Cleveland Browns: 3 things that might make us mad despite solid win

CLEVELAND, OHIO - OCTOBER 21: D'Ernest Johnson #30 of the Cleveland Browns plays against the Denver Broncos at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 21, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OHIO - OCTOBER 21: D'Ernest Johnson #30 of the Cleveland Browns plays against the Denver Broncos at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 21, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /
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Cleveland Browns
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OBJ is having trouble with receiving fundamentals for Cleveland Browns

For three years, this fan has urged patience with OBJ’s unique personality and flamboyance. This is the mindset of a world-class wide receiver, and this fan is not turned off by this uniqueness.

OBJ clearly has a burning desire to win and has terrific drive and loyalty to his team. He wants to be All-Pro, lead the NFL in receiving yards and be a superstar for the Cleveland Browns, all the way to the Super Bowl. All those things are totally awesome.

There are a number of receivers who have been disliked by some fans, even by the home team, who nevertheless had Super Bowl rings. Antonio Brown and Tyreek Hill are recent examples of players who generated controversy as well as Super Bowl rings. Michael Irvin and Keyshawn Johnson did it in different eras. Do you know what you do to players like that? Sign them to big fat contracts for your team, that’s what.

However, as an analyst, I owe it to him to tell him honestly what I see as the difference between OBJ’s current game and the receivers who actually succeed at their goals.

People need to quit going hysterical over Beckham and making him out to be a terrible player because he’s not. He’s still a very good player, and he is well respected in the clubhouse and liked by his teammates. But the operative phrase here is “very good.”

He is no longer a superstar.

The main difference that I see between OBJ and the others is that OBJ has regressed in the fundamentals. OBJ may be the best in the world at making one-handed catches of deep balls, and making spectacular moves with the ball, but he’s only an average route runner and he’s not reliable enough on routine catches.

In each game this season, he has failed at least one time to make a catch of a catchable ball. Versus the Broncos, there was one play in which he seemed to stumble and the ball actually hit him in the side without him making a play on it. If it were a shooting gallery, Case Keenum would have won a prize for hitting the target.

On another play, he got his hands on the ball but could not maintain control after falling on his injured right shoulder.

Versus Arizona, there was a fourth-down play in which Baker Mayfield hit him in the hands at short range and the ball bounced off.

Similarly, there was a fourth-down play versus the Chargers that slipped past him.
No doubt Mayfield — and now Keenum — contribute to the problem by not providing the proper touch to the football.

Accordingly, we will try to order up the next pass on a silver platter to meet the receiver’s expectations. Stat-wise, the sites that monitor drops didn’t call any of these incidents a “drop.” It’s apparent his fan does not know what a drop is and perhaps knowledgeable fans will have to explain the nuances of drop-ology in the comments below.

However, in this fan’s heart, Paul Warfield would have caught those passes. Gary Collins would have caught those passes. Reggie Rucker would have. So would Webster Slaughter. For that matter, Greg Little would have caught them clean and Brian Robiskie would have had a shot at it.

OBJ is not nearly the best receiver on the Browns. That would be Jarvis Landry. The second is Donovan Peoples-Jones. The third is Rashard Higgins. Maybe they are not quite as exciting and do not appear on the highlight shows. Fans may even complain that their catches are boring, especially Landry and Higgins. But boring catches win ball games.

OBJ has been targeted 33 times with 16 receptions, or a catch percentage of 48.5%. He has 240 yards in 247 snaps, or 0.97 TYPS. Those numbers are characteristic of a mediocre receiver, not a superstar. True, he is usually covered by the number one cornerback, and that is very much appreciated, but even so, it’s not much production.

What looks bad to this fan is OBJ running down the sideline with one arm extended, looking for the one-handed catch. It’s one thing if that’s the only way to make the catch, something else if that is the main way he tries to catch the ball.

In the past two or three weeks, it looks like the Browns have shortened his routes and gotten the quarterbacks to throw more quick openers and fewer deep balls. The deep drops and deep passes have not been there anyway, what with Jed Will and Jack Conklin being out. He actually had good numbers versus Arizona for the most part.

In terms of yards per game, OBJ is still the Browns’ leader with 45.2, about 4.6 yards ahead of David Njoku and 6.2 yards of Jarvis Landry. At this rate, he may be headed to a season total of 700-800 yards. That’s very good. It doesn’t, however, fill the Beckham trophy case full of shiny hardware for individual achievements.

The numbers show that OBJ’s success rate has declined year-to-year in terms of catch percentage and TYPS. You can blame Mayfield if you want. But the eyeball test says that Higgins and Landry are much more effective at short-range fundamentals and running pattens that allow the quarterback to know where they will be.

Maybe OBJ will never be able to match what Higgins and Landry can do at short range. The appearance is that OBJ is so focused on the deep ball, and making spectacular, one-handed, over-the-shoulder catch that he is less able to adjust to more routine catches and does not in fact make as many routine catches as Higgins and Landry do.

Can we ask another stupid question? If he is injured — and, as a matter of fact, many of us do believe that OBJ’s right shoulder is truly killing him, and we’re not real sure whether his knee is all that stable, either, based on the stumbling — why the screw did OBJ wind up leading Browns wide receivers in snaps played versus the Broncos with 43? Didn’t we just work on this exercise with Kareem Hunt?

Probably reducing OBJ’s snaps would make him more dangerous. As it is, he seems to be struggling, not dominating.