of the Browns' rivals employ. (Cleveland Browns)
Second thoughts: Cade York’s magnificent debut is just par for the course in the AFC North
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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland. He has covered the Browns since 1984.
Second thoughts on Browns’ 26-24 victory over Carolina Panthers …
1. Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said last week that Cade York enters his rookie season as the fourth-best kicker in the AFC North because he’s never kicked in a game. His point was that every one of the Browns’ rivals employed a proven, great kicker – and he is spot-on. Baltimore’s Justin Tucker simply is the greatest kicker in NFL history. Cincinnati’s Evan McPherson was a perfect 12 of 12 on field goals in the Bengals’ post-season run to the Super Bowl as a rookie last year. And Pittsburgh’s Chris Boswell ranks fourth all-time in field-goal percentage. Take a look at their career records below.
Tucker: 11th year, made 327 of 359 field goals, 91.1 percent, with a long of 66 yards.
Boswell: 8th year, made 185 of 210 field goals, 88.1 percent, with a long of 59 yards.
McPherson: 2nd year, made 30 of 36 field goals, 83.3 percent, with a long of 59 yards.
After York’s splash debut, I was curious to see how the others did in their first NFL games. None missed a single kick.
Tucker: 5 of 5 PAT, 3 of 3 field goals, long of 46, 14 points.
Boswell: 3 of 3 PAT, 1 of 1 field goal, long of 47, 6 points.
McPherson: 3 of 3 PAT, 2 of 2 field goals*, long of 53, 9 points.
York: 2 of 2 PAT, 4 of 4 field goals**, long of 58, 14 points.
* McPherson hit a 34-yard game-winner at :00 of overtime.
** York hit a 58-yard game-winner at :08 of regulation.
So York followed his rivals’ footsteps with a perfect NFL debut and matched McPherson with a game-winner on his first try. Now, here’s the thing to remember. Nobody ever has made them all. On Sunday, McPherson’s second season began with a blocked field goal and a 29-yard miss in overtime against the Steelers. Boswell also missed off the left upright from 55 yards in overtime, before hitting the game-winner from 53 yards at :00 of overtime. York knows this, but everyone else should keep it in mind. Phil Dawson always said, “You’re only as good as your next kick.” That said, York chased a lot of demons with his game-winner. It’s hard to imagine a more meaningful make – until playoff implications occur.
2. Nobody did more talking in the build-up to the Baker Mayfield revenge game than Myles Garrett. And he backed up every single word. Garrett led a pass rush that emulated what the Pittsburgh Steelers did to Mayfield during his four seasons with the Browns. Joe Woods’ defense harassed Mayfield throughout the day, raised their arms to bat or tip five of his passes, and contained him from making plays outside the pocket. Garrett was credited with two sacks, a tackle-for-loss, one pass rejected and one forced fumble. One thing I was glad to see was Garrett not buddy up to Mayfield like he did with Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson last year after the Ravens’ quarterback pulled off one of his miraculous plays for a touchdown. In fact, Garrett gave Mayfield a cold shoulder after the game when Mayfield leaned toward him for a hug. During the week, Garrett admitted Mayfield’s alleged intent to “[expletive] up” the Browns motivated him and the defense. Mayfield’s release of a subliminal “Off the Leash” T-shirt by his marketing “team” also inspired the troops. “It had us a bit off the leash,” Garrett chided after the game. “I mean, the tone was set with the attitude of some of the guys on the other side. We were just ready to go out there and finally put things to bed.”
3. The offense that was moth-balled in preseason came out shaky and confused, mostly in the passing game. But the “sparklers” of the offensive fireworks show – the run game – was awesome. In total, the Browns amassed 217 yards on the ground and a 5.6-yard average. It is a testament to the run game system established by line coach Bill Callahan. Running backs coach Stump Mitchell said every back should average 5 yards in this system. Nick Chubb reached 6.4 (141 yards on 22 attempts). Kareem Hunt, as usual per Mitchell, fell below that figure at 4.2 (46 on 11 attempts), but he scored on a gimme 1-yard pass and a 24-yard run. The revelation of the day was the Browns’ biggest commitment yet to utilize Chubb and Hunt on the field together (finally). They used that package at least six times in the first half alone. It presents so many tantalizing options; twice both backs lined up in T-formation behind the quarterback and released into pass routes. Both times Jacoby Brissett failed to take advantage. Another time, with Hunt and left tackle Jedrick Wills pulling left, Chubb ran for a first down. On Monday, Stefanski said, “There were plenty of snaps versus that defense of looks like that. We will continue to explore those type of things. Part of the offensive gameplan is to do what we do but also try to do things that may give them problems. Moving forward, definitely could see something like that growing.” Another wrinkle was the use of mobile lineman Michael Dunn as a tackle-eligible. Almost all of his plays were positive gains. With such creativity and, of course, Chubb and Hunt, the Browns’ run game should be a force that not only helps Brissett keep the team above water in his 11-game stint but also should challenge as the league’s best rushing attack.
4. Offensive tackles Jack Conklin (knee) and Chris Hubbard (elbow) were ruled out after an extensive workout before pre-game warmups. That left James Hudson – the team’s No. 4 tackle – as the starting right tackle. And guess what? He was hardly noticed – no breakdowns, no pre-snap penalties. In other words, he did fine. That’s another credit to Callahan, who has coached up Hudson all through his second training camp. Wonder if Mayfield noticed? Mayfield complained that coaches didn’t give Hudson adequate help against Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt in Mayfield’s last game with the Browns last year.
5. No Browns receiver had a quieter camp and preseason than Donovan Peoples-Jones. It raised concerns about whether Peoples-Jones was up to the task of the No. 2 role behind Amari Cooper. Peoples-Jones erased those concerns with a team-high 60 receiving yards on six catches. Three in particular came in clutch situations on contested balls. “That is a very valuable asset to have as a receiver where, even when you are covered, you are not,” Stefanski said. “For him to go up and get the ball was impressive in a bunch of those moments.”
6. Ironman of the game: This will be a weekly feature of this column. I will cite a Browns player who played the most snaps, not counting offensive linemen and quarterback, who always play 100 percent. For Game 1, it was safety Grant Delpit, the only player to play all 53 defensive snaps. Delpit had three tackles and an interception.
7. Second guesses: Another feature here is to analyze key Stefanski game decisions. Usually, I detest deferring the opening kickoff after winning the coin toss. But there are occasions when it is the right choice. Putting the Browns’ defense on the field first to set the tone against Mayfield was absolutely the right choice. The Browns’ sputtering offense was not able to maximize the double-dip bonus of this strategy, scoring only field goals on the last possession of the first half and first possession of the second half. But it was the right call to defer. Also, Stefanski’s decision to eschew a 54-yard field goal try on early in the game proved right, after all. He said he wanted York to experience some easy kicks – PATs and shorter field goals – to start his career, especially after poor kicking in pre-game warmups. By the time York trotted out for the long game-winner, he was a perfect 5 for 5 on PATs and field goals, washing out the muscle memory of his pre-game pull-hooks.