The Browns were dreadful on Monday night, rolling over in primetime against the 49ers by a score of 31-3. With a lopsided scoreline like that there obviously were issues on both sides of the ball.
The 49ers stable of running backs ran all over the Browns defense, while the offense was error-prone and sloppy, at best.
However, there were moments in the first half when the game was still hanging in the balance that the Browns offense was able to get in a rhythm and move the ball.
Well, they were able to move the ball to a point. Once the offense hit the red zone, the ball stopped moving, the metaphorical wheels came off, and in the best case, the Browns had to settle for a field goal.
The Browns’ less successful trip to the red zone ended when Baker Mayfield threw the ball off Antonio Callaway’s hands in into the arms of the opportunistic K’Waun Williams.
And that was it; 2 trips to the red zone, no trips to the promised land. In a closely contested game(at least at the beginning) the Browns have to do better than that. They have to take the opportunities that present themselves and put the ball in the end zone.
“It was like one step forward, two back,” Mayfield said. “No rhythm for the offense to get into. And when we did, we just got down in the red zone and didn’t finish. The inconsistency is killing us right now.”
Baker’s right, it is killing them. The Browns are scoring touchdowns on just 53.3% of the trips inside the 20 this season. That’s down from 66.7% in 2018.
To go one step further, Baker’s performance in the red zone has suffered too. Through the first five games of the season, Mayfield is 6 of 24 with 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. In the entire league, only Phillip Rivers has more than one interception in the red zone thus far.
To compare, Mayfield was 35 of 54 with 20 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in his rookie season last year.
So what’s going on? Why is the formerly prolific red zone offense coming up short?
The red zone is the most challenging part of the field, even for the offense. The field shrinks, the players on the field get closer together, and you lose the ability to stretch the field and create separation. In these situations quick decision making and accuracy are key.
The #Browns put up a single FG last night while giving up 31 points, have been awful in the red zone, have a weak o-line, are still missing key players from injury and still trying to fit OBJ in the offense—I don’t think they’re concerned with a handshake or lack thereof 🤷🏽♀️
— Camryn Justice (@camijustice) October 8, 2019
These are two of the areas the Browns offense has struggled the most with this season. The offensive line is struggling to give Mayfield enough time, and the quarterback is struggling with making quick decisions and throwing accurate balls once he makes the decision.
Case in point: the interception off Antonio Callaway’s hands. Callaway was wide open, the touchdown was there for the taking, but the pass was low and Callaway failed to control it. Callaway should have caught the ball, that’s literally his job, but if Mayfield puts the pass on his numbers Callaway falls into the end zone for a touchdown.
Red zone woes continue for the Browns. Antonio Callaway bobbles his first target in his first game back from suspension into the hands of a 49ers defender. Baker’s 3rd INT of the game. #MNF pic.twitter.com/3VGbMvvOrX
— 4th and Goal (@4thAndGoalFTB) October 8, 2019
Where do the Browns go from here?
Well, the good news is they have one of the most prolific pass catchers in the game just waiting to show off. No room to squeeze the ball in? Odell Beckham Jr. is a human space-maker. Throw it in OBJ’s general direction and he’s going to get his hands on it.
Inexplicably, he only has 3 targets in the red zone this season. Catching touchdowns is how he’s built his reputation, and it’s time he extends that reputation with some clutch TD’s in Cleveland.
Also, look for help in the backfield. Nick Chubb can’t only be counted on for 80-yard sprints to the house. He’s built to take a pounding and get those hard yards. And when Kareem Hunt returns from suspension he is a quality option running the ball, but more importantly catching the ball out of the backfield.
Browns fans will be desperate for Freddie Kitchens, and crew to find a solution quickly. With the next few games set to really challenge the team, they have to find a way to take advantage of red zone opportunities.