Cleveland — The Browns finally put the negativity to rest for at least one week as they defeated the Buffalo Bills 19-16 in dramatic fashion with a last minute touchdown pass to Rashard Higgins. After a report surfaced that he refused to play in the Seattle game, Higgins rolled out the red carpet after catching a seven-yard strike from Baker Mayfield with 1:48 left.
Cleveland now sits at 3-6 on the season with a quick turnaround this week as they’ll host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night for their first of five division matchups in the final seven games.
Are the Browns turning the corner or is it too early to tell?
Jack McCurry: Well Anthony, it was an ugly win but it was still a win and it sure beats talking about another loss and how there should once again be change within the organization. Like Coach Kitchens told the team after the game, “no one else matters” which he’s referring to all the outside noise that has been critical of the team’s slow start.
The team took care of business, built off last week when they cut down the penalties and didn’t turn the ball over and made big plays down the stretch. There were some mistakes in the execution but they overcame it and finally showed some growth as a team.
Anthony Joki: Both.There have been signs of them starting to turn the corner but there are still some major questions.
They have not turned the ball over in the last two weeks. The penalties have been very few on the offensive side. Those were the two biggest flaws in the Browns over the first half of the season.
On the negative side, the coaching staff is still having trouble with what works in the red zone. They failed to get a touchdown against Denver in the red zone and yesterday they ran eight consecutive plays in a goal situation and could not get it in.
Offensively, that is still the greatest challenge they have remaining.
What is contributing to Baker’s turnaround since the bye week?
JM: No doubt that but there were glimpses of hope in that aspect in yesterday’s win with both touchdowns came in the red zone, the opening drive with Mayfield finding Jarvis Landry and the game-winning drive with Higgins.
Mayfield mentioned last week that they needed to start looking back at last year’s film to figure out what was working in the red zone but the fact it’s taken them eight games to figure that out is still so disturbing and that’s on the coaching staff.
Speaking of Mayfield, while many were down on him, the stats are suggesting that he is definitely making the turn since the bye week. He’s completed 65.7% for 705 yards, four touchdowns and an interception in the last three games.
AJ: The running game certainly been a part of Baker’s turn around. Since the bye week, Nick Chubb has carried the ball 60 times for 312 yards, averaging 5.2 yards per carry.
Utilizing the running game certainly helps out Baker and the passing game and with the return of Kareem Hunt, things should continuously start to improve.
As I discussed in our keys to the game piece, having Hunt in motion and using him as a decoy helps keep the defense honest because he can also get the handoff. He is also dangerous in the passing game as he had seven receptions on nine targets.
Looking ahead to Pittsburgh
JM: The Browns don’t have much time to celebrate this week as they have a quick turnaround with Pittsburgh rolling into town on Thursday night. The Steelers are 5-4 despite losing Ben Roethlisberger for the season and James Conner dealing with injuries throughout the year.
Their defense has been the biggest key to their success and the acquisition of Minkah Fitzpatrick has paid huge dividends as he’s playing at an All-Pro level. It’s looking like another game where the Browns will lean on Chubb and Hunt heavily in order to keep their offense moving down the field while also keeping their defense rested and fresh.
AJ: The Browns are going to have their work cut out for them this week against the Steelers. Offensively, they are going to be really tested because of the pass rush problems the Steelers present on top of a good secondary.
Defensively, Mason Rudolph has done enough to win games but this Browns defense should be able to create pressure in passing situations as well as doing a good job in stopping the run.
We look forward to talking to Locked On Steelers Podcast Host Tony Serino this week to break down the game even further.