For years, Redskins fans had one reason to feel good about themselves — at least they weren’t Browns fans.
The Cleveland franchise managed, somehow, to be a bigger dumpster fire than Dan Snyder’s ship of foolishness. Who could forget the Factory of Sadness?
So, when the Cleveland team got pummeled 38-6 by the Ravens at the same time that the Washington team was putting together an historic comeback victory against the Eagles in Week 1, it may have been easy to think that 2020 was bringing us the same old Browns — the not-so-lovable bumblers from the Mistake by the Lake. Washington fans may have started to feel a lot more confident about a win in Week 3 when the Football Team plays its second road game of the season.
However, the Week 2 result may have offered some sobering evidence that these may not be the same old Browns — that, perhaps, the lopsided Week 1 score was more a reflection of how good the Ravens are than how bad the Browns team is.
On Thursday night, Cleveland went to 1-1 overall and in the AFC North by beating the Bengals. Meanwhile, Washington traveled to the Arizona desert and got thrashed by the Cardinals on Sunday.
The prospects for a “get well” game against the historically lowly Browns are probably a fantasy relic left over from past seasons. The Browns have a loaded roster and a promising young head coach. I suspect that it’s the Cleveland fans who are circling the Week 3 game with confidence, and they probably have reason to do so. Ron Rivera’s squad will likely have to play much better overall, and on offense in particular, if they want to get a win against the Browns, who are just starting to see some stability in the organization and a roster that is beginning to mature.
Baker Mayfield was drafted #1 overall in the 2018 draft. He had a lot of ups in 2018, a lot of downs in 2019, and now, on his third head coach (fourth if we count interim HC Gregg Williams — and why wouldn’t you?) in his third6 season,
Baker is showing signs of a return to form more reminiscent of his rookie campaign than his sophomore season. He looked bad against the Ravens, but a lot of QBs do; against Cincy, he completed nearly 70% of his passes, throwing for 219 yards, 2 TDS, 1 INT and getting the win, with the offense scoring 5 touchdowns.
I think Freddie Kitchens has a lot to answer for; I believe that Kevin Stefanski has steadied the rocking boat. Baker Mayfield may be the most obvious beneficiary of the coaching change.
The Browns have two marquee names at running back, with third-year player and former second-round pick Nick Chubb ahead of former KC Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt. Turnovers and the Ravens’ superior roster killed any momentum the Browns run game had in Week 1, so Chubb & Hunt didn’t really factor in the game much beyond the mid-2nd quarter, but in Week 2, Chubb gashed the Bengals for 124 yards and 2 touchdowns, while Hunt has chipped in 158 yards and a TD over the first two weeks of the season. Have no doubt about it, this offense features a quality running game.
Part of the reason is that the Browns have put together a pretty solid offensive line, featuring 2020 1st-round pick Jedrick Wills Jr, 2014 second-round pick Joel Bitonio, NFLPA President J.C. Tretter, selected in the 4th round of the ‘14 draft, Wyatt Teller, a former Virginia Tech Hokie taken in the 5th round of the 2018 draft, and Jack Conklin, the 5th year veteran signed this off-season as a free agent from Tennessee.
Of course, the WR group features two ultra-high-profile names: Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. No matter what Washington fans think of OBJ after watching his antics on NFC East sidelines for years, he is a gifted receiver who is always a threat on the field, and Jarvis Landry is a tough and hard-working professional who reminds me a lot (in terms of character and work ethic) of former-Redskin Pierre Garcon.
Odell has had a relatively quiet start to the 2020 season, with just 96 yards and a TD in 2 games, but if you saw the Week 2 game you’d have seen OBJ at his best on a 43-yard touchdown reception that showed that he still has skills comparable to anyone in the league. Landry has one more catch and 11 more yards, but hasn’t found the end zone yet — in part because the running game was so successful against Cincinnati.
