The challenges just keep coming for the Dallas Cowboys. After facing three really good offenses the first three weeks of the season, they now have the Cleveland Browns coming to town with their plethora of playmakers on the offensive side of the football.
This isn’t your typical Cleveland Browns team.
Sure, they have issues that they’re dealing with, just like any team, but they’ve got a group of skill players that will give the Cowboys problems defensively.
It all starts with Baker Mayfield at quarterback. He’s had a bit of an up and down start to his career. After his strong rookie season, ball security and decision making became the hallmarks of his sophomore year. Under yet another head coach and offensive coordinator, Mayfield has been dialed back a bit and has gotten better taking care of the football.
Mayfield, the former number one overall pick is averaging just 6.6 yards per attempt through three games and has thrown five touchdowns and two interceptions. He’s completed just 62.4% of his passes for 564 yards (188 yards per game).
Where Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns have struggled is in pass protection. Baker Mayfield has been pressured on 32.6% of his dropbacks according to Pro Football Focus. Under pressure, Mayfield’s completing just 44% of his passes, though he’s had two dropped passes and five passes that he’s purposefully thrown away leaving him with an adjusted completion percentage of 68.4%. His passer rating while under pressure is a paltry 52.4.
Getting to Mayfield is a huge key to this game. If they can make him uncomfortable, they’ll be in a great to make splash plays against the Browns passing game.
One thing the Browns have done to try and minimize the pressure Mayfield’s facing is to get their running game going with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. The running game has been very impressive behind strong efforts from Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. The Browns two-headed monster has combined for 80 attempts for 494 rushing yards per game through the first three weeks. Nick Chubb is averaging 5.7 yards per carry and Kareem Hunt is averaging 5.2 yards per carry. They’ve combined for five rushing touchdowns.
Hunt has been the more dynamic receiver out of the backfield, though the Browns don’t throw it to their running backs much. He’s caught eight of 10 passes for 42 yards and two touchdowns. Browns running backs have only caught 15 passes through the first three games of the season. For reference, Ezekiel Elliott has caught 15 passes himself in the early going in 2020.
At wide receiver, the Dallas Cowboys are all too familiar with Odell Beckham, Jr. from his time with the New York Giants. Even in a new environment, Beckham is still making plays down the field. Rookie Trevon Diggs will get another stiff test, facing the dynamic and athletic Beckham Jr. He’s shown that he’s up to the challenge and while he’s given up some big plays, he’s been competitive in his own right and looks close to converting on some of the interception opportunities he’s earned through the first few games of 2020. Beckham is leading the Browns in receiving through three games with 155 yards on 11 receptions and one touchdown.
Jarvis Landry out of the slot is one of the more underrated players in the NFL. He will make life difficult all over the formation for the Cowboys and will be a huge challenge for Jourdan Lewis. Landry has caught 12 of 13 targets for 143 yards this season. Every single target he’s received in 2020 has been in the slot. Landry is an excellent route runner that can make plays at every level of the defense. Lewis will need to rise to the occasion to not allow easy completions for Baker Mayfield this Sunday.
Austin Hooper has taken over at tight end for the Browns. He’s got an athletic profile similar to Jason Witten in his prime. Hooper wins with route running, which is something that Jaylon Smith and the linebacker group has struggled with in the early going in 2020.
Though the Browns aren’t nearly the offense that the Seahawks or the Falcons are, they have the ability to take advantage of some of the deficiencies on the Dallas Cowboys defense. They’ve been very effective in the running game and though they aren’t as good of a passing team as Atlanta or Seattle, they have the talent to make things happen if the Cowboys blow a coverage, which they’ve done several times in the last few weeks.
A Cowboys secondary that has been depleted by injuries will be tested yet again in the passing game. It’s imperative that the Cowboys get pressure on quarterback Baker Mayfield in this game if they want to get back to .500 in the standings and maintain their spot atop the NFC East.