(From left to right) Joe Burrow, Baker Mayfield and Tua Tagovailoa are shown in the picture above. Each of the quarterbacks have thrown for at least 2,000 yards, but that’s the only comparison that can be drawn from all three. (Photo courtesy of Matt Wiener)
Usually the sports reporting world isn’t brave enough to compare teams from different levels of competition for a certain sport, but when one is discussing the Cleveland Browns, it is fair. Don’t let the 4-6 record fool you. Honestly, the Browns are way worse than what their schedule says or what their future record will imply. Their skill players, although somewhat talented, had way-too-high expectations going into the season due to the media, and are now suffering the consequences.
The LSU and Alabama football programs are at their highest level skills and competition. Now that the easy part of the season is over for these highly respected football schools, the standard of competition kicks up a notch. Both teams are capable of winning against ranked teams, thus the high positions in the AP rankings. Though both schools already faced off against each other 9 days ago, both offenses showcased their talent in a high scoring affair, where the LSU Tigers beat the Alabama Crimson Tide, 46-41.
Although the defense was nearly as bad as the Browns on a weekly basis, the effort on the defensive side of the ball is not what is discussed today.
Today, I’m going to compare all three teams and evaluate each of them in terms of efficiency, game-changing plays, and turnovers. Before the side-by-side comparison begins, let’s take a look at the key players of each teams offense.
Joe Burrow (QB)
2019 Season Stats: 3,687 yards, 38 TD, 6 INT, 215 rush yards, 3 rush TD
-Heisman candidate, plays well under pressure
-Sells the RPO, delivers a back-shoulder throw towards the end zone better than most college quarterbacks
Clyde Edwards-Helaire (RB)
2019 Season Stats: 958 rush yards, 12 rush TD, 32 catches, 224 rec yards, 1 rec TD
-Elusive, makes many defenders miss
-Great pass catcher out of the backfield, runs routes like any slot receiver
Justin Jefferson Jr. (WR)
2019 Season Stats: 71 rec, 1,010 yards, 11 TD
-Most of his looks come across the middle of the field, the Tigers ‘possession’ receiver so to speak, gets enough yards for the first down just before he’s tackled
Ja’marr Chase (WR)
2019 Season Stats: 57 rec, 1,116 yards, 13 TD
-Solid pass catcher, adjusts to the ball thrown his way every time, catches the harder balls
Tua Tagovailoa (QB)
2019 Season Stats: 2,840 yards, 33 TD, 3 INT, 17 rush yards, 2 rush TD
-Leading heisman front runner, stays calm in the pocket and can run for the first down if need be
-Throwing as a lefty has no effect on his terrific play, can sling the ball downfield in quick speed and keeps accuracy
Najee Harris (RB)
2019 Season Stats: 876 yards, 9 TD, 22 rec, 266 rec yards, 6 rec TD
-Hesitates with his running, has time and patience to create the most yardage
-Wins the battles with linebackers when catching passes, makes them turn around as he jumps up for the ball
Jerry Juedy (WR)
2019 Season Stats: 64 rec, 867 yards, 9 TD
-Main pass catcher for the Crimson Tide offense, positions himself nicely in the middle of the field, knows good holes to catch passes through Cover 2 and Cover 3 zone coverages, can win the one-on-one matchups against corners in the red zone closer to 85% of the time
Devonta Smith (WR)
2019 Season Stats: 56 rec, 1,026 yards, 11 TD
-Uses lightning quick speed to gain three steps on defenders on deep ‘Go’ routes; can catch the ball and just run to the house
Baker Mayfield (QB)
2019 Season Stats: 2,394 yards, 11 TD, 12 INT, 77 rush yards, 2 rush TD
-Can move well in the pocket, though not the most accurate- only 59.9 completion percentage
-Overhyped player; plays like a below average quarterback, causes many turnovers
Nick Chubb (RB)
2019 Season Stats: 1,011 rush yards, 6 rush TD, 27 rec, 166 rec yards
-Uses his size to power through the line of scrimmage, surprising speed to move the ball down the field
-Has worst ball security on the team, solid running back after that
-Hard runner and hits the hole every time he runs the ball
Odell Beckham Jr. (WR)
2019 Season Stats: 48 rec, 692 yards, 1 TD
-Makes the harder to bring in catches, on important downs; usually relied upon on third downs to keep the chains moving; Over the past three games, Beckham has been targeted 11 times on third down plays, the most on the Browns. Beckham only caught 5 of those targets.
