The Cleveland Browns Week 15 matchup against the Cardinals could resemble a Big 12 game with Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray leading the offenses.
There is going to be a showdown on Sunday, featuring two former Oklahoma Sooner gunslingers in Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. Former teammates and friends who are now sworn enemies, at least for four quarters of football on Sunday. It's easy to imagine that this is going to be like the shootout at the O.K. Corral, given that both the Cleveland Browns quarterback and Cardinals quarterback like to sling it and neither team is equipped to play much defense.
There's bad blood between Mayfield and Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury after their time together at Texas Tech. Mayfield was a walk-on and had a great year for Kingsbury's Red Raiders, but allegedly was not offered a scholarship. Texas Tech also had Davis Webb and a guy named Patrick Mahomes to play quarterback, so Mayfield might not have been the starter. In any case, it was off to Oklahoma for Mayfield, where he won the Heisman, and then was followed by Murray, who of course also won the Heisman.
Interestingly, without Mayfield, and even with Mahomes to replace him, Kingsbury's career record at Texas Tech was only 30-37. Apparently that qualifies a guy to be the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. Kingsbury has had some success importing his college Air Raid offense, but the defensive side of the ball has been more mysterious for him. Arizona is dead last in total defense, giving up 414 yards per game. They are also dead last in passing defense, so this could be a great opportunity for Mayfield to have a career game against a coach he loves to hate.
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Take cover. This could indeed be a shootout.
The Cleveland Browns are playing without Myles Garrett, and Olivier Vernon has been playing hurt, which is a game changer. Though Chad Thomas has earned high praise as a replacement, it is impossible to replace the impact of Garrett. The specialty of the Browns is giving up rushing yards, where they are 28th in terms of yards per carry.
However, Arizona has not exactly been a juggernaut on the ground. Kenyan Drake is the No. 1 tailback with 454 yards this season. 280 of those yards were for Arizona after coming over from Miami in a trade. Kyler Murray is the leading rusher for Arizona on the season with 448 yards and 5.8 yards per carry. They should do better against the Browns weakened defense.
Arizona's real threat is Murray, operating mostly out of the Air Raid offense, which is an updated version of the Run-and-Shoot with two split ends, two slot receivers and a running back. Buddy Ryan used to call it the Chuck-and-Duck because of the usual lack of blocking back or tight end. But here again, the Browns top pass rusher is out, and the second best pass rusher may or may not be at 100 percent.
Murray has also passed for over 3000 yards so far, and is getting better. If the Browns have trouble putting pressure on him, that is just going to create more opportunities for completions.
Incidentally, the Browns can thank Kingsbury for cutting tight end Ricky Seals-Jones, who did not fit into the basic Chuck-and-Duck offense. Seals-Jones has been a good receiving tight end for the Browns, thank you very much Kliff.
The 4-2-5 defense of Steve Wilks is well suited to slow down a mobile quarterback, as one of the safeties can be the "spy" assigned to tail the quarterback. Rookie J.T. Hassell, who is a 4.3 guy with the search-and-destroy skills of a linebacker, might be well suited for this role. The Browns have actually been halfway respectable against the pass, with the eighth ranked defense by passing yards. Though here again, without Garrett opposing quarterbacks will have more time to throw.
The stage is set for Mayfield to have a career game against Arizona. Yet Murray is also explosive. This could really look like a Big 12 game on Sunday, with plenty of offense on both sides.