CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Browns struggled to rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield in the final weeks of the Hue Jackson/Todd Haley era, but since making unprecedented midsession changes to the coaching staff, there has been marked improvement in keeping pressure away from him.
Over the last three games, the Browns have not allowed a single sack of Mayfield, and that is a streak they aim to extend with Sunday’s inter-conference matchup against the Carolina Panthers at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
“They better be getting some credit,” interim coach Gregg Williams said of the offensive linemen. “If I am Baker, I am around patting those guys on that back. I am talking to them and I am being best friends with them if I am Baker. That is always a great part.”
Williams credited the leadership of the offensive line, which comes from a veteran interior of guards Joel Bitonio and Kevin Zeitler, as well as center JC Tretter.
High ankle sprains have a way of ruining seasons in the National Football League, but Tretter is not about to let that happen, not especially with the Browns (4-7-1) still in the hunt for a Wildcard spot in the AFC Playoffs.
Despite suffering the high ankle sprain in an early October loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, Tretter has remained in the starting lineup for an offense that has averaged 28 points over the last three games and a team that has fought its way into the playoff conversation.
“All quarterbacks know that their best friends in the world in combat are those linemen and what they do for him,” Williams said with a smile. “He has to be positive with that, and he should be praising that. They are doing a good job.”
The Houston Texans had one of the NFL’s most prolific pass rushes coming into last Sunday’s game against the Browns at NRG Stadium, but the line kept Mayfield clean for most of the day by using a variety of blocking schemes to handle the dynamic duo of J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney.
Never one to accept too much credit for his efforts on the field, Bitonio praised tight ends David Njoku and Seth DeValve, wide receiver Jarvis Landry and tackles Chris Hubbard and Greg Robinson for stepping up in aiding the Browns in keeping upright their franchise quarterback.
“There is a lot of help,” Bitonio said. “There is a lot of help this week. We had a good game plan, and the running backs were in there chipping bodies. It was fun to be a part of. It is good to protect that guy and you guys see when he gets taken care of, he can make some throws.”
Despite throwing three interceptions in the first half against the Texans, Mayfield finished the game 29 of 43 for 397 yards and one touchdown, a 17-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Rashard “Hollywood” Higgins late in the fourth quarter.
In the second half, Mayfield completed 24 of his 30 throws for 351 yards and the one touchdown without a turnover.
“There is just a feel for playing the position and extending the play and a mobility in the pocket when you can and can’t do it,” Williams said. “I want you to think back to earlier in the year when the feeling of ‘he can do it when it all collapses on him.’ All of a sudden, he was taking sacks in some of those situations.
“You do not see that anymore. That is that feel of when ‘I actually can buy time.’ There are certain times when you are surrounded and certain times the feel of a quarterback, they can’t tell you and I can’t tell you why. That is the instincts of playing the position in the pocket. He has very good instincts that way. He really does.”
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