-One of the best route runners in the game, but has one of the least efficient offenses in the league
-Gets upset easily when the ball is not delivered to him
Jarvis Landry (WR)
2019 Season Stats: 49 rec, 695 yards, 3 TD
-Solid route runner, finds ways to get open in zone or man coverage
-Definition of mediocrity in the NFL, plays just okay; catches a few balls for first downs, not much of an impact player
Can each team get their offense down the field to score consistently? It’s easier for one team than it is another, and though it could be argued it’s easier to move the ball down the field in college due to different rules (such as only one foot required to make a catch out of bounds), it is still a good comparison to offer.
Let’s consider the Browns first. In their first win of the season, a 20-point win against the Jets, Cleveland put up all of their 23 points scored in the first three quarters. The 4th quarter was a different story, with no points scored. If the Jets were a team that is playing above .500% winning, chances are they would have taken advantage of the empty drives left by Cleveland. In their closest game of the year against the Seattle Seahawks, the Browns offense outscored the Seahawks 20-18 at halftime. Cleveland finished the game with 8 second half points (with no points scored in the third quarter) and allowed the Seahawks to take advantage of their non-scoring drives to win the game.
With an average of 44.4 points per game scored, LSU’s offense continues to prove week after week why they are the number one team in the country. The Burrow-led offense thrives early and often, and rarely lets up in the second half, and won all three of their games that ended with the score difference of 7 points or less. In those games, LSU put up an average of 14 points in the 4th quarter. This statistic shows the pure drive and will of the Tigers to close out games and secure the win, which shows in their perfect 10-0 season so far.
Alabama, on the other hand, did not partake in any close games this year other than their 5 point loss to LSU on November 9. The competition served up to the Crimson Tide did not compete much with the formerly top 4 ranked team. When LSU came around, Alabama looked human in their offensive drives. Tua fumbled the football in the red zone in the first quarter and threw for one of his very rare interceptions. Even though the offense scored all 41 points, their defense let up 46, and just those few mistakes by the Crimson Tide led to their eventual downfall in the game.
Momentum killers shake an entire team’s world to its core. A team can be well on their way to a victory with great play all around by both the offense and defense, until one play changes the complexion of the game for good.
For the Cleveland Browns, their second win of the season against the Baltimore Ravens eventually became a blowout win in the 4th quarter. With less than 10 minutes left in the game, the Browns 14-point lead became a 6-point lead, with the Ravens threatening to score again to tie the game or take the lead. Backed up on their own 12 yard line and a false start penalty to start the drive, the Browns looked as though they would give the ball right back. Instead, on 1st and 15, Mayfield handed the ball off to Nick Chubb, their workhorse. Chubb, to put it plainly, outran the entire Baltimore defense for an 88 yard rushing touchdown. All hopes of the Ravens winning became thin and their confidence shot down immediately, as the Browns later won the game, 40-25.
The Browns failed to make any more meaningful game changing plays in the season until their recent win against the Buffalo Bills, when Mayfield tossed an easy touchdown pass to Reshard Higgins. Their defense almost gave Buffalo a game tying field goal, but the kick missed; one could only imagine what the Browns offense would muster if the game went to overtime.
LSU almost suffered their first loss of the season to Texas, who had the Tigers on the heels for most of the game. With only a six-point lead in the 4th quarter, the Tigers needed to make a big play on 3rd and 17 if they wanted to secure a win. Although unlikely, Burrow weaved his way through crowded pocket and threw up a duck, which was caught by Justin Jefferson, who turned up field and “dotted the i” on LSU’s win against Texas when he ran 59 yards for a touchdown. The crazy play shattered the dreams of Texas, and it gave the Tigers a 14-point lead, and Texas only had enough time left for a garbage time touchdown, with no chance to recover the onside kick.
