Setting the Stage:
The date is February 2nd, 2014. For a February night in East Rutherford New Jersey, the home of MetLife Stadium, it’s a calm 49 degrees. For the first time in NFL history, a Super Bowl would be played in the cold weather without the coverage of a Dome. Many anticipated a snowy, freezing temperature night, but instead got a mild fall-feeling type of weather, but it didn’t make much of a difference for the Seattle Seahawks. With the Denver Broncos dominating the regular season and Peyton Manning putting up all-time numbers, the Broncos offense proved to be no match for the Legion of Boom. Russell Wilson, in just his second season as an NFL Quarterback, led his team along with the help of the best defense in the league to their first Super Bowl victory in franchise history.
Why Russell Wilson Changed the Blueprint to Being a Successful Quarterback:
Before I dive into the correlation between this Seahawks team and the 2019 Browns, I want to emphasize what Wilson has accomplished. In just his second year he was crowned a Super Bowl Champion, which is unheard of amongst quarterbacks. To follow up that season, he returned to the Super Bowl only to barely let the victory slip away in New England’s favor. We are no longer in a league where the rookie sits behind the veteran for two, three, or even four years. This is not the blueprint that set up Aaron Rodgers for success, who was Brett Favre’s successor and eventual MVP and Super Bowl Champion. We are now in an era where immediate success is a necessity, and if you get one year to sit behind the vet, consider yourself lucky. While a quarterback like Nick Foles can win the Super Bowl MVP, but still lose his job to a guy who showed his potential without ever stepping foot onto the field during a playoff game. Where a former Super Bowl Champion in Joe Flacco loses his job to a rookie who leads his team to the playoffs. Even the great Peyton Manning was shipped away purely based on Andrew Luck’s potential. In most of these cases, they’ve proved to be the right decision, and Wilson was the first Quarterback to go all the way, which is why Baker Mayfield is up next…
Why Year Two is So Exciting for Baker:
There’s a lot of similarities between Wilson and Baker that can be pointed out. Immediate studs coming out the gates their rookie seasons, the speed they contain both inside and outside the pocket, the natural football IQ both possess, and that swagger that they both brought to each of their respected organizations. I’ve always wondered who was going to be the next guy to get a ring so early on in their career at the Quarterback position, who was going to be the next Russell Wilson. For a moment it looked like it was going to be Dak Prescott or Carson Wentz, Patrick Mahomes could very well be that guy next season. All three have certain variables that have prevented them thus far, whether it’s the head coaching in Dallas, the injuries to Carson’s body, or the blatant lack of defense in Kansas City, but after this offseason I can’t pin point what issue Cleveland will have this year. Which makes the case that Baker Mayfield, in year two, will not only improve tremendously and put up serious Dark-horse MVP numbers, but carry that over into January football.
Is too Many Weapons a Bad Thing?
I’d like to take a moment to give a shoutout to fellow writer for Nosebleed Sports, Chris Yackel, for not only inspiring this piece, but specifically the topic on the weapons they have in Cleveland. When it comes to debate I prioritize respect of one another’s opinion, which is why I will respectfully disagree strongly with Chris on this topic. This is not basketball, this is 11-on-11 football. If the 11 guys you put out there on the field are more talented, more motivated, and better-coached than the opposing 11, it will result in W’s every. Single. Time. There is no such thing as too many weapons on an offense in the NFL, because there comes a point in time when defenses dip so deep into their bag of tricks and eventually realize, they just don’t have the talent, speed, or game plan to stop these guys. So let’s look at the offensive roster the way it stands as of today:
QB1: Baker Mayfield
RB1: Nick Chubb
RB2: Kareem Hunt* // Duke Johnson
WR1: Odell Beckham Jr
WR2: Jarvis Landry
TE1: David Njoku
TE2: Demetrius Harris
WR3: Rishard Higgins
OL: Greg Robinson, Joel Bitonio, J.C Tretter, Austin Corbett, Chris Hubbard
It’s hard to find a weakness in this offense. There’s no denying Baker is a stud, and at the rate he’s performing based off the final 7 games after Williams and Kitchens took over, he’s on pace to establish himself as a top-10 quarterback without any argument. Chubb broke out onto the scene last season and was just barely shy of a 1,000 yard rushing season without even playing every game. Duke Johnson still remains on the roster which is crucial if they’re going to give Chubb some plays off in the first 8 games. Thereafter you have Kareem Hunt, and dispite what you may think of him as a person, there’s no denying the electrifying talent he puts on display every time he touches the turf. Odell Beckham Jr and Jarvis Landry are hands down without a doubt a top-3 WR duo in the league, if not the very best in the league. Then you have Njoku and Harris and personally, I’m a big fan of Njoku. He has all the makings of a receiver in a Tight Ends body. Speed, hands, route running, and he’s not an easy tackle either, but as GM John Dorsey made apparent in a recent interview, he needs to improve his run blocking. Which leads me to the offensive line. Here lies the biggest questions. With five returning offensive linemen, they should feel confident in the line, but each one of these guys have to continue the success they left off with at the end of last season. After trading away Kevin Zeitler to the Giants their oldest starter on the line is Chris Hubbard at 28. A lot of young talent, but not a lot of experience. They will have to grow up quickly if they want to contend this year.
