Everyone is floating on Cloud Nine with the Cleveland Browns starting 4-1 for the first time since the 1994 season.
While everyone is pointing to the superstars as the keys to the hot start and of course they should get the recognition as well, it’s been a collective team effort with players coming off the bench and stepping up in crucial moments and Sunday’s 32-23 victory of the Indianapolis Colts was a prime example of the “next man up” approach that this team has taken on early in the season.
Credit goes to those players for staying ready for the moment their number gets called and filling in for the starter due to injury or whatever the reasoning, but also credit goes to head coach Kevin Stefanski and the coaching staff for getting all the players ready, whether they’re a starter or a reserve, the staff has the team believing in the plan and vision they implemented.
The veteran offensive lineman was basically written off by everyone when the Browns added Jedrick Wills and Jack Conklin in the offseason to upgrade the offensive line and many thought the team would move on from him once those moves were made.
Cleveland restructured his contract and kept him as a reserve lineman with the ability to step in when needed and Hubbard has proven his worth to the team.
In Week 2 against Cincinnati, Hubbard started at right tackle when Conklin sat out with an ankle injury. The offensive line didn’t skip a beat and helped the rushing attack feast on the Bengals defense for 215 yards and started the Browns winning streak with a 35-30 win.
Again on Sunday, Wyatt Teller was forced to leave the game with a calf injury and Hubbard stepped up and played guard for the first time in his NFL career and was effective with Teller sidelined. Hubbard made one of two key blocks on the big run by D’Ernest Johnson in the fourth quarter to set up Cody Parkey’s game-sealing field goal.
With Teller “week to week” with the calf injury, Hubbard could very well start at right guard this Sunday against his former team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. A week full of reps could continue Hubbard’s bounce back season in trying to keep the Browns offense rolling.
The curious case of Rashard “Hollywood” Higgins continued on Sunday as he once again showed he can make a contribution to the Browns offense.
After being inactive the last two weeks, Higgins got another opportunity with Kha’Darel Hodge sidelined with a hamstring injury that landed him on injured reserve.
Higgins played 40 snaps and caught all three passes that came his way for 31 yards and his first touchdown of the season. He also made the other crucial block on Johnson’s 28-yard run late in the game. The chemistry with quarterback Baker Mayfield is still strong as it was two seasons ago and while many will focus on Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, if Higgins keeps putting in the works, the coaches will continue to give him opportunities to make plays like this.
Ronnie Harrison and Sheldrick Redwine
The safety play by the Cleveland Browns has definitely been one of the negatives through the first five games of the season. Andrew Sendejo and Karl Joseph have played poorly and have basically left the middle of the field open for opposing offenses to attack which has led to the Browns having the 25th ranked scoring defense and 30th ranked passing defense in the NFL.
When Grant Delpit went down with the Achilles injury that sidelined him for the entire season, general manager Andrew Berry went out and acquired Ronnie Harrison from Jacksonville. Many wondered why Harrison was slowly being brought along even with the early struggles by Sendejo and Joseph.
With Joseph being sidelined this week, Harrison finally got his first start and his first significant amount of snaps as a member of the Browns. Early in the second half, Harrison read Phillip Rivers perfectly and capitalized on the veteran’s mistake for a pick-six touchdown.
Harrison left the game in the fourth quarter with a concussion and second-year player Sheldrick Redwine stepped in and made an immediate impact intercepting Rivers. Redwine played 19 snaps, the first defensive snaps he’s played all year and he posted an “elite” grade by Pro Football Focus.
If this is meant to be the Browns year that they get back into contention and perhaps their first playoff appearance since 2002, it truly will be because of a collective team effort and the first five games are a prime example of just that.