Alabama’s 51-39 win against Mississippi did not come easy. The Crimson Tide were down 10-7 at the end of the 1st quarter, and led fans to believe Ole Miss had a shot at winning the game. Just under 2 minutes in to start the 2nd quarter, Tagovailoa scored a quick 7 yard rushing touchdown. The play would start a streak of 38 unanswered points for Alabama, 31 of the points scored in the second quarter alone. Ole Miss just never recovered from the onslaught, and Alabama soared to their victory.
Alas, the most important thing critics look at to put down a team’s performance, with the amount of turnovers they produce during a game. Obviously, the more giveaways a team produces in a game, most likely that team will not win the game. All the teams being compared today have had their fair share of turnovers, but who’s the one with the most?
The Browns rank in the top-10 teams with the most giveaways in the 2019 NFL season, with a total of 17, with 12 interceptions and 5 fumbles. Nick Chubb leads the team in fumbles with 3 by himself. Ball security has been a nagging pest on Chubb this season, which differs heavily from last season, where he played an entire season without coughing up the ball once. The worrisome number of the giveaways delivered by the Browns are the interceptions. Baker Mayfield is ranked 2nd in the NFL with the most interceptions with 12, only behind Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback with 14. Though the interception total is high and a lot of the blame is usually placed on the quarterback, almost a quarter of his picks have resulted from his receivers not corralling in the ball to complete the process of a catch. Instead, it bounces off their hands, or they can’t hold onto it long enough that it bounces into the air, making easy pickings for the defense.
Most of Mayfield’s interceptions are his fault, however. Being under constant pressure does not help when trying to throw the ball, but 3 of Mayfield’s picks have come under pressure, while another 3 have come from no pressure, and solely his decision making. The result of turnovers for the Browns is 6 games lost, and with a record of 4-6 in this part of the season, a playoff push seems unlikely.
LSU’s perfect 10-0 record did not come too easy, but when it came time to play ball, they were ready to play. None of the turnovers committed by the team affected them in their play to win games. In their most recent game, the Tigers only turned the ball over once to the Alabama defense, who gave up 46 points to the Tigers regardless.
Alabama possesses one of the fewest turnover numbers in college football. With only 7 turnovers on their season, the 5th ranked team in the country committed two turnovers against the LSU defense which in turn cost them the game. Tua Tagovailoa’s fumble early in the first quarter of the LSU game was a big momentum killer, and his interception thrown in the third quarter eventually led to the team’s only loss of the season, as the LSU offense capitalized on both giveaways for touchdowns. Other than the LSU game, Alabama has been dominant and their few turnovers have been almost a nonfactor in their games. Now that Tagovailoa is out for the rest of the season, Alabama will be forced to continue winning games with Mac Jones, a solid backup who has proven himself earlier this season.
Even last Thursday night, the Browns showed the world once again their incompetent skills to finish off drives and create turnovers. Aside from their two missed field goal attempts, the Browns defense created 4 golden opportunities for the offense, with 4 interceptions. 3 out of the 4 drives after the interceptions started the Browns offense on the Steelers side of the field, but only one drive resulted in a points, an 8-yard touchdown to Stephen Carlson. Two drives ended in punts, and the other ended in a missed field goal. Even with gifts from the gods, the Browns couldn’t score or capitalize on the Steelers misfortunes by any means.
Like I stated earlier, the standard of competition is completely different the NCAA and the NFL, and although no one would truly know what the result would be if either LSU or Alabama faced off against the Browns, the subject matter is quite interesting. The debate of college vs. professional teams in sports has been around a long time, but after all the hype and preseason attention the Cleveland Browns were getting in the off-season before the 2019 season, many believed the team would make the playoffs with a breeze and could even make a push for the Super Bowl. As Week 11 already begun, it becomes obvious that the Browns does not trend in that direction. Either way, it seems the Tigers and Crimson Tide are just executing their plays to near perfection and have their fundamentals down pat. The Browns, on the other hand, could use another training camp to get ready for the home stretch of the season.