The Seahawks (4-1) are back in Cleveland this weekend for the first time since 2011 to face a 2-3 Browns team that is looking to bounce back from a tough Monday night loss to San Francisco. To learn more about this week's opponent, we reached out to ClevelandBrowns.com staff writer & digital content coordinator Nick Shook, who answers five questions about the Browns:
Q: Expectations were high coming into the year for the Browns. The season is still young, obviously, but what do the Browns need to do to bounce back from a 2-3 start and a tough loss to the 49ers Monday night?
Shook: Establish some consistency. Week 1 was stunning, Week 2 was triumphant (albeit against a Jets team that is struggling and was down to Luke Falk before halftime), Week 3 was heartbreaking (but encouraging), Week 4 was supposedly proof that this is the best team in its division, and Week 5 was incredibly disheartening. It's been a roller coaster to say the least, something Freddie Kitchens said he does not want his team to become less than 24 hours after getting shellacked on national television.
That will start with finding a solid middle ground for this offense, which has been explosive in spurts but anemic too often. When Baker Mayfield has time to throw, things work well. But when the Browns commit penalties or other mental errors that put them behind schedule, and those snowball into deficits, well, it's QB hunting season for opposing pass rushers. The Browns have found their most success by relying on a consistent run game and building out of that; they've just too often found themselves in situations in which running isn't tenable. Fast starts and consistency are most needed for this team.
Q: What needs to happen for the Browns to turn things around in the turnover department after having 10 turnovers in the first five games?
Shook: Probably more of what I mentioned in the last point, which is just putting your second-year quarterback — people seem to forget that fact about Mayfield — in winnable situations. Sure, he's talented and a big reason for so much offseason optimism, but he still needs time to learn and grow like the rest of them. Expecting him to complete Herculean tasks on a weekly basis will get you many more losses than wins, so the less risk you have to take and the less third-and-longs you have to face, the less mistakes you'll suffer.
There's also been a bit of tough luck with this team, it seems. The interception that bounced off the hands of an open Antonio Callaway was obviously not on Mayfield. Kevin Byard made a fantastic play to pick him off in Week 1, which devolved into an ill-fated comeback attempt that saw Mayfield slinging it because he had no other choice. Richard Sherman's interception was similarly excellent. Sometimes you have to tip your cap, but you also have to help your quarterback win.
Q: We saw the 49ers pass rush have success on Monday night, how much of that is a good San Francisco pass rush vs. concern about Cleveland's pass protection?
Shook: I came away from that game incredibly impressed by the 49ers' staff, which clearly had a bye week to prepare for the Browns. They did their homework on Mayfield and the offensive line and targeted its weaknesses, forcing Mayfield into trouble with how they schemed their stunts and slants. It was interesting to me that Nick Bosa found more success twisting inside than just straight edge rushing, but their defensive front is quite good.
Having said that, there have been concerns about the pass protection. It mostly revolved around games in which the Browns weren't entirely healthy across the line (most of Week 1 after Greg Robinson's ejection, Kendall Lamm's injury; Week 3 without Chris Hubbard), but that wasn't the case last week. I think the Browns got out of whatever makes them successful across the board in the 49ers game, with defensive coordinator Steve Wilks admitting as much, and it showed in pass protection. A tight end matched up with a talent like Bosa isn't going to produce positive results, and to the Browns' credit, they adjusted, shifting to a six-man line during one of their most successful possessions of that game. There just needs to be a little more focus on scheming protection specific to an opponent and adjusting in-game, because Mayfield, when comfortable early, can get into a rhythm. But too much pressure will frazzle any quarterback.
Q: On a more positive note, Myles Garrett looks to be well on his way to a second straight double-digit sack season, how big has the former No. 1 pick been for that defense?
Shook: He's been excellent. He's a rare talent and is living up to everything scouts said about him coming out of Texas A&M, even if it gets lost in the shuffle with this team. He dominated Kelvin Beachum in Week 2, found a way to get to Jared Goff in Week 3, and pressured Lamar Jackson even though he didn't record a sack. Dennis Kelly did a good job against him in Week 1 and the 49ers handled him well, too, but they also ran for 275 yards, which as anyone knows isn't exactly going to produce an effective pass rush.
If you told me Garrett finished with 20 sacks this season, I wouldn't at all be surprised. I expect his numbers to increase and for folks to really start to pay attention to him by the time we hit Week 11 or so, provided the Browns are still in the conversation for contention.
Q: So Nick Chubb, he's off to a really good start. Safe to say the Browns will want to lean on him going forward in light of the aforementioned turnover and pass-pro issues?
Shook: Absolutely. It was clear in the first couple weeks that the Browns weren't turning to him enough — who would pick the Corvette when you choose between a Maserati and a Lamborghini for your daily commute? — but they started to realize how effective unapologetically giving the ball to Chubb could be for their offense in the loss to the Rams. That's what led to his explosion against Baltimore, which as we saw helped the Browns' offense emerge from hibernation, if only for a week.
They'll definitely want to lean on him. I don't know of a player more beloved by his coaching staff than Chubb, and the hope is he can pop a few longer runs early and really provide balance to this offense. He's been the key to their success for this entire season so far.
The Seahawks and the Browns will meet this Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium for the sixth game of the 2019 season. Take a look back at photos from past games between the two teams.