3 Takeaways from Browns' Week 14 WinDecember 13, 2021
3 Takeaways from Browns' Week 14 Win
The Cleveland Browns desperately needed a win in Week 14, and they got it. It wasn't easy—and it might not have happened had Lamar Jackson not exited for the Baltimore Ravens—but Cleveland will take it.
There was a point in the game when it seemed like the Browns might run away with it, as they led 24-6 at halftime. Few things have gone smoothly for the Browns this year, though, and Sunday's game was no different.
Even with Tyler Huntley under center for Baltimore, Cleveland had to survive a furious second-half surge from Baltimore—one that included a successful onside kick with fewer than two minutes remaining. The Browns survived, though, and keep their chances of sneaking into the postseason alive.
Here's what we learned during Cleveland's 24-22 win in Week 14.
The Defense May Be Starting to Jell
Star pass-rusher Myles Garrett complained about Cleveland's lack of adjustments following the Week 10 loss to the New England Patriots.
"We never had a chance just because we didn't make any adjustments on the sideline or when we had time to," he said, per Ben Axelrod of WKYC.
That 45-7 loss was undoubtedly bad, but it also marked the only time since Week 6 the defense has surrendered more than 22 points in a game. On that side of the ball, the Browns are finally starting to look like what they appeared to be on paper in the offseason.
It's taken more than three months, but new additions like Jadeveon Clowney, Troy Hill, John Johnson III and rookie Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah may be meshing with Denzel Ward, Garrett and Co.
Sunday's game marked the second straight game in which the Browns shined against Baltimore. It didn't notch four interceptions this time around, but it kept Baltimore quarterbacks under pressure all game. Garrett's strip-sack, recovery and touchdown in the second quarter was huge and allowed Garrett to set a new franchise sack record.
A fourth-down stop following the Ravens' successful onside kick punctuated Cleveland's defensive performance.
We have to say that the defense "may" be coming together, though, because we've been here before. The Browns surrendered only 13 combined points to the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings in Weeks 3 and 4 before giving up 84 points over the next two games.
Cleveland Is Going to Need Another Year to Decide Baker Mayfield's Future
Quarterback Baker Mayfield came into 2021 looking to build on a successful second half of 2020—he finished with 15 touchdowns and two interceptions in the final eight games, including playoffs. Doing so likely would have earned Mayfield that coveted big second contract.
However, Mayfield has been up-and-down this season and too often down to warrant a long-term commitment. He came into Week 14 with 11 touchdown passes, six interceptions and a rating of 89.9.
It must be noted that Mayfield has battled through multiple injuries, including a torn Labrum that requires a protective harness and will require offseason surgery. Mayfield had a chance to rest during the Week 13 bye and entered Sunday as healthy as he's been in some time.
"I haven't had any major setbacks the past few weeks, and I had another week off, so I'm looking forward to keep getting better as the weeks go on," Mayfield said, per Terry Pluto of Cleveland.com.
Mayfield was mostly good against Baltimore. He did throw an interception on what appeared to be a miscommunication with Jarvis Landry. He also finished 22-of-32 for 190 yards with two touchdowns. This adds to the idea that a healthy Mayfield is an effective Mayfield.
While Browns cannot write off Mayfield's struggles entirely due to injuries, They can't ignore the injuries either and are going to need to see another fully healthy campaign to decide whether or not to move on.
The Bye Week Did Not Fix the Offense
Mayfield played better than he has in recent weeks. The offense as a whole did not. It scored 17 or fewer points for the fourth straight game, and it produced just 290 total yards.
The Browns were shut out in the second half, which has become a worrying trend. As Danny Cunningham of ESPN Cleveland pointed out, they have scored seven total fourth-quarter points since facing the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 5.
Cleveland had an opportunity to revitalize the offense during the bye week and two weeks to prepare for the Ravens defense. Yet, the offense largely looked like the same unit that has sleepwalked through the past month. That's a problem, and blame has to lie with head coach Kevin Stefanski.
Whether teams are adjusting to what Cleveland is doing offensively in the second half, or the Browns simply lose steam—something needs to change. If Stefanski cannot find a way to bring some creativity to the offense, it may be time to turn play-calling duties over to offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt.
If the Browns hope to make a postseason push over the final month, they cannot rely entirely on their defense.