Washington Football Team’s Week 3 Opponent: Cleveland Browns
By Jonathan Eig
Cleveland runs a 4-3 defense and boasts several star players. But they also have shown some obvious weaknesses that can be exploited by creative offenses. Part of their early season problems (such as giving up 30 points to rookie QB Joe Burrow in Week 2) can be attributed to injury. And things are trending up as many of those injured players are returning to practice this week.
Myles Garrett is a beast at defensive end. He has begun living up to his lofty draft position and will once again provide a difficult test for the Washington Football Team’s tackles – particularly Geron Christian. Cleveland’s other two edge rushers, Olivier Vernon and Adrian Clayborn, are dealing with injuries. Vernon was a big disappointment in his first year in Cleveland, but has been a quality pass rusher in the past. If neither can go, second-year end Joe Jackson will likely fill in.
On the interior, Cleveland rotates Sheldon Richardson, Larry Ogunjobi, and Jordan Elliott. Richardson is a key player. He was brought in as a free agent 2019 to play alongside Garrett and Vernon, and his reviews were mixed. Like most interior linemen, he is hard to evaluate based on numbers alone.
If Richardson and his linemates are doing their job, there will not be much room for Washington’s backs in the middle of the field. And though this is not a particular strength of Cleveland, they must be eager to take on a suspect Washington Football Team line, which will be missing Brandon Scherff.
This has proven to be the Browns’ Achilles Heel early in the season. Mack Wilson has been sidelined with injury the first two weeks, as has promising rookie Jacob Phillips. Wilson may return this week and should help quite a bit.
Middle linebacker B.J. Goodson, who played every snap against the Bengals, has graded out very poorly so far this year. And the rotating cast of outside backers – Sione Takitaki, Malcom Smith and hybrid linebacker Porter Gustin – has done little to stand out. This is the main area Washington is likely to attack, especially with Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic on passes out of the backfield.
Cleveland’s top two cornerbacks, Denzell Ward and Terrance Mitchell, have played well. This is no surprise for Ward, one of the best young cornerbacks in the league. But Mitchell, filling in for an injured Greedy Williams, has been a pleasant surprise. Tavierre Thomas has been the third cornerback, though Williams’ possible return this week may push him down the depth chart.
At safety, in contrast to their cornerback group, Cleveland has struggled. Losing rookie Grant Delpit to an Achilles injury in the pre-season means that Karl Joseph and Andrew Sendejo return as the top two safeties. Neither is a standout.
After bouncing around the league for several years, Cody Parkey returns to Cleveland in 2020. Parkey has generally been a decent kicker during his journeyman career, but his disastrous stint in Chicago in 2018 leaves him a major question mark. Punter Jamie Gillan (Leonardtown High) performed quite well in his 2019 rookie year. And he has the coolest hair of any punter ever.
That’s the team Washington faces this week. It will be a challenge stopping Chubb and Hunt, but if all goes well, the Washington Football Team’s pressure will force Mayfield into some errant throws. On the other side, keeping Garrett and company away from Dwayne Haskins will be job No. 1, and attacking Cleveland’s suspect linebackers and safeties should figure heavily into the game plan.
One of these teams, who combined to win fewer than a third of their games over the past decade, will come out of Week 3 with a 2-1 record.