Sorting the Sunday Pile, Week 10: Browns' future looks bright with Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb
The future looks bright in Cleveland plus news and notes from around the NFL
The Browns have been swirling in a maelstrom of mediocrity for more than a decade. Cleveland is the NFL's easiest punchline and has been for a while, but Sunday showed why it does not need to remain that way forever.
That much was clear on Sunday, with Cleveland piling up its second-highest point total of the year before the third quarter even ended. Mayfield, who finished the game 17-for-20 for 216 yards as well as three touchdowns and zero interceptions, showed precisely why he was the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, moving well in the pocket and efficiently operating Freddie Kitchens' offense, freed from the constraints of the drama surrounding Hue Jackson and Todd Haley.
The only mistake from the Browns and Baker in the first half involved the decision to take the ball out of Mayfield's hands and let Dontrell Hilliard throw a pass in Mayfield's direction that was easily picked off by the Atlanta defense. Credit Cleveland for not letting it affect the game too much: the Falcons marched down the field, Matt Ryan hit Julio Jones for a touchdown and it looked like the Falcons could conceivably flip the script on the Browns.
Instead, the Browns answered back with Mayfield touchdown pass to Chubb in the red zone that gave Cleveland a 14-10 lead going into the half.
The dynamic duo promptly showed why they were highly selected and why we should be enthusiastic about the Browns' situation for the long haul. Mayfield marched the Browns down the field and hit Duke Johnson for his third touchdown pass of the day.
Less than two minutes later -- after Cleveland shut down Atlanta on one of three third-quarter drives that went less than 25 yards -- Chubb exploded for the longest rushing play in Browns history, a breathtaking 92-yard touchdown run that combined power and speed to put the Browns way up top on Atlanta.
With that score, Chubb became the first player in the NFL with three touchdown runs of 40+ yards on the season, a stat that showcases just how explosive Chubb is and how dangerous he becomes when he gets in the open field.
The victory gave interim coach Gregg Williams his first win since 2003.
But more than anything, it was proof of how attractive this Browns job should be at the end of the season. The Browns clearly have a franchise quarterback in Mayfield, who played the best game of his young career Sunday, an outing that featured Mayfield showing off his ability to execute smart decisions and to make every throw asked of him.
He "woke up feeling dangerous" and delivered on that feeling.
Mayfield and Chubb, along with rookie cornerback Denzel Ward, are the crown jewels of GM John Dorsey's first draft class. And they're excellent recruiting tools for Dorsey to approach a potentially high-profile coach. It would have ben unfathomable to consider someone like Lincoln Riley or John Harbaugh or Mike McCarthy taking the Browns job five years ago. It would be beneath them.
But now? A pair of guys ex-coach Hue Jackson did not want to actually start and/or play coming out of training camp are going to be battling for Rookie of the Week honors. Mayfield became the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to record a passer rating of at least 150 with 20+ passing attempts in a game.
The Browns have struggled as a franchise and there's work to be done. But it should be obvious to anyone with an eye for talent the Browns are capable of becoming a contender within the next several years if the right coaching infrastructure is put in place. Put on your shades, Cleveland. The future is bright.
Coaching changes coming?
There is a good chance we see some more midseason coaching changes coming around the NFL this year. It's been out of vogue to can coaches in the middle of the year during recent seasons, but the Browns got things started early by firing Hue Jackson. Look for either the Buccaneers or the Jets to follow suit after both teams produced horrific embarrassments on the field Sunday.
In Tampa, Dirk Koetter was already on very thin ice. He relieved defensive coordinator Mike Smith of his duties several weeks ago. He's been flipping between Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston as casually as most people change shirts. Sunday's home game against the Redskins featured Tampa Bay as a three-point favorite playing a Washington team missing three starters on its offensive line.
Tampa promptly rolled up almost 500 yards of offense (499) and managed to score ... three points? They're the first team in NFL history to record more than 425 yards and score three points or less.
Koetter, in an act that reeks of desperation, took over play-calling duties from Todd Monken but refused to explain why afterward saying "I have my reasons." Those reasons might be a need to start winning games while calling plays out of fear for saving his job. Given how ugly things were for him against Washington, it wouldn't be surprising if the Bucs pulled the rip cord this week.
