Browns notes: 'They're in the way': Myles Garrett knows Ravens provide major obstacle on road to playoffs

Marla Ridenour
Akron Beacon Journal

BEREA — Browns All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett was not ready to call the first of two consecutive games against the Baltimore Ravens the defining moment of the season.

The Ravens (7-3) lead the AFC North and the Browns (6-5) are last in the four-team division, which would seemingly heighten the importance of the “Sunday Night Football” clash at M&T Bank Stadium. Quarterback Baker Mayfield didn’t voice that feeling on Wednesday, and neither did Garrett Friday.

“Define the season? I feel like that has been said multiple times down the stretch,” Garrett said. “I don’t feel like it will define the season. Go out there and play our brand of football and give us a good look of who we are.”

Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett celebrates a sack during the first half of an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)

The two teams will meet again in Cleveland on Dec. 12 after the Browns' Dec. 5 bye, and a sweep would seem ideal in terms of the Browns' chances to reach the postseason for the second consecutive year. But there was no hint of desperation in Garrett’s tone.

“I mean, they’re at the top and they’re in the way,” he said. “We’re trying to go to the playoffs and right now we gotta go through them, so that’s how we’re looking at it. The bye week just gives us more time to study them and study what we did, hopefully, what we do on Sunday, so see what we can put on tape and learn from that and have a better performance next time out.”

Garrett leads the league with 13 sacks. But in six career games, he’s notched only 1.5 sacks against the Ravens. The half came on quarterback Joe Flacco on Oct. 7, 2018, when quarterback Lamar Jackson played only six offensive snaps in the game his rookie season. The lone sack of Jackson also came in 2018 in a Dec. 30 loss at Baltimore.

Asked if it was frustrating not to get to Jackson as much as he’d like, Garrett said, “I hope to change that. We’ll see.”

The Ravens lost All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley to season-ending surgery on his left ankle after Week 1, with Alejandro Villanueva stepping in. Villaneuva spent his previous six seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, so Garrett knows Villaneuva’s strengths and weaknesses well.

Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett (95) celebrates after sacking Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021, in Cleveland, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

“I feel like with some of the injuries they’ve had on the O-line and some of the moves they’ve had to make, it’s been kind of messing up the chemistry they have and been allowing some sacks,” Garrett said. “We’ve got to be able to take advantage of that.”

The 2019 league MVP, Jackson has been sacked 28 times this season, one shy of his career-high. Four of those came in a 22-10 road loss to the Miami Dolphins on Nov. 11. Jackson was dropped five times in a 41-17 home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Oct. 24.

“Well, even in the games that he’s lost he’s still done pretty well sometimes,” Garrett said of Jackson. “You gotta go with the games where they actually had a solid plan for him and were able to execute it. Whether we have to blitz him 35 times like the Dolphins did or we just have great containment like the Bengals did, gotta find what suits us the best.”

The Dolphins pulled off the upset by playing Cover 0, which has no deep help. Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods said Friday he’s called that about 10 times all season and didn’t seem thrilled with that coverage because it could allow the Ravens to beat the Browns deep.

“There’s heavy risk, but it changes up the look,” Garrett said. “I don’t know if that’s a one-hit wonder. We’ll see if we can try to do something like that. If that’s in the game plan, we’ll run it. If it’s not, we’ll do something else.”

Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield throws the ball against the Detroit Lions during the first quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium, Nov. 21, 2021.

'The ball was flying off of his hands', Browns offensive coordinator says of Baker Mayfield

Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield had a “very strong day” of practice indoors Thursday and “the ball was flying off of his hands,” offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said.

“He was very accurate. I do not know if we had an incompletion yesterday,” Van Pelt said. “It was a really solid day for what worked for him.”

Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said Mayfield also practiced at a high level on Friday.

"I think he said he is feeling the best he has felt. He is throwing the ball well. I think he looked good," Stefanski said.

Mayfield had a groin injury added to his list of ailments on Wednesday and his bruised right knee suffered in a 45-7 loss at New England on Nov. 14 was removed. Stefanski said he decided to rest Mayfield Wednesday, but he was a full participant Thursday and Friday.

Mayfield is also dealing with a sore left heel and a torn labrum in his left shoulder, the latter suffered in Week 2.

Van Pelt said he has seen Mayfield’s mobility improve despite the lower body issues.

“Yeah, I saw it yesterday in practice, too,” Van Pelt said. “I think he is hopefully turning the corner on all of that stuff.”

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Stefanski has also seen Mayfield improve in that regard.

"I think we saw it in the last game, he made a few plays with his feet," Stefanski said as Mayfield totaled 9 yards on four scrambles. "That is an important part of what he does.”

Van Pelt said he believes Mayfield suffered the groin injury in Sunday’s 13-10 victory over the Detroit Lions.

“I think so. I do not think it is anything that is cause for concern. It is just piling on right now for him,” Van Pelt said. “I think he is feeling better. You would have to talk to him about that, but hopefully, that will be it for the season and we feel healthier each week.”

Van Pelt, who spent nine seasons as a quarterback with the Buffalo Bills, said he has not seen “much change from the waist down” in terms of Mayfield’s mechanics.

“He is definitely a guy who throws with a lot of torque and core, and those injuries that he does have can affect how much he torques and how he throws it,” Van Pelt said. “He has looked really good this week in practice. I think he will be just fine.”

Against the Lions, Mayfield completed 15 of 29 passes for 176 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions for a rating of 53.2.  It was Mayfield’s lowest rating since Dec. 8, 2019, when he posted 38.9 in a 27-19 home victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Playing in rain at FirstEnergy Stadium, Mayfield’s .517 completion percentage was his second-lowest of the season; only his .455 in a 14-7 victory at Minnesota on Oct. 3 was worse.

