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Behind Enemy Lines: Baker Mayfield is heating up just in time to face Cincinnati

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Could Baker Mayfield be the second rookie quarterback in a row to scorch the Bengals defense?

Atlanta Falcons v Cleveland Browns Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Browns and Bengals are set to meet for the first time this season on Sunday, and for the first time in a while, it’s the Bengals who are on the downswing in this rivalry. Cincinnati have won their last seven games against the Cleveland, but these don’t appear to be the same old Browns. We caught up with Chris Pokorny of Dawgs by Nature to ask him some questions.

Patrick Judis: Baker Mayfield is coming off his best game as a pro, and he has been collecting plenty of excitement from the Browns’ fan base. What are some things he does really well, and some things he really needs to work on for the rest of his rookie season?

Chris Pokorny: What’s funny is that everyone asks me this same question every week about Mayfield, and I have been listing off the same general answer of strengths and weaknesses. However, it is about time I change things up, because those weaknesses that I have been discussing (getting balls tipped, not recognizing where pressure is at times when he bails from the pocket) haven’t applied lately.

In his first four games, Mayfield completed 55% of his passes with 4 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. In his last four games, he’s completed 69% of his passes with 9 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. His accuracy is up, thanks to smarter play calling (like utilizing the running backs in the passing game since the firing of you know who). When you watch him play, I think the thing that will stand out is that he isn’t limited to any one thing. He can stand in the pocket, roll to his right, scramble, improvise, etc, all for some pretty exciting plays.

The one weakness that I’ve still seen is when he rolls to his left -- he seems a bit prone to losing sight of the defense when trying to make a play downfield. Browns fans are definitely on cloud nine believing we have our franchise quarterback.

PJ: How has the offense divided the touches between Duke Johnson and Nick Chubb since the Carlos Hyde trade and Hue Jackson’s departure?

CP: Chubb is definitely receiving most of the carries, so you can think of him as a traditional starting running back. Since trading Hyde, Chubb is averaging 19.5 carries per game. His 20-carry, 176-yard rushing performance last week has fans giddy, especially knowing what Baltimore did on the ground a week ago against Cincinnati.

Johnson has been receiving even fewer carries actually, but in the past two games since the firing of Hue Jackson and Todd Haley, the team is FINALLY using him as a receiver! He has 13 catches for 109 yards and 3 touchdowns over the past two games. Jackson and Haley not utilizing him in the first eight games has to be in the top five of dumb personnel decisions across the entire NFL.

PJ: How would you attack the Browns defense if you were an opposing offensive coordinator?

CP: It can be a bit weird when looking at how low the Browns rank defensively, but one thing to remember is that they have played 4 overtime games, each of which went down-to-the-wire. So even though the Browns are 30th in passing yards allowed, they are 14th in passing yards per play. When teams work harder for those yards, that means more plays, but also more opportunities to intercept passes -- and the Browns have the 3rd best interception rate in the NFL. They’ve also done a solid job on third down and forcing fumbles.

I feel Cleveland is still very susceptible to athletic tight ends in the passing game, but I would attach the Browns’ run defense. Cleveland’s defense doesn’t mind giving up yardage — they are ball-hawks. But a good, sustained running game has worn them down several times this year, to the point where they can’t stop it at all in the fourth quarter, even when they know it is coming. Also, the Browns have had issues defending end arounds, particularly against the Chargers, so I would re-visit that.

PJ: Who is a player on either the offensive or defensive side of the ball that you don’t think gets enough national attention?

CP: On offense, I would go with Johnson. I think enough people know about him because of fantasy football and the PPR possibilities with him, but I think he is one of the top three receiving backs in the NFL who has just been under-utilized so much. On defense, I’ll say linebacker Joe Schobert. He made the Pro Bowl last year after showing impressive growth, but a lot of people still felt he merely had an “OK” season. His development has continued in year two as a starter, as this article outlines.

PJ: What is your prediction for the game?

CP: Can you blame me for feeling confident? The Bengals are in a slump and have been shredded defensively, while Cleveland had a definitive win over the Falcons and then a bye week to rest. I think a lot of Browns players are extra fired up to beat the hell out of a team affiliated with Hue Jackson, too -- I think his presence will do more harm than good. I’m going with the Browns to finally get their first road victory in forever.

Thanks again to Chris Pokorny and Dawgs by Nature for taking the time out to answer our questions. If you want to see more of his work or the rest of Dawg by Nature’s posts you can find it here.