Ed: What are your thoughts on two ex-Giants who have become a big part of Cleveland’s defense, Olivier Vernon and B.J. Goodson?
Chris: I didn’t even know B.J. Goodson was a member of the Giants until you reminded me; I just thought of him as an offseason signing from the Packers. I would say that Goodson has been the very definition of “average” at best. He has probably been Cleveland’s best linebacker, but that’s not saying much. On a good defense, all of the linebackers on this team, including Goodson, would be rotational players at best.
Olivier Vernon is a really puzzling player to figure out. You would think that he would thrive having a defensive MVP candidate on the field with him (Myles Garrett), but that hasn’t been the case. Vernon hasn’t been a bad player, but for what Cleveland expected of him, he’s been a relative disappointment. For much of last season, it seemed like he was more of a contain player rather than a pass rusher. Through the first 7 games of this season, he didn’t have any sacks. Now in his past 6 games, he’s erupted for 7 sacks, much of that coming when Garrett wasn’t on the field. His play has picked up, but much of it still seems to be through him being in the right position and showing discipline as opposed to winning one-on-one matchups or executing a blow by.
Ed: I have to ask about the “other” ex-Giant, Odell Beckham Jr. I know everything has to be viewed right now through the prism of his season-ending injury, but here is what I want to know. Knowing what you know now about Beckham, seeing how he has performed, seeing what the Giants are getting from Jabrill Peppers and Dexter Lawrence, would you want the Browns to make that trade again?
Chris: I was more upset about the Kevin Zeitler/Olivier Vernon aspect of that trade, but it has magically worked out in 2020 because of how we stumbled into a beast at right guard in Wyatt Teller. Good lord, what a mauler that guy is in run blocking — but it’s a big loss that he’s out this week with an ankle injury. There are lots of questions fans ask each other all the time about Odell Beckham, and whether it was the right move. It’s true that the chemistry between Beckham and Baker Mayfield all of last season was terrible. It’s also true that since his injury, Mayfield has seemed to play much more free and loose, and back to being fully in tune with the offense — like the potential he showed as a rookie. But, I don’t regret the trade. Beckham and Mayfield’s chemistry had improved a fair deal in 2020, and I think Mayfield’s recent success is a culmination of the team as a whole understanding Kevin Stefanski’s offense now in his first year as head coach. Beckham has elite-level talent, and we saw that with his 3-touchdown performance against the Cowboys earlier this season. It sucks that he’s hurt, and Jabrill Peppers would be a welcome addition back to our safety group, but the Browns being in the midst of their first (hopefully) playoff season since 2002 has me giving an optimistic answer with this question.
Ed: If you could take one player off the Giants’ roster and put him into Cleveland’s lineup, who would it be? Why?
Chris: Well I wouldn’t do it this week with the COVID news that just came out, but I would say cornerback James Bradberry. Cleveland desperately needs help on defense, both at linebacker and at safety. Cornerback has had some issues too, because Denzel Ward has missed several games this season to injury, and the team’s other starter, Greedy Williams, has missed all season with a shoulder injury. Bradberry made Pro Football Focus’ Pro Bowl team this week, and would have given Cleveland the depth they needed at the position to probably beat the Ravens last week.
Ed: Andrew Thomas, Mekhi Becton, Tristan Wirfs and Jedrick Wills were the Big 4 offensive tackles in the 2020 NFL Draft. Are you happy with Wills, the guy Cleveland ended up with?
Chris: I’ve been very happy with Jedrick Wills. With very little offseason, there were questions about how easy he could transition from right tackle to left tackle at the NFL level. That hasn’t ended up being an issue. The number one thing I want to assess from a first-round pick is, “Does this guy look like a bust?” He definitely hasn’t been a bust. Instead, there have been your normal “rookie” moments. He’ll jump for a false start more than other players on the team. He’ll be doing a great job blocking, and then maybe there will be a play each game where he gets beat. They are learning moments for him, but the good has far out-weighed the bad. Cleveland’s offensive line has been terrific this year — there are Pro Bowl caliber players from left guard to right tackle. In that regard, Wills would rank 5th-best on the Browns in terms of starting linemen, but he’s also playing a very important position and doing it well, so I have no complaints about him.
Ed: How do you explain the Browns scoring 40+ points three times this season, yet having three games where they also scored 10 points or less?
Chris: I know — crazy, right? Earlier this season, I think it was more of a physicality issue on offense. For as good as our offensive line is, they rely a lot on their zone blocking scheme. Those opponents we lost to, they punched our guys in the mouth and won the physical part of the game. The Raiders game was an unfortunate one — because of weather conditions that day, both teams could only run the ball, and Las Vegas loaded the box against Cleveland. Their pass defense is terrible, and the high winds prevented the Browns from taking advantage of it. The good thing is that Kevin Stefanski has learned from those things, as evidenced by the Browns’ two recent performances against the Titans and Ravens. He’s utilizing the play-action passing game when teams bite on the run. He minimizes turnovers by making sure Mayfield throws to the outside or is on the move, away from the middle of the field where he used to struggle (tipped passes, linebackers dropping, etc). So, long story short, here are the explanations:
- Week 1 vs. Ravens: We were a new offense with no offseason, so things snowballed in a bad way
- Week 6 vs. Steelers: We were punched in the mouth and couldn’t handle their non-stop blitzing, Stefanski admitted after the game that he learned big time from that game what not to do
- Week 8 vs. Raiders: High winds prevented any passing, and Las Vegas loaded the box to stop the run all game.
- Bonus: Week 10 vs. Texans: We won this game scoring only 10 points, but it was another high-wind game.
Once that 30-40 MPH wind was gone from Weeks 8-11, Mayfield and the passing game erupted from Weeks 12-14.