“It is nothing fundamental as I look at it,” Van Pelt said of Mayfield’s accuracy issues. “As a quarterback, you are going to have days where you just miss a throw. Sometimes you are going to miss more than one in a game. My thing to him is you just have to keep playing."

Cleveland Browns safety Ronnie Harrison Jr. celebrates stopping Detroit Lions running back Godwin Igwebuike late in the fourth quarter on Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio, at FirstEnergy Stadium.  [Phil Masturzo/ Beacon Journal]

Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods uses 'chippy' while discussing Ronnie Harrison Jr.'s discipline

Stefanski revealed Monday he benched safety Ronnie Harrison Jr. on Sunday for a disciplinary reason, but the coach didn't elaborate.

Defensive coordinator Joe Woods suggested Friday some type of physical altercation led to Harrison being punished.

“Everybody, you get a little chippy as you go through the season — it's a long season — but we have to do things the right way,” Woods said. “It was a disciplinary situation that Coach [Stefanski] handled internally. Ronnie is fine. He came out and has had a great week of practice to this point, so I don't think there will be any effects from what happened.”

Grant Delpit started in place of Harrison versus the Lions, but Harrison still played more. Delpit logged 25 of the defense's 48 snaps (52%). Harrison registered 42 snaps (88%).

— Nate Ulrich

Nov 14, 2021; Cleveland Browns cornerback Troy Hill (23) tackles New England Patriots wide receiver Kendrick Bourne (84) during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA;  Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Browns Troy Hill, Donovan Peoples-Jones questionable for Ravens, Anthony Schwartz out

NIckel back Troy Hill, who returned to practice this week after being carted off with a neck injury in the loss at New England, was listed as questionable for Sunday night, along with receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (groin). Receiver Anthony Schwartz (concussion) was ruled out.

Peoples-Jones was limited Thursday and Friday after sitting out Wednesday. The injury dates back to pregame warmups against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Oct. 31, and Peoples-Jones reaggravated it in practice on Nov. 17.

"I thought he had a decent day so we will see where it goes," Stefanski said.

Woods said he expects Hill to be available, although the Browns will continue to watch him leading up to the game.

“He has done a great job. Getting better and getting healthy,” Stefanski said of Hill. “He does play fearlessly. He does a great job in the run game and with blitzing. He is just a competitive kid.”

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Woods said it is looking like defensive end Takk McKinley, inactive the past two games with a groin injury, will also return.

“He’s the X factor in our room, being able to drop very well. And also being a different rusher than me and [Jadeveon Clowney],” Garrett said of McKinley. “We miss him; we’re glad he’s back.”

Woods expects rookie linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah to see some action after he reaggravated his right ankle sprain in the third quarter against the Lions.

“He is better. He is running around. He is fighting through it. We will definitely have him for the game,” Woods said. “Is he a whole way 100%? Probably not, but him at 90-95% is pretty good.”

Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker (9) is greeted by tight end Eric Tomlinson (85) after his game winning field goal in overtime to seal the 34-31 win against the Minnesota Vikings at M&T Bank Stadium.

Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, Cleveland Browns' Mike Priefer says

Browns special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said he knew Ravens kicker Justin Tucker was good even as he entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent from the University of Texas in 2012. With the Longhorns, Tucker made 83.3% of his field-goal attempts in 2010-11.  

Priefer’s estimation of Tucker has skyrocketed since. The four-time All-Pro, 32, is the most accurate kicker in league history with a career field goal percentage of 90.7. This season he’s connected on 20 of 22 (90.9%) and made all 21 of his extra-point attempts.

“Justin Tucker is outstanding. To me, at some point, he will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer,” Priefer said.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame has enshrined four kickers — Lou “The Toe” Groza, George Blanda, Jan Stenerud and Morten Andersen — but the Browns’ Groza (an offensive tackle) and Blanda (a quarterback) played other positions.

Stenerud and Blanda were first-ballot selections.

“We’ve gone against him several times, and he normally comes through. We did block one against him last year, which is very rare against him because his timing and his elevation are normally very good,” Priefer said, referring to Tucker's failed extra point in Baltimore’s 47-42 victory in Cleveland on Dec. 14. “Our charge is to put the best amount of pressure on him that we can and then let the chips fall where they may. Hopefully, he is not in a situation where he can hit a game-winner because that is what he does.”

Tucker has converted 18 game-winning field goals in his career.

Cleveland Browns kicker Chase McLaughlin (3) kicks a 30-yard field goal during the first half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Cleveland Browns special teams coordinator Mike Priefer says Chase McLaughlin remains confident

Browns kicker Chase McLaughlin has hit a rough patch lately.

McLaughlin had an extra point blocked and missed a 46-yard field goal wide right Sunday against the Lions.

Priefer blamed the blocked extra point on McLaughlin because the kick was too low.

“I think he'll be just fine,” Priefer said. “He hit the ball well on Wednesday. We have a good day today. It's going to be cold obviously, like it's going to be on Sunday night in Baltimore. It will be a good challenge for him today with the conditions, but I'm very confident in Chase.

“He's a very mentally tough young man. He has a lot of confidence in himself in a good way. He's not overconfident. He's not cocky. I just think he comes to work every day expecting to make every kick, and when he doesn't, he's kind of surprised. ‘OK. What happened? Let’s fix it. Let’s move on.’ He's a very confident young man.”

In McLaughlin's first season with the Browns, he has made 25-of-26 extra points and 13-of-16 field goals.

Through the first six games this season, McLaughlin had made all 15 extra points and all nine field goals. His first unsuccessful attempt came in the seventh game, when the Denver Broncos blocked a 41-yard field goal. His first flat-out miss came in the ninth game on a 45-yard field goal against the Cincinnati Bengals.

— Nate Ulrich