CLEVELAND, Ohio – Scribbles in my notebook as the Browns prepare to face Baltimore:
1. This game has become harder to predict with Deshaun Watson dealing with a sore shoulder due to a contusion. The QB told cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot that he expects to play. Watson has a history of playing through injuries. But how will the shoulder impact his throwing?
2. The Browns miss Nick Chubb every game, but especially in a game like this with Watson hurting. They could have Chubb help carry the load. Now, it’s up to Kareem Hunt and Jerome Ford. In the 27-3 victory over Tennessee, Ford had only 18 yards in 10 carries. Hunt had 13 yards in five carries. The longest run of the day for either team last week was 10 yards by Watson.
3. The Titans are great vs. the run, so that explains part of the problem running the ball minus Chubb. Baltimore is very good, ranked No. 8 vs. the run this season. The Browns are No. 2 in that department.
4. An NFL executive told me that Baltimore defensive coordinator Mike McDonald “is excellent. He could be a head coach one day.” McDonald challenges offenses with a variety of formations. “He does a good job bluffing rushes and mixes up his blitzes. It will be a challenge for the Browns.”
5. Baltimore has injuries in its secondary. That is where the Browns can hurt Baltimore – using a smart passing attack. “Baltimore is very tough up the middle with their defensive tackles and linebackers. You have to attack them on the edges.”
6. Odell Beckham Jr. is out with an ankle injury. He played the first two games this season, then was hurt. When OBJ was a young player in New York, he was a dynamic talent. But he missed 32 of 64 games due to injuries from (2015-18) before being traded to Cleveland in 2019. OBJ played all 16 games in 2019.
7. Since opening day of 2020, OBJ has had two ACL knee surgeries. He’s played only 22 of 53 games in that span.
8. Baltimore coach Jim Harbaugh on the Browns defense and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz: “It’s (former defensive coordinator) Gregg William’ system. They (Cleveland) have been in that system before with Gregg Williams. Jim does it how he does it. He’s a decorated veteran defensive coordinator in this league. He does a great job … He put his stamp on it for sure.”
9. When the Browns hired Schwartz, I had a couple of NFL people tell me how he is somewhat like Gregg Williams. Schwartz wanted an aggressive defense. A difference is Schwartz has less ego and more of an even temperament. That said, Schwartz can fire it up when needed.
10. The big job for the Browns will be trying to contain Baltimore QB Lamar Jackson. He’s their leading rusher (192 yards, 6.0 average). Gus Edwards is back from a concussion. He averages 5.0 yards per carry.
11. Schwartz on defending Jackson: “You can err on the other side of Lamar Jackson … if you sit there and ‘shoe the chickens,’ as we say, you’re not going to get them either. So, we’re going to rely on our team speed. We’re going to rely on team defense. We’re going to rely on running through with leverage and try to take the fight to him as opposed to sitting back and trying to hem him in.”
12. Not sure exactly what “shoe the chickens” means, other than it doesn’t sound like a good idea. Schwartz is not going to be passive when it comes to Jackson: “You can err on the side of caution with a guy like Lamar Jackson, and that can set him free. … He’s one of the best athletes in the NFL who just happens to play quarterback. … We’ve got to tackle him like a running back. … We’ve go to tackle through his midsection and we’ve got to get him on the ground like he’s a running back.”
13. Jackson is 6-2 as a starter vs. the Browns in his career. He’s thrown 11 TD passes vs. six interceptions. He’s lost two fumbles. I really can’t wait to see him face the Browns defense. Jackson represents their biggest challenge in this early season.
14. Schwartz on being 2-1: “Sometimes success is harder to deal with than failure. A lot of guys can bounce back really quickly from failure. There’s a human nature to your pride. You get beat and you want to come back and you want to correct that and things like that. But sometimes it’s hardest when you are experiencing success to not get off track. My job is to make sure that we stay focused on what we have to do in that moment as opposed to what our stats are and everything else.”
15. My prediction: Browns 20, Baltimore 13. My record is 2-1.
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