The Cleveland Browns victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers featured a number of promising outcomes and interesting stories, both for individual players and the team in general. Rather than make them all individual articles, I opted to put them all in one place... then promptly made them all longer than I anticipated. Hopefully, you'll stick around and read them anyway.
Martin Emerson had the best game of his young career
Only a rookie, the Browns were confident enough to have Emerson follow Mike Evans around the field for the majority of the game. Outside, inside, everywhere Evans went, Emerson was often right there with him.
The Browns drafted Emerson because of his size and physicality at the position in addition to his fearless mentality. With Denzel Ward on the roster, it helps balance out the types of coverage they can provide with Greg Newsome a bit of a chameleon.
The Bucs tried to go after the rookie throughout the game and he was up to the challenge, though he did get called for pass interference once in the game. Evans finished with two receptions for 31 yards, one of which was for 28 yards, though Emerson contends none of it was against him.
After the Browns face off against the Houston Texans, they will play against the Bengals and Tee Higgins, this time likely with Ja'Marr Chase healthy and on the field. Higgins had 49 yards on three receptions in the first matchup. Should the Browns use Denzel Ward to cover Chase, they would then have Emerson shadow Higgins. The Bengals will definitely be more dangerous with Chase on the field, but Emerson has been gotten better with each passing week.
That could be a great matchup.
Browns defensive performance keyed by stopping the run
The Browns kept it simple with their game plan, which is a doubled-edged sword. The Bucs offense, presented with limitations caused by an offensive line that has dealt with attrition and a quarterback in Tom Brady that isn't a threat to run, don't have a ton of options in how to junk up their offense. As a result, the Bucs couldn't really exploit the Browns for playing in some basic looks.
The fact that the Browns were so simple allows the players to play fast. However, it's simple in part because a portion of this defense have consistently shown they cannot process or execute more complicated calls. That's a major problem and one that is likely to be remedied in the offseason as the Browns look to upgrade or otherwise replace those who can't figure it out.
Nevertheless, the Browns operated well. The defensive line was better at the point of attack. Again, the Bucs offensive line issues contributed and made the Browns look better, but they did their job.
The opening offensive call by the Bucs was a fantastic play call that simply beat the defense the Browns were running. Myles Garrett flew up the field on the right side and the Bucs ran Rachaad White in the vacated gap. At the same time, Julio Jones was crack blocking the linebacker who was responsible for covering that gap. The Browns were in man coverage and since Jones went inside, Martin Emerson followed him, giving Jones a two for one block, effectively walling off any support from the middle. As a result, White wasn't corraled until the next defensive backs got to him, resulting in 35-yard gain. While the Browns are often responsible for bad defense, this was a case where the Bucs made the perfect call under the circumstances.
The Bucs also got 15 yards on a sweep to Jones. He was responsible for 50 of the team's rushing yards on the day and both of those plays were part of touchdown scoring drives. The Bucs would run the ball 18 more times in the contest, producing just 46 yards, an average of 2.5 yards per carry.
The play of the defensive line allowed the Browns linebackers and defensive backs to make a number of highlight plays. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah shined the most, but Tony Fields II had a great stop in the backfield and Denzel Ward had several tackles near the line of scrimmage. Grant Delpit continues to shine in run defense.
Unless future opponents perform as poorly as the Bucs did along the offensive line, it's unlikely the defense is simply 'fixed', but it was a good performance that enabled the victory. Even if the Browns don't suddenly become a good run defense, the hope is they can at least be less problematic.
Browns receivers bullied Bucs corners in running game
The Browns offense is built to overpower opponents and their receivers delivered. There are multiple long runs where Amari Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones are able to block the Bucs corners.
Jacoby Brissett gets a ton of credit, deservedly for his pancake on the Anthony Schwartz touchdown, but Cooper took Carlton Davis out of the play.
