The Cleveland Browns were able to find a way to get a victory against the Denver Broncos as they head into their mini-bye week just as they hoped. Now, they can get a chance to breathe, rest and recover, but the Browns have an opportunity to self scout and set themselves up for a productive run.
Sitting at 4-3, the Browns are fine. Their record was always less concerning than the health of the roster. The week and a half to rest and recuperate should pay some immediate dividends.
Jack Conklin should probably be good to go against the Steelers as he recovers from his knee injury. Jedrick Wills and J.C. Tretter, who both played Thursday, get additional time to get healthier. That alone would make a substantial difference for the Browns.
Running back Nick Chubb should be good to go as well. Now, with D'Ernest Johnson's impressive performance, that could be their tandem until Kareem Hunt comes back later in the year.
Speaking of Kareem Hunt and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, the game against the Steelers already makes two weeks on what might be six week recoveries for those two.
Jarvis Landry, who returned against the Broncos, tweaked his knee. The team said he's okay, but a week and a half to get better is pretty ideal. Odell Beckham's AC joint sprain is gonna be with him for a little while, but it's at least time that gets him closer to being back healthy.
Donovan Peoples-Jones also tweaked a hamstring which kept him out of the game against the Broncos and he should be back.
That's just on offense and not even mentioning Baker Mayfield. Mayfield would've played against the Broncos given the opportunity. The team isn't giving up any details on when he might be available, but he hasn't been placed on injured reserve, which either represents a holding pattern until they made a decision or is because they believe he will back within three games.
If or when he comes back to the lineup, he has to embrace the challenge of playing every game as if he cannot get hit. Get the ball out earlier, take the profit, avoid trying to make hero plays and just let the game come to him. Downfield throws will present themselves. He cannot go chasing after them.
Mayfield did this incredibly well in the playoffs last season. He has to treat every game like that because his shoulder is effectively a ticking time bomb that will go off if he gets hit. The next hit he takes could end his season and that's the attitude he must embrace.
What has gotten lost in the mix on the injury front is just how many issues the defense has largely been playing through the last few weeks. That starts with the defensive line where Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney both have multiple issues they are battling.
After strong starts at the beginning of the season, both Malik McDowell and Malik Jackson have worn down and their performance has deteriorated. Some of that is likely due to some nagging issues, but they may simply need the rest.
McDowell's path into the starting lineup was a remarkable achievement, but he wasn't someone who was able to train like most players do for the season. For all the talent he shows, his body and conditioning simply may not be where it might be had he been able to train like a traditional offseason. This could prove a valuable week for him to recharge and show more of the raw power he demonstrated earlier in the year.
Whether it's Greg Newsome's calf or Greedy Williams' shoulder, the defensive backs could stand to get healthier as well. Denzel Ward's hamstring is of concern, having left the game late in the game.
The other potential benefit of this mini-bye is going to be for the Browns to be able to take a deep dive into third down on both sides of the ball. They have been dreadful on money downs and they need to diagnose and eliminate issues there. Some of it is a matter of play execution, but if they want to make changes in scheme or personnel, this is the time to do it.
Defensively, this could give them an opportunity to take a longer look at increasing Grant Delpit's workload to play more deep safety, which would enable them to utilize John Johnson III at all levels of the field as well as put Ronnie Harrison in more positions that play to his strengths. They all simply need to play better. Johnson's game against the Broncos could prove to be an important step in that direction.
That should also include just trusting the fact they are just as effective, if not more so, when they have fewer linebackers on the field and more speed. The injury to Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is all the more reason to take more linebackers off the field and when he comes back, for him to be one of the only ones on it.
The Browns survived the most difficult stretch of their season. They must take take full advantage of this small reprieve to set themselves up for success in these next five games before they get to their actual bye. It's an opportunity to make a move not only in the AFC North, but in a potential wildcard race.
An honest self scout could allow the Browns to eliminate some inefficiencies and focus on what's working well. Between that and getting healthier, the upcoming schedule could enable them to look more like the team that was lauded as a contender entering the season, gaining strength for for when they will need to be their best. They will get reinforcements along the way such as M.J. Stewart, JOK, Kareem Hunt and maybe even Jacob Phillips, which only make them stronger down the stretch.
The week the Browns aren't playing might be more important than any game they have played this season and they need to make the most of it.