That “next man up mentality” that you might hear from players and coaches isn’t something new to sports teams, but for the Cleveland Browns this season it certainly is starting to show the team the way forward.
After the Browns beat the Denver Broncos 17-14 this past Thursday it was the guys that came off the bench that really proved to be the difference makers. Running back D’Ernest Johnson had the game of his life and veteran quarterback Case Keenum came off the bench to provide that needed spark to help the Browns get a key win on the season.
With the rash of Browns injuries the past few weeks that have seen both starting running backs, wide receivers, and quarterbacks sidelined the ability for these other players with that confident “next man up mentality” to make a positive impact on the team’s success are very apparent these days.
You add in coach Kevin Stefanski again providing that leadership at the top and inspiring his team with pre and postgame speeches, there should be no doubts as to how far this team can go.
The mix of veterans and young players on this new Browns team this season are also helping in getting this team to play better. A great example of that collaboration was in the post-game interviews of linebacker Anthony Walker and running back Johnson. Walker first discusses how the defense played better, especially in that first half. As he was finishing up with his interview, the younger and star of the night running back Johnson sat down next to Walker.
As Johnson discussed his success on the night and gave props to his offensive line he was surprised to find basketball star Lebron James tweeting about him on social media during the game. The contrast in his reaction from the more savvy veteran Walker — he was very happy for him but controlled to Johnson’s more bashful innocence — just reaffirmed how these two styles, though different are what makes this team better.
The game Johnson was describing in that interview was so impressive for his first game in the starter’s role. He finished with 146 yards, including an important early game touchdown that helped Cleveland get off on a good note. He powered his way for 34 yards on three big carries in that drive and scored the touchdown.
More impressive than that first drive was the team’s last drive and Johnson’s production. It was as though Nick Chubb was out there running the ball down the throats of the opponent to seal the deal, but it was the youngster Johnson, with the support of his offensive lineman, wide receivers, and tight ends, blocking and keeping their opponents back on their heals.
He ran the ball eight times and picked up 61 yards to help the team get the first downs they needed to run out the clock. It was really a thing of beauty.
Case Keenum was also a huge difference-maker. First and foremost he was healthy and that was good to see after watching Baker Mayfield struggle the last few weeks after suffering his shoulder injury. Keenum didn’t exactly light it up going 21-33 and 199 yards and a touchdown throw, but he found the open receiver, many of those on screens or passes into the flat that kept the chains moving.
Keenum went 12-3 back in 2017 when he played with the Minnesota Vikings and Stefanski was his quarterback coach. Keenum knows the offense that Stefanski runs very well and that was on display Thursday.
It’s a nice problem to have when you have two very capable players in Mayfield and Keenum to play quarterback. With some doubts on when the Browns will get Mayfield back on the field with his shoulder issues, it should be very reassuring to the Browns that they have an experienced arm in the backup role.
Next man up. It’s a saying that has been heard from locker to locker room but for the Browns it has more weight these days.