Q: So are the real Browns more like the Week 1 version or the Week 2 version?
A: That’s the million-dollar question. What makes it difficult to answer is that I think the Ravens are the second-best team in the NFL, while the Bengals rank near the bottom.
But I’m a firm believer the Browns slant heavily toward the Week 2 version. The running game is elite, and the rest of the offense has great potential. I’d be stunned if the Browns have any more six-point outings like the opening loss to the Ravens.
Q: It appears the Browns are going to have to score 30+ points every game to make up for a porous defense. Is this a legitimate expectation, or will the defense be the ultimate demise of the 2020 Browns?
A: Only two teams averaged 30 points last year (Baltimore and San Francisco), so it’s unrealistic to expect the Browns to do so. I do, however, expect them to score a bunch and wouldn’t be surprised if they averaged 25. And the good news is, only one team (Miami) allowed more than 30 points a game last year. So the Browns defense would have to be awful to match that.
I think there’s a decent chance the defense will be so bad it sabotages the season by putting too much pressure on the offense to outscore opponents. But can I wait to see how the defense performs with Mack Wilson, Greedy Williams and Kevin Johnson before I render a final verdict? They are three of the team’s best coverage defenders and should make a significant difference. Having said that, the defense will still have deficiencies at linebacker and safety and depth concerns at cornerback.
So for now I think the Browns will need to score close to 30 to have a chance against quality competition. (I don’t think it’ll take that many to beat Washington.) But there’s a chance in a few weeks it might only take 27.
Q: Ken Zampese had a lot of success with Baker Mayfield in 2018. Might Zampese’s insights help Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio shape a plan that makes Baker’s Mayfield’s day a bit more difficult?
— John Palazzo
A: An interesting thought. I’m not comfortable giving Zampese the lion’s share of the credit for Mayfield’s performance as a rookie but will admit he provided structure and was better than the replacements a year ago.
As for his inside information, I think it will help Washington to a point. But Mayfield is in a new scheme with coach Kevin Stefanski — one that suits him — and you didn’t need to have spent time in the meeting room to know Mayfield doesn’t like pressure in his face and gets happy feet when he doesn’t trust his protection. Zampese’s greatest insight would be if there’s a particular coverage design that gave Mayfield fits.
Q: There have been an extremely high number of significant injuries around the league this year. What do you attribute those to and how concerned is the NFL?
— Bob from Akron
A: Bad luck. And the inherent danger in the sport.
I know people want to connect the dots — and if the research points us in that direction, OK. But I think ACLs tear in the NFL.
The rash of injuries was magnified because they hit big names on the same day. I don’t know how you blame that on the lack of a preseason or a true offseason. I’d feel differently if soft-tissue injuries were through the roof. Again, I’ll trust the data when they’re in, but for now I’m not ready to jump to conclusions.
And the league is always concerned when its most marketable players aren’t on the field.
Q: Besides kicking it beyond the end zone, what do the Browns have to do to improve their kickoff coverage? Where are the breakdowns occurring?
A: Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer mentioned speed, aggression, leverage and tackling. That about covers it.
They’ve been out of their lanes, providing ample room for returners to routinely run out to the 40-yard line. To me, that’s all about discipline. Although I think the injuries on defense have had a trickle-down effect on the special teams.
Priefer is reluctant to just try for touchbacks because he wants to trust his coverage teams to stop the opponents short of the 25, but I’d stop being cute and ask Cody Parkey to bomb it — if he can.
Q: Where is Rashard Higgins??
A: On the bench, as he watches KhaDarel Hodge serve as the No. 3 receiver.
I know a lot of people believe Higgins is a difference-maker, but it doesn’t bother me that Hodge has take his reps. And from listening to coach Kevin Stefanski, Hodge has earned the trust of the staff and isn’t going anywhere.
Q: With Denzel Ward being a gametime decision, who would play be the 2 corners since Kevin Johnson should play the nickel corner?
A: Yes, Johnson is supposed to be the nickelback, but I think he’d start opposite Terrance Mitchell on the outside if Ward doesn’t play. M.J. Stewart Jr. and undrafted rookie A.J. Green are the other options, but the Browns trust Johnson more.
With that in mind, Tavierre Thomas would likely remain in the slot, with Stewart possible to get some snaps.
Q: I’ve heard the D-line called the 4 tops … since they play for the Browns in the defensive backfield, can we call Ward, Greedy Williams and Mack Wilson the BW3s once they’re all healthy?
A: I’m not a nickname guy, so I might have to steal this one. But I must mention Wilson is a linebacker, so we’d be stretching things a bit.