CLEVELAND — When the NFL schedule was released back in May, the Cleveland Browns were granted the latest possible bye week allowed in the NFL. At the time, it could be seen as either a blessing or a curse. If the team was playing well, it would have the ability to rest up for a stretch run towards the playoffs. If the team wasn’t hitting its mark, the ability to self-scout and reset what’s broken would be delayed until it may be too late.
The Browns find themselves in the latter of those two situations, sitting at 6-6 through the first 12 weeks of the season. The defense has been up-and-down, and the offense has been mostly stale. To say that things haven’t gone as planned would be an understatement.
Here are three things the Browns need to figure out during their bye week.
What’s the real problem offensively?
The Browns have scored 17 points or fewer in six of their last seven games, with the outlier being the 41-16 blowout win over the Cincinnati Bengals. The rushing game has been shut down at times, and the passing game has been among the NFL’s worst. The passing game is more of a problem without question.
Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield hasn’t been able to connect with wide receivers, having just two receivers post a single 100-yard outing so far this season. Donovan Peoples-Jones did it in a loss against Arizona, and Jarvis Landry went over the century mark against Baltimore on Sunday night. There’s a disconnect there, whether it’s the inability for the playmakers on the outside to get open, or Mayfield’s lack of trust in them. If the Browns want any chance at a playoff appearance -- or even a record above .500 -- for the second straight season, this is something that needs to be figured out before they return to the field.
What actually works defensively?
There have been times this season where the Browns defense has looked exactly like the unit everyone expected to see. The game against the Chicago Bears where nine sacks were produced, the loss to the Baltimore Ravens in which the team intercepted former MVP Lamar Jackson four times, and even the win over the Minnesota Vikings in which Kirk Cousins, Justin Jefferson, and Dalvin Cook were smothered for most of the day, showed exactly what this team is capable of on that side of the ball.
There have been other times during the season where the defense has cost the Browns games. Cleveland couldn’t find a way to stop Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers in a 47-42 loss, were similarly embarrassed against the Arizona Cardinals the week after, and this all comes after the defense struggled to open up the season against Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City.
Overall, it’s fair to be happy with the defense as a unit, but there still are questions to be answered, especially about how often this team should be sending extra pressure at quarterbacks and how to get off the field on third down.
Cleaning up penalties
Last season, a big reason the Browns were successful was that they appeared to be a highly disciplined group on the field. This season, the Browns are one of the most penalized teams in the NFL. The Browns seemingly commit a number of pre-snap penalties – on both sides of the ball – in every game. Whether it be false starts, lining up offsides, in illegal formations, or most recently, having too many men on the field. Those issues fall back on coaching, and it’s something that needs to be figured out much sooner than later.
Good teams typically don’t have an issue with those things, and it’s become more and more clear as time has gone on that the Browns just aren’t a good team right now.