The Cleveland Browns need to get Austin Hooper going
The Cleveland Browns were chewed up and spat out in Week 1, as they were destroyed by the Baltimore Ravens 38-6. While you’d have been hard-pressed to find Browns fans honestly expecting the club to have come out victorious on Sunday, did we really think Cleveland would lose by that margin?
Well, either way, the Browns hopefully are having a very short memory in regards to that debacle. Of course, the banged-up defense appears to have its own issues, and 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson, albeit the secondary needs to gel, having a passer rating of 152.1 was rough to see.
Now, Cleveland had all kinds of trouble stopping Baltimore, and that was clear, but cutting the defense some slack seems fair, too. The special teams play had its issues at times as well, for further context.
On offense, while Cleveland did string drives together some in the game, they weren’t ultimately able to have that result in points much. Granted, recently-cut Austin Seibert missing an extra point and not coming close on a 41-yard field goal near the end of the first half didn’t help, either, as DPD’s Grant Puskar hit on.
Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt each had 29-yard and 22-yard runs in the game, but Chubb, in particular, had 9 rushes for 31 yards otherwise, and the offensive line in the run game was up and down it seemed. The pass protection didn’t seem all that bad for the Browns in the general sense, though, on the plus side, and two sacks against the blitz-happy Ravens wasn’t awful.
That being said, what was disappointing to a large extent was the play of Baker Mayfield. It’s reasonable to give Mayfield a bit of slack, too, however, as the offensive line needs time to gel, sure, and there was no preseason action due to novel coronavirus concerns.
Nonetheless, Mayfield didn’t get off to a good start, objectively. He was 21-of-39 with 189 yards through the air, to go with one touchdown and one interception. Mayfield’s QBR? A whopping 33.4, per ESPN.
What was tough to see when the Browns needed to get something going, too, was Mayfield seemingly force balls to Odell Beckham Jr. No, Mayfield and Beckham didn’t have the past season they would’ve wanted, and Beckham dealing with a sports hernia injury in 2019 didn’t help.
But 10 targets out of 35 qualifying targets on Mayfield passes on Sunday was a bunch. It was a 28.6 percent target-share and Beckham had three catches for 22 yards, though one was a clear drop on an easy catch. At any rate, ease up on forcing it there, Bake, and one of the targets should’ve led to another pick.
Well at least Jarvis Landry had five catches for 61 yards, one could say, on six targets from Mayfield. Clearly, we know the connection is well-established between those two, and one would think Mayfield going to Kareem Hunt a decent amount in coming games should pan out better than four catches for nine yards, honestly.
Unfortunately, though, in a tough bit of news for Mayfield and Cleveland, David Njoku reportedly was placed on the Injured Reserve list on Monday, for at minimum, three weeks, due to a sprained MCL, as DPD’s Cory Kinnan noted.
That was a blow, as in Njoku’s 17 snaps, as Kinnan touched on, Njoku had three catches for 50 yards and Cleveland’s only score. And hopefully, with especially how his last season was injury-riddled, Njoku can be back and not miss too much time more.
Anyhow, while Mayfield does need to obviously step it up in comparison to last game, one player, in particular, he and Cleveland need to get going is a key free-agent addition.
Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns need to get Austin Hooper going
Austin Hooper, with this Njoku injury, clearly needs to get more involved in the coming weeks.
Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski loves to utilize tight ends, and though Hooper is a new player in the fold, and Stefanski is a new face/another new play-caller for Mayfield, they need to make sure that Mayfield at least gets Hooper more targets. That could very well seem to lead to more touches, and it could feasibly lead to more realistic looks over-the-top to Beckham as games progress.
Now, it’s apparent that Mayfield does need to spread the ball around for the Browns, when he’s letting it fly, but in the coming games against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Washington Football Team, and the Dallas Cowboys, Hooper can’t just get two total targets. That was it for Hooper on Sunday, who connected with Mayfield twice for 15 yards.
If the Browns and Mayfield can get Hooper going, it again could help open up more real shots to Beckham down the field, and could only aid Landry and Hunt in their efforts as pass catchers.
Let’s hope that Mayfield and Hooper can get on the same page more, and sooner rather than later, as that sort of connection could get Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns offense in more comfortable situations throughout games. From there, the running game could be able to wear down defenses more, and not get garbage yards a bunch of the time, which was seemingly part of that contest against Baltimore.
Moreover, while rookie Harrison Bryant could be a bit more involved, potentially, look for Hooper to get some more targets-share in the coming weeks, as whether it’s ideal or not, him and Mayfield have to get it rolling for this attack to be more consistently on-script. Them reportedly establishing some chemistry in the offseason one would imagine could help their on-field connection in coming games, beginning with Cincinnati on Thursday.