The 2019 Browns haven’t exactly been who they were propped up to be this offseason. Cleveland is coming off a rough loss to Pittsburgh last week, which all but killed their hopes of controlling their own destiny these last few weeks. It is still the Bengals first shot at this version of the Browns this season, and we thought what better time to catch up with Chris Pokorny of Dawgs by Nature to get his take on the game.
Patrick Judis: This is the first time the Bengals will have a shot at the Browns after being swept by them last season. One player Bengals’ fans will be watching closely is Baker Mayfield. How has his 2019 season compared to his 2018 rookie year?
Chris Pokorny: Baker Mayfield excelled against the Bengals last year, throwing 7 touchdown passes to 0 interceptions in his two starts against them. It wasn’t like that against every team for Mayfield as a rookie; his success against Cincinnati was exceptionally high. As a whole, I would say that Mayfield struggled for the first few games of the 2019 season, and mid-way through the season, he started to re-find his comfort zone in navigating the pocket from a year ago, and picking his moments on when to roll to his right instead of doing it unnecessarily. The problem is that he’s mostly remained steady as opposed to taking a step forward in year number two, despite having a plethora of weapons on offense. Mayfield isn’t the one to blame for everything, though -- it’s a combination of Mayfield, offensive line play, playcalling, and the receivers not performing to their potential.
PJ: Odell Beckham Jr. was probably the acquisition of the offseason, but it is fair to say his first year in Cleveland hasn’t gone so smoothly. What has been some of the biggest issues holding Beckham back from being the receiver everyone knows he is?
CP: It is really weird and polarizing. One argument is that Beckham probably draws a lot of attention, so it makes sense to throw the ball to other talented players. But then when Beckham only has one catch and you look up to see it is already mid-way through the third quarter, something seems off with that. Beckham should be the type of player who, no matter the coverage, can win against his man and be a game-changer. But then there have been times when Cleveland throws him a simple comeback route, and he has a lapse and drops it -- and for a guy who makes so many one-handed catches off the juggs machine, you sort of think to yourself, “what the heck?” On top of that, Cleveland has two of the best running backs in the NFL in the same backfield in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, so why not run the ball heavily as opposed to throwing it to Beckham? Lastly, the chemistry between Beckham and Mayfield on many routes just hasn’t been there. All of those factors I mentioned come into play as to why things haven’t gone smoother with Beckham; but make no mistake about it, we are still rooting hard for Beckham, and I don’t think he’s done anything wrong to be anything detrimental in the locker room.
PJ: What is the greatest strength and weakness of the Browns’ defense?
CP: The greatest strength of the Browns’ defense is hard to pinpoint right now. It used to be the attention that Myles Garrett drew, but with him gone for the season, the victory against Miami didn’t tell us much (since the Dolphins are terrible). The Browns’ defensive line depth is all over the place right now, while the secondary is underachieving when targeted deep (allowing too many catches or committing pass interference simply because they aren’t turning around to locate the ball). The strength has probably been middle linebacker Joe Schobert, who recently had 4 interceptions over a two-game stretch. The pass rush is a weakness now with Garrett out and Olivier Vernon dealing with a nagging knee injury.
PJ: Is there a player(s) on the Browns who you think doesn’t get enough national attention that you think Bengals’ players should know about?
CP: I don’t think any qualifies for that this year on offense or defense. The player who jumps out a little as of late is linebacker Mack Wilson. He hasn’t been worthy of national attention, but as a rookie thrust into the starting lineup, he has gotten better with each week at diagnosing plays and finishing tackles. For the sake of the question, I could also mention Nick Chubb. I do think he is getting a lot of national attention, but there are times in which Chubb still flies a bit under the radar regarding the type of impact he has on a game, considering he is the NFL rushing leader heading into Week 14.
PJ: Last week Cleveland was delivered a gut punch via a loss to the Steelers. It was obviously an important game to keep pace in the WIld Card race. How do you think they will respond this week and who do you think will win the game?
CP: Cleveland will be bolstered offensively with the return of their starting left tackle (Greg Robinson) and tight end David Njoku. Cleveland got off to a great start against the Dolphins in their last home game two weeks ago (28-0), and I expect that same type of hot start from the offense as they beat up on another porous defense (albeit one that has played much better over the past three weeks). While the loss to Pittsburgh was a gut punch and the season has been frustrating, these players aren’t the ones to “mail it in” -- they are going to be starving to pad their stats against Cincinnati, and to also maintain their slim playoff hopes (which stand at about 5%). I like Cleveland to win 31-20.
Thanks again to Chris Pokorny for taking the time to answer our questions. You can find more of his work and Browns’ coverage over at Dawgs by Nature.