No one really saw it coming, but the backups are providing a real boost to the Cleveland Browns. It was widely known before the 2021 season that the Browns had one of the most enviable rosters in the league. The hype was there to be believed. But the game of football is a cruel one sometimes. We’re not quite halfway through the season, but numerous injuries to key starters have dealt a blow to the team. Now, the players on the bench have had to step up – and so far, they’ve stepped up big.
Backups Are Providing a Real Boost to the Cleveland Browns
A Perfect Balance of Veterans and Rookies
This season, a mix of young players and veterans is doing the trick. The Browns seem to have struck a perfect balance between the two groups. With starters like Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, Odell Beckham Jr., Jadeveon Clowney and a variety of other key running backs and wide receivers sidelined, that balance wouldn’t have been apparent at all.
The guys who came off the bench proved themselves to be the difference between another painful loss or a win against teams who were their equals. In Week7, running back D’Ernest Johnson had a huge game, the first real one of his NFL career. And unexpectedly, veteran quarterback Case Keenum was just the right remedy for Mayfield’s absence. However, throwing beyond 40 yards is a weakness he needs to work on.
Can Johnson Stay Consistent?
Johnson powered through 34 yards on three big carries in a drive that scored an early game touchdown. That set a much-needed rhythm for Cleveland to keep going until they won the game. The team’s last drive was even more impressive than the first. Johnson’s production was impressive. As John Suchan of Dawg Pound Daily described, “It was as though Nick Chubb was out there running the ball down the throats of the opponent to seal the deal.”
To their credit, the offensive linemen, wide receivers, and tight ends worked seamlessly with him, blocking and keeping opponents back. Johnson was able to run the ball eight times, picking up 61 yards to help the team get the first downs needed to run out the clock.
Case Keenum Is a Capable QB2
After seeing Mayfield hurt and struggling, it was a relief to see Keenum healthy and able to step up when most needed. He surprised everyone by being an actual difference-maker. His performance would be considered average by most, going 21-33 and 199 yards and a touchdown throw. But his strengths came in the form of finding the open receiver, most of those on screens or passes into the flat. He kept the momentum going, which is exactly what you need from a quarterback.
Under Stefanski as a quarterback coach with the Minnesota Vikings, Keenum went for 12-3. Familiarity with Kevin Stefanski’s offense was evident. It’s comforting to know that with Mayfield’s ongoing shoulder issues, Cleveland has an experienced and capable player in Keenum.
The Browns have a lot of work to do, but for now, they have found a great balance between the new guys and the experienced vets. These are players who could keep shining even after key starters return.
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