Chubb's 28-yard run was opened up by a DPJ block on Jamel Dean, enabling Chubb to get to the sideline and sprint up the field.
Just like with Julio Jones, the Browns finished both of those drives with touchdowns. The Browns love size at the wide receiver position because it can allow them to overpower defensive backs in catching the ball and running after the catch, but it's a key component in maximizing their running game.
Anthony Schwartz comes up big
Schwartz, a player that has been highly criticized because of preseason struggles with drops and a lack of regular season impact, was finally able to showcase why the Browns have been steadfast in their support of the second-year speedster.
Schwartz scored a 31-yard touchdown on a reverse. He followed that up with a 17-yard reception later in the game and was impactful on special teams as a gunner, drawing a critical penalty late in the game.
The Browns have been using Schwartz more in recent weeks. Often as eye candy, forcing defenses to account for him because of his speed, they did more to get him the ball this week. He's their jet player which was an orbit motion player this week, which left him wide open to catch the pass for 17 yards.
Schwartz's biggest fanbase is in the Browns locker room. Even when he struggled, players noted how they wanted to see him succeed because he works so hard. So when he was finally able to not only have success but play a significant role in winning a game, his teammates were excited for him.
“Every day when Schwartzy does something, we are fans of him. ‘Good job, Schwartzy.’ Dave [Njoku] is probably the leader of that group. Obviously, it hasn’t been the ideal, but he is a guy who has stuck with it and just continued to put in the work and continued to put in the work. We ran that play versus the Panthers, and he ran inside of me. I was like, ‘Dude, don’t do that again. Go outside.’ When I handed the ball off to the back, I was like, ‘Oh, the end. I hope I don’t have to block the defensive end because that was going to be bad.’ I was just running, and I was like, ‘Nobody is around me. Schwartzy is way faster than me. He should be in the end zone by now.’ Then No. 31 (Buccaneers S Antoine Winfield Jr.) just came, and I just tried to get in his way and I ended up blocking him. I’m just extremely happy for him. He had a bunch of good plays in the game. He had a big catch that got us in good field position. He made a great special teams tackle. A guy who is just sticking with it. Like I said, that is just the character of the men in that room.” - Jacoby Brissett
This game was a step in the right direction for Schwartz. He's a player who has struggled to make an impact beyond the threat of what he might do. It remains to be seen if Schwartz can develop into the player the Browns envisioned when they selected him in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft, but the game shows why the team has been willing to stick by him despite just 264 total yards and two touchdowns thus far into his career.
The Browns got the best combination of kick and punt returns of the season
Rookie Jerome Ford has provided a spark on kick return. His 44-yard kickoff return didn't amount to much as the offense couldn't capitalize before the half, but he also had a 48-yard return to open up the game against the Buffalo Bills. The longest return of the season for the Browns from someone other than Ford this season is just 28 yards.
Meanwhile, the Browns got a stunning punt return performance from Donovan Peoples-Jones. Five returns for a total of 75 yards, averaging 15 per return with a long of 29.
It remains to be seen if DPJ can keep it up, but no one else has done anything in that role this season. The key with DPJ is he has gained confidence with the ball in his hands as a receiver this season. That confidence appears to be translating into his returns and now he looks like the return threat that played for the Michigan Wolverines in college.
The game has slowed down for DPJ this year. Only 23 years old and enjoying a productive season as a receiver, he may have found himself another role in which he can contribute. His punt returns were a critical component in the Browns winning the game as he consistently advanced the ball in terms of field position.
4th down mindset may have helped the Browns prevail against the Bucs
The Browns are second in the NFL in 4th down attempts this season with 27. Only the Arizona Cardinals have gone for it on more. They've converted 15 of those attempts at a rate of 55.6 percent. That's not great and the fact they have a battleship sized quarterback in Jacoby Brissett to pick up short yardage situations makes it look even worse. But so much of doing it is eliminating the pressure that comes in those situations, making it just a part of who the team is.