Season Preview: Cleveland Browns
The Browns season was without doubt one of the biggest disappointments of 2019. The beloved franchise just faltered after promising so much. However, expecting the same let downs again in 2020 would be a huge mistake for any fan.
2019 Season Recap:
The season got off to a great, scoring on their opening drive of 2019, via a touchdown run by Dontrell Hilliard. But after blowing out the Ravens in Week 4, at which point both teams were tied in the AFC North at 2-2, things just went downhill.
The season as a whole was just a bit of a misfire, I mean look at what happened with Garrett and Mason Rudolph at the end of Browns-Steelers on Thursday Night Football in Week 11. Garrett swinging Rudolph's helmet at Rudolph's head, not only could Rudolph have been seriously hurt, the Browns lost one of their best players for the season and the incident made both the sport & the team look bad. The next day's news cycle was filled with headlines focusing on "the Browns being the Browns" instead of the Browns defeating their rivals and with a chance to get into the playoff race.
They went to finish the year 6-10 after going 2-4 following Garrett's suspension, failing to improve on their 2018 record or end their league high 16 year playoff drought. Leading to the dismissal of head coach, Freddie Kitchens.
New Head Coach-Kevin Stefanski:
It feels like Stefanski could be the one that the Browns have been waiting for. He was reportedly the favorite of chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta a year ago, but the Browns wanted to give Freddie Kitchens the gig after the team went 5-3 to close out 2018 following Kitchens' promotion to offensive coordinator. This off-season, though, with Kitchens having been fired after going 6-10, the Browns were unattached and free to unite with Stefanski.
The 38 year old is considered one of the best play callers in the NFL and knowing he will no longer have to play to old school, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmers, run first philosophy. This could be a chance for Stefanski to flourish, so get excited Browns fans.
Baker Mayfield turning things around:
Quarterback, Mayfield, had an overall poor second year in the league as the Browns suffered a 12th consecutive losing season. The no.1 draft pick back in 2018, threw a record 27 touchdown passes in just 13 starts in his rookie season but threw just 22 last season to go along with 21 interceptions. He will still be a good quarterback in this league and maybe even a star, don't forget his great rookie season is one of the main reasons the team were such a popular pick before last season.
Baker has one of the best supporting casts in football, meaning this could easily be a breakout year. While there have been rave reviews from Stefanski about their work in the virtual off-season program necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, nothing can replace actually being on the field. So, while it could take some time, Baker will come good.
Kirk Cousins had the best season of his career with Stefanski calling the plays in 2019 so if he can have the same impact on Mayfield who knows what might happen.
The return of Myles Garrett:
The ugly incident with Rudolph kind of overshadowed how good Garrett, who was on pace for a career-high 16 sacks when he was suspended, is on the field. And I'm interested to see how he performs this season. Not so much from the standpoint that he has something to prove after last season's suspension, but more in terms of how new defensive coordinator Joe Woods can amplify Garrett's game.
Woods is coming over from San Francisco and Denver, and he also worked with Stefanski in Minnesota, so he's bringing valuable experience. I wouldn't be surprised to see huge years from Garrett and cornerback Denzel Ward.
An Odell Beckham Jr bounce back year:
Since entering the league Odell has been one of the most productive and popular players but often comes in for criticism in the media. The three time pro bowl wide receiver still had 1,035 receiving yards last season in what was considered a bad year, mainly because it only led to four touchdowns.
I love this guy and believe he will bounce back with a pro bowl caliber season in 2020. He was fourth among receivers with 75-plus targets in double-team percentage in 2019, according to NGS, which means defensive coordinators still believe he's a player they need to keep track of. That double-team rate also suggests there will be ways to scheme him open, which is what Stefanski is great at. So I'm looking for much more production this season.
Beckham Jr puts in the effort when blocking like no other in his position and its this level of commitment that can win you an AFC North title, along with his flair for the spectacular.
What the Browns must do to have a successful 2020 season:
Get Baker back to his rookie season form- They need Mayfield to show he has improved and show he is one of the best quarterbacks in the league, make sure the Browns fans and front office know they have their quarterback for the next 10 years.
Be consistent- While they don't have to sweep their division, they cannot afford to be blown out by their AFC North rivals.
Make the playoffs- This will be difficult with both the Ravens and Steelers looking good ahead of the new season but it has been a long 12 years for this Browns franchise and with the talent they now have, a playoff berth has to be the expectation.
It is really starting to feel like this Browns team are closer to a breakthrough than ever before and while it may be a lot to ask for it to come this year, it is certainly on the horizon.