The Browns won (or perhaps lost, depending on your point of view) the Austin Hooper tight end sweepstakes this off-season, electing to pay the free agent tight end $11m per year to lure him to Cleveland. The record-setting contract didn’t survive even to the regular season, as Travis Kelce signed for $14.3m per season, and George Kittle inked a deal for $15m per year almost before the ink was dry on Kelce’s deal. Suddenly Hooper's deal with the Browns looks pretty economical.
The Browns haven’t got much return on investment in terms of pass-catching production so far — Hooper has compiled just 37 yards on four catches in two games. Of course, if an offensive coordinator wants to throw to his tight end, there aren’t many defenses that seem more suited to offering that tight end the opportunity for a career day than the Washington Football Team, who seem to have a standing agreement with the other 31 teams to never cover tight ends in the middle of the field. Granted, the Cardinals tight ends didn’t do much against the WFT defense, but then, they didn’t need to. We’ll see if Hooper can get untracked against the traditionally generous Washington defense or not.
Speaking of good defense...
Myles Garrett headlines a defense that should be better than it is. The fact that the Browns gave up 38 to the Ravens isn’t an embarrassment, but the 30 scored by the Bengals, led by rookie Joe Burrow, seems a bit more of an indictment. The 68 points given up so far this season by the Browns is the most in the AFC, and only the Lions, Vikings and Falcons — all 0-2 teams — have given up more.
That may offer an opportunity to Dwayne Haskins Jr. and the Washington offense. The Browns have just two sacks in two games. They’ve given up 555 passing yards this season — 6th most in the league. They have excelled at run defense, however, surrendering a miserly 179 yards (6th) at 3.3 yards per carry (5th).
So, while the Browns offense looks loaded with weapons, and the defense boasts 2017 1st overall selection Myles Garrett, 2018 1st-rounder Denzel Ward, 2017 3rd rounder Larry Ogunjobi, 2019 3rd round pick Sione Takitaki and veterans like Terrance Mitchell, Andrew Sendejo, Karl Joseph, Olivier Vernon, and Sheldon Richardson, the opportunity seems to be there for the Washington pass game to build on the success it enjoyed in the late second-half against the Cardinals. Maybe we’ll see a fast-paced no-huddle offense to open the game this week.
For decades, the Cleveland Browns represented an opportunity once every four years for the Redskins to chalk up a win against a rare inferior opponent. Indeed, the Redskins won 4 out of the 5 meetings between the two teams that have taken place since 1990, and are currently riding a 4-game win streak. Extending that streak this Sunday may prove to be a challenge. The Browns are 7-point favorites against the Washington Football Team.
Meanwhile, with the winless Eagles taking on the winless Bengals, the winless Giants without Saquon Barkley hosting a hungry Niners team, and the Cowboys traveling west to face the undefeated Seahawks in Seattle, there’s a very good chance that none of our division rivals finishes Week 3 with more than one win, which leaves the door open a crack for the burgundy and gold. There may be no better opportunity to take advantage of the injuries and thin rosters plaguing our division rivals.
The WFT is relatively healthy when compared to the Giants, Eagles and Cowboys (and most other teams in the league). While Brandon Scherff is out for a few weeks, there seems to be a very real possibility that Football Team players who were inactive due to injury in Week 2 will be ready to play this week, which should mean good things for the defense especially.
If Scott Turner can find a way to get second-half Haskins to show up in the first half, and if the Washington defense can continue to create sacks and turnovers, then the Washington Football Team has a chance to put itself in a strong position by the end of Week 3. But if we continue to see the offense struggle for an entire half while the opposition builds a double-digit lead, it could be another long afternoon on the road, with little prospect for relief, as Week 4 will see the Ravens making the short drive down I-95 to FedEx Field.
The Football Team needs to play to its maximum potential against a talented but beatable Cleveland team that surrendered 30 to the Bengals last Thursday night.
Who wins on Sunday?
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Predict the WFT situation at the end of Week 3:
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2-1 and alone in first place in the NFCE
2-1 and tied with the Cowboys
1-2 and tied with the Cowboys for first place in the NFCE
1-2 and in second place in the division
How many points will Washington score on Sunday?
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Less than 10