Browns no longer a pushover for opposing coaches' defensive game plan

Texans coaching staff could be sleeping in their offices a little more this week in preparing for reawakened Browns

By Ed Meyer

Devising a game plan to face the offense of the Cleveland Browns once meant plenty of peaceful nights for opposing coaches.

Most of the time, the Browns (4-6-1), who broke their 25-game road losing streak only this past Sunday in Cincinnati, would beat themselves with dropped balls, blown field goals, coaching blunders in personnel, game strategy and clock management and, yes, even that old helmet-toss ploy.

Last year, for example, Browns starting quarterback DeShone Kizer went into his first NFL season coming off a 4-8 record in his last season at Notre Dame. Not exactly the stuff of Heisman Trophy lore.

But things have changed, and the Browns’ opponent in Sunday’s road game, the Houston Texans (8-3) – jalapeno hot on an eight-game winning streak – cannot be too comfy-cozy with what they saw from the Browns in their 35-20 win over the Bengals.

Browns rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield, for starters, is no DeShone Kizer. Before the Bengals knew what hit them, the Browns had put together two long scoring drives with 1:37 remaining – in the first quarter.

Here’s what else the Houston coaches will see when they hit the rewind button on their tape machines:

  • On Mayfield’s 13-yard TD pass to rookie wide receiver Antonio Calloway in the corner of the end zone, the 330-pound left tackle, Greg Robinson, protected Mayfield’s blind side with a fine block on 6-foot-6 defensive end Carlos Dunlap.

“He has been a big physical presence for us," Mayfield told reporters after practice Wednesday. "That is what we wanted. We wanted somebody to establish that left edge, be physical and set the tone. He has done just that.

"No sacks the last two weeks. That is huge. We need to continue building on that and let him know that we trust him."

With Robinson making his third consecutive start at left tackle in Cincinnati, Mayfield had no sacks, no interceptions and no turnovers on the way to four TD passes.

No rookie quarterback in the history of the team had ever done that.

  • On 6-foot-4 David Njoku’s second-quarter TD on a tight end screen, defenders were there in the flat to stop him, but the athletic Njoku did a flying leap, looking like he was taking off in the high jump pit, and powered his way into the end zone with three of his teammates pushing from behind.

The Browns led 21-0, and when the CBS-TV cameras went to ex-Browns coach Hue Jackson, he was furiously chewing gum on the Bengals’ sideline.

Where was that kind of determination when Hue Jackson was in charge of the Browns?

  • On the play that made it 28-0, Nick Chubb's 14-yard TD catch, the rookie tailback was in tight coverage by Brandon Wilson, reached behind Wilson’s back on Mayfield’s underthrown pass, snared the football in his gloved hands, then pulled it back in over Wilson’s Bengal-striped helmet as he came down on his hip to break the plane of the end zone.

It took a couple of minutes for CBS-TV analyst Rich Gannon, a former Super Bowl MVP, to be able to grasp what he had just seen, but when he did, Gannon said about the rookie's catch: “In degrees of difficulty, that was a 10.”

  • On the score that made it 35-7 Browns, another tight end made the play look easy. As Mayfield bought time, totally untouched behind the right side of his line, 6-foot-7 Darren Fells got free in the corner of the end zone and hauled in Mayfield’s touch pass, helmet-high.

It used to be a cause for fireworks and champagne toasts when one Browns tight end scored a touchdown, let alone two tight ends in the same game.

  • On the play that proved to be the dagger for the Bengals, after they had scored on consecutive drives to make the Browns sweat a little, Chubb did what good tailbacks do when they sense the clincher.

After being held in check as a runner for most of the day, Chubb saw a hole on the left side of his line and exploded for 27 yards to the 40-yard line just before the two-minute warning.

By that time, the Bengals had burned all of their timeouts, and their comeback bid was over.

It is a good sign for the Browns that the TV talking heads are saying they’ve finally put some talent together, but you don’t need to take their word for it.

Simply review the names that the Texans’ coaches will see on their tape machines this week: Mayfield, Calloway, Robinson, Njoku, Chubb, Fells, defensive end Myles Garrett, rookie cornerback Denzel Ward, cornerback Damious Randall, and the two guys who put them in those positions to succeed – interim head coach Greg Williams and his hand-picked offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens.

Sunday’s road game, of course, is in Texas, home of the Wishbone brainchild of Texas A&M’s Emory Bellard, so don’t be surprised to see Kitchens roll out the ‘bone again.

It’s another little twist that the Houston coaches will see on their tape machines.

No backing down

Browns rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield said Wednesday after practice that he has no regrets about post-game comments he made, in which he called deposed head coach Hue Jackson "fake" for accepting a new job with the Bengals soon after his Oct. 29 firing by the Browns.

"Although I am an athlete," Mayfield said, "I am not a cookie-cutter quarterback. I never have and never will be. I speak my mind. That is just how I am. I did not like the move.

"People do not have to care. I am not looking for anybody's approval. I do not regret any of it. It is about this team and what we have, and we have to stick together and play together."

The rookie would not get into details of his relationship with Jackson. "There were just things that happened inside of the building that I am not going to go into detail with. It is in-house information," Mayfield said.

He would not say much beyond that, although he was asked several times if he could elaborate on his relationship with Jackson.

"There is no reason to go into detail with it. We have moved on," Mayfield said. "We have our coach right now. We have our play caller. We are having success, so we need to focus on that."