So What about the Defense?
The offense is stacked, that much is clear, but I think I might be even more excited to see what this defense can accomplish. I’ll be honest, there isn’t too much to get excited about at the linebacker position, although I do love the Mack Wilson selection they were able to snag in the 5th round this year. What I am excited about is that defensive line. Myles Garrett, who was the Browns first selection in the2017 draft, and last year he showed exactly why he was worth the number one overall pick. Garrett bounced back after an injury riddled rookie season and caused havoc, tallying 13.5 sacks, 44 total tackles, 3 forced fumbles, 29 hits on the quarterback, and even 3 passes deflected. By the numbers alone he was a force along the line, both in the run and pass game, and the line starts with him, but certainly doesn’t end with him. The Browns added Sheldon Richardson in the offseason, an established defensive tackle, which is essential when you lack the talent at linebacker. To have that pass rush and the run stopper in the middle really hands over an opportunity for linebackers to sit back and relax knowing the bodies in front of them can get the job done with, or without them. Pairing him alongside Larry Ogunjobi will be exciting to watch. As if the line wasn’t stacked enough as is, involved in the offseason trades with the Giants was Olivier Vernon, which puts another talented veteran on an already hefty defensive line. Which leads me to the secondary. Denzel Ward establishes himself early on last season, but if you’re wondering what to expect from Greedy Williams, here it is; lock. Down. Coverage. Not a great tackler by any means, which gives him something to work on during training camp, but his timing on jumping routes, reading the quarterbacks eyes, and hands as good as any B level receiver in the league, expect Cleveland to be home to the newest no fly zone. (Comparing it to the Seahawks Legion of Boom would be disrespectful to that secondary). Finding Greedy so deep in the second round was truly a blessing for John Dorsey and the Browns, and adding him to a secondary that already includes Ward, Demarius Randall, and Morgan Burnett.
So the Offense and Defense are Talented, but what about the Head Coach?
If I end up being wrong, even terribly wrong about my prediction, Freddie Kitchens will be the reason why. Barring any catastrophic injuries to any of the guys fore-mentioned, the offense and defense will be amongst top rin the league. The last time there was a Super Bowl Champion who had either offense or defense rank outside the top-10 in the league, it was the 2012 Ravens who had the 12th ranked offense, so not very far off. When you break down every team in the league, it’s hard to imagine Cleveland not slipping into the top-10 in both categories. Kitchens in my opinion should immediately be on the Hot seat for the simple fact that the team currently assembled is ready to win now. If that isn’t accomplished, it’s only a matter of time before this roster will disassemble as all quote on quote “Superteams” do. Next year Cleveland has to make the playoffs no matter what.
My Final Prediction:
I’m sure many of you believe I’m over-exaggerating, hyping up, and putting way to much faith in an organization that has been nothing short of disappointing since 2002. Let me make one thing clear, I know I am. I’m being irrational, I’m being somewhat illogical; but the beauty of this sport is the fact that you can go from worst to first in the matter of a season. Well, this is year two since the 0-16 season. Which leads me to this; The Browns will go to the AFC Championship. Baker is poised and ready, and has the support system he needs in Cleveland. Both sides of the ball are dangerous, and Kitchens has a lot to prove, but I can confidently say football is back in Cleveland.