Same goes for the Jets, with things having escalated quickly for Todd Bowles over the last month or so. Sam Darnold struggled for a few weeks then got hurt and with the Jets favored by a full touchdown at home against Matt Barkley, who was starting for the Bills after being signed 12 days before, the Jets got humiliated. The Bills -- the Bills -- beat them 41-10, with Buffalo covering the over/under by themselves. The Jets were done before halftime.
"I don't worry about my job," Bowles said Sunday. "I don't talk about my job. I'm just trying to get to the next game."
Bowles also added that everyone "stunk," and he wasn't wrong. The Jets were awful. Maybe New York will hesitate to make a move until the end of the season, but the Jets are going into the bye right now, having lost four straight and sitting at 3-7 without yet playing the Patriots.
If Bowles is indeed fired, it shouldn't be surprising.
A Week 10 Super Bowl
It's pretty clear the Titans treated this week's matchup against the Patriots as the biggest game on their schedule, and it shouldn't be surprising either: Mike Vrabel is a former teammate of Tom Brady's, GM Jon Robinson came over from New England and it feels like half the Titans roster used to be coached up by Bill Belchick.
Dion Lewis is one of the recent defectors, a running back who made a bunch of money by dominating for the Pats over the last year before signing with the Titans this offseason, .
"Hell yeah, it's personal," Lewis said of the game against the Pats. "That's what happens when you go cheap. You get your ass kicked."
Lewis also later tweeted a GIF I can't stop laughing at.
The Titans are a really interesting team. They nearly beat the Chargers in London, they beat the Patriots straight up, the beat the Eagles straight up ... and they lost to the Bills? They were also skunked at home by the Ravens in a game where Marcus Mariota was sacked 11 times.
But in the last eight quarters, they've gotten things rolling on offense. They had 106 total points through their first seven games. After their bye, the Titans have produced 62 points in eight quarters.
Mariota's play has drastically improved as well.
Mariota Weeks 1-7
Mariota Weeks 9-10
So what's the difference? The schedule isn't easier. Maybe Mariota has just been willing to be more of a jerk?? Or at least be a little more outspoken -- as noted by ESPN's Dan Graziano in this interesting piece, the Titans coaching staff actually found Mariota's quiet presence to be a problem because he wouldn't tell them when he didn't like a play.
Offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur says they've been communicating better the last two weeks, and the results speak for themselves.
Texans (on a bye). New England fell one more game back of Kansas City and behind Pittsburgh, putting homefield advantage at risk for the playoffs. The Titans also proved they can beat the Patriots too, although I wouldn't be surprised to see them have a letdown week against the Colts in Week 11.: the Titans are now the No. 7 seed in the conference and picked up a game on the
Seriously: for the first time all year long, David Johnson was prominently involved in the offensive gameplan, as offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich featured him in multiple route combinations, including in the red zone, and gave him the ball in space far more frequently than fired OC Mike McCoy.
NFL on CBS analyst Bruce Arians, the previous Cardinals coach and Leftwich's old boss, said before the game he expected to see Johnson more involved.
On Sunday Johnson set his high for catches (seven), rushing yards (98) and receiving yards (85) and he sounded thrilled about it.
"It felt good," Johnson said. "It made me feel like it was back to the 2016 offense."
Part of this might be playing against the Chiefs, sure. But for the first time all year, Johnson's Next Gen Stats route chart looked like something out of 2016.
Johnson looked revived and on the same page as Josh Rosen, the rookie quarterback with a hose who, even if his stats aren't great in Year 1, very much looks like he belongs.
You can see the flashes with Rosen, whether it's his ability to sling on a rope or climb the pocket and push the ball down the field. He needs pieces around him and he badly needs some protection, but his growth could kickstart the Cardinals rebuild a lot quicker than anyone expects, especially if Leftwich can unlock Johnson's playmaking abilities.
A sneaky AFC challenger
Colleague Jason La Canfora broke down the Colts' emergence in the AFC South -- and, really, the AFC as a whole --. I agree with him on Indy -- the Texans have the lead in the division, but the Titans and Colts aren't going away.
The biggest reason the Colts are playing so well? The offensive line they rebuilt this offseason, led by rookie Quenton Nelson, who is an absolute animal in terms of smashing through people.
The audio of Nelson on this block is incredible.
Maybe even more important? Andrew Luck has now gone four straight games without being sacked, which is not something anyone from 2016 would believe. Frank Reich and his staff are doing a tremendous job designing plays and using the strength of the offensive line to keep Luck upright and untouched. It will pay big dividends down the road, maybe as soon as this year.
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