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Overreactions and reasonable reactions to the Cleveland Browns’ Week 1 loss: Doug Lesmerises

CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Philadelphia Eagles lost to Washington. The Indianapolis Colts lost to Jacksonville. At least the Browns in their season opener against Baltimore on Sunday lost to the reigning MVP and a legitimate Super Bowl contender. The score, 38-6, was scary. None of the other 13 games so far in Week 1 were decided by more than 14 points.

But as can happen with the Browns, they’re in a game until they’re not, and then it gets away from them. By the end Sunday, it could feel like the Browns were blown off the field from the opening kickoff. But with 3:43 left in the second quarter, the Browns trailed only by 4 as Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson dropped back to pass on third-and-4 from the Browns’ 19-yard line. Get a stop, force a field goal try and the Browns could have hoped to maybe even be tied at the half.

Instead, defensive coordinator Joe Woods blitzed two linebackers who didn’t get home, the result was a wide-open middle of the field, and uncovered Willie Snead caught an easy throw from Jackson that set up a touchdown. Woods’ calls at times Sunday were at issue — that wasn’t the only time Sione Takitaki came after Jackson and the QB took advantage to throw to the open area — but I wouldn’t overreact to that. Woods blitzed a lot the last time he was a defensive coordinator, in Denver in 2018, but trying to slow down Jackson can cause a coach to take even more risks.

In a 32-point loss, a lot goes wrong. A chunk on Sunday has to be attributed to the Ravens, who were 14-2 a year ago and prepped during a pandemic under veteran, winning coach John Harbaugh. They’ll make a lot of teams look bad this season. A chunk has to be attributed to the debut of new Browns coach Kevin Stefanski, who sent his team onto the field without a preseason. And another chunk is just football, and that might stick whether it’s Week 1 or Week 12.

Here’s a breakdown of some Sunday issues, and whether worrying them carrying over is a reasonable reaction or an overreaction.

Wondering what Baker Mayfield is seeing at times

Reasonable reaction

Mayfield was 21 of 39 for 178 yards, and ripped some throws in the middle of the field. He also forced some targets to Odell Beckham Jr. and locked onto some other routes that weren’t there. The Browns started early with some play calls where Mayfield could see everything unfold in his line of vision, and he converted some easy tosses. But he also didn’t recognize defensive lineman Calais Campbell dropping into coverage underneath KhaDarel Hodge on a third-down throw, and Campbell tipped the pass and created an interception to end the Browns’ first drive. As was the case last season, Mayfield from play to play can look comfortable and confident, and then look hurried and forced for no obvious reason.

“I thought we got into some rhythms in little spurts during drives, but then a negative play would happen and we could not overcome those,” Mayfield said. The great teams do overcome those negative plays.”

Acting as if you’re ready to give up on Mayfield

Overreaction

Social media, wowza. It’s Game 1 of Year 3 and his first in Stefanski’s system. Beckham had a crucial drop, and I was critical of Beckham’s game Sunday, but let’s not act as if the receiver, the quarterback or any part of the offense is irredeemable.

Asking why Stefanski ran a fake punt on the Browns’ second drive

Reasonable reaction

“That is on me,” Stefanski said. “That did not work out, and you can put that right on me.”

Consider it done. He called a fake punt on fourth-and-4 from the Browns’ own 31, and punter Jamie Gillan was hit six yards short of the first down. That felt a little too much like video game decision-making, as if punting was too boring. Maybe Stefanski wanted to become a head coach so he could be crazy fake punt guy. Let’s assume he’ll dial that back as he gains experience.

Believing Austin Seibert might not be the kicker for long

Reasonable reaction

Siebert missed an extra point and a 41-yard field goal. He was 25 of 29 on field goals as a rookie last year, but he also missed five extra points, giving him the second-worst extra point conversion rate in the league. Sure, the Browns spent a fifth-round pick on him in 2019, but Stefanski and GM Andrew Berry wouldn’t care about that. If he’s not the guy, he’s not the guy.

“I expect him to make those kicks,” Stefanski said. “I hold him to the same standard that we hold every other player on this team. He has to make those kicks.”

Giving up on the secondary

Overreaction

The Browns were missing three injured corners Sunday and it showed. Tavierre Thomas, who got a lot of snaps with Greedy Williams, Kevin Johnson and M.J. Stewart out, is not the answer. Also, the action was limited for new safety Ronnie Harrison, who was acquired in a Sept. 3 trade, and he’ll help once he gets up to speed and on the field more. Sunday saw a lot of coverage problems, but the Browns will get healthier there and they won’t always be facing Jackson, who was on target Sunday and as in control as ever, completing 20 of 25 passes for 275 yards.

Worrying about the linebackers in coverage

Reasonable reaction

This was expected, but this won’t change a lot. If and when Mack Wilson returns, he’ll help. But Sunday showed that B.J. Goodson is no Joe Schobert in coverage. The Browns knew that and chose that. This is an area they’ll have to overcome — with a better pass rush, by scoring more points — but Sunday wasn’t the last time you’ll see Browns linebackers chasing tight ends who are catching passes.

Feeling like the receivers are too often imprecise

Reasonable reaction

This was an issue at times last year, and it popped up again Sunday under a new head coach and new receivers coach. The most glaring example was a sloppy false start by Hodge, who got most of the work as the Browns’ third receiver. Trailing 10-6, the Browns had a first-and-10 at the Baltimore 29. Hodge was the only receiver in the game with three tight ends, for a play that would send only two players — Hodge and tight end David Njoku — into the route on a deep Mayfield dropback. This was potentially a showcase play for Hodge, but as he came in motion, he carelessly failed to set himself and was moving forward at the snap for a five-yard false start penalty. Beckham committed a 15-yard offense facemask on the next play, and by the end of the drive, the Browns were facing a third-and-41.

Hodge wasn’t seeking to gain an edge with his false start. He was just sloppy, on the road, in a close game, on a play potentially designed for him. It’s a little thing, but it’s hard to wrap your head around. It’s not an overreaction to fear moments like that bogging down the Browns again.

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