With a third strong performance looking like a real possibility against the Atlanta Falcons for Cleveland Browns quarterback Jacoby Brissett, matching the 'elite' three-game stretch by former Browns journeyman Jason Campbell in 2013, how realistic is it that Brissett will be able to continue to overperform for the next two months and avoid the return to the muck the way Campbell did? It stands to reason that there will be a regression, but there are compelling reasons why Brissett could still outperform expectations and have the best stretch of play in his career.
After a season-opening debut that had some critics calling for backup quarterback Joshua Dobbs or for the team to make a panic trade for Jimmy Garoppolo, Brissett has turned in impressive performances in back to back games for the Browns as the interim starter rallying a fanbase desperate for someone to believe in.
Even as the Browns were expected to do well against a September slate that includes the Carolina Panthers, Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers and Falcons, the team hasn't won in the manner most predicted. The Browns were supposed to win with defense and a potent running game led by Nick Chubb. One half into the season, the team followed that script. Starting the final drive of the game against the Panthers, Brissett has provided a lift to the offense while the defense has been uneven to put it kindly.
In the last two games, Brissett has completed 43 of 58 passes (74.1 percent) for 449 yards (7.7 yards per attempt) with three touchdowns against one interception, both of which are career best rates.
It's important to point out that these teams have all loaded up to stop the run, allowing favorable conditions for Brissett to throw the ball. Additionally, T.J. Watt was out of the Thursday night matchup against the Steelers. So while the level of competition is going to ramp up in October which is likely to reduce the effectiveness of Brissett, there is reason to believe that the Browns offense can continue to roll even if the quarterback play takes a hit.
Brissett is largely taking what defenses are giving him and protecting the ball; at times, he might be too conversative with some of his decisions, but he's been great in the aggregate the past two games. His ability to create a few plays with his legs in each game has also been helpful in keeping defenses off balance and extended drives. It helps that he's often tasked with picking up a yard or less when he's the size of a tight end.
There most positive development that could extend Brissett's run of effectiveness has been the emergence of wide receiver Amari Cooper in this offense. It can't be understated how valuable Cooper has already been for the Browns in what is still a young season. Cooper has turned in back to back 101-yard, one touchdown games.
With defenses making the wager that if they can stop Chubb and the Browns rushing attack, they will short-circuit the offense, Cooper is thriving against the limited coverage teams are playing against him. He's toying with corners trying to man him up and finding holes in zone coverages.
With teams trying to commit as many as eight defenders to stop Chubb, they don't have the ability to use an extra player to limit Cooper. If there's a corner that the Browns will face that can singlehandedly stop Cooper, the Browns offense could be in trouble. That's where David Njoku's nine catch, 89-yard performance against the Steelers offers hope for a possible solution.
The game against the Steelers represented the Browns at their most dangerous. Chubb was an ever present threat, but both Cooper and Njoku were able to make plays that put the Steelers defense between a rock and a hard place. Either keep more defenders back in coverage and potentially allow Chubb to matriculate the ball down the field while eating clock or continue to risk Brissett finding open receivers to create chunk plays.
All of this is made possible by a coaching staff consistently putting this group in position to succeed and offensive line that can be overpowering and has depth. The Browns got excellent performances out of reserve tackle James Hudson III before Jack Conklin took his first snap at right tackle against the Steelers. Even if Brissett's numbers aren't as gawdy, all of these components comprise a formula for continued success on offense. In the Steelers game, the Browns did both as Chubb ran for 139 yards and the combination of Cooper and Njoku combined for 220 yards receiving. Each member of the triumvirate also found the endzone.
The Browns should be doing everything possible to ensure Njoku stays a major part of the passing game. He may not get nine receptions every contest, but he was targeted a combined six times in the previous two matchups, which is a disservice to the offense.
The Browns do have other options that can create offense and cause problems for a defense in the passing game. Donovan Peoples-Jones played a critical role in defeating the Panthers, catching six passes for 60 yards. The past two games, he's been targeted a total of four times. It's frustrating that he can have such a big impact in one game including three contested catches and one of the two passes on the game-winning drive and then disappear in other games.
Especially as the second tight end, Harrison Bryant could be another good outlet. He's made a handful of catches this year, but he has shown the ability to get open and catch passes.
The Browns coaching staff needs to make a concerted effort to keep these players involved, but some of that is on Brissett. Through three games, there are examples where he misses open targets or simply prioritizes Cooper over these other options. As prudent as that might seem, it's not always the right move and will become more problematic in the coming weeks if the Browns find themselves in tight situations if Brissett doesn't gain trust in his other teammates.
As long as Cooper continues to operate as the team's North star in the passing game, they will only need to find one more target to have a good game, which goes to show just how valuable of having a true #1 receiver. Failing that, the Browns can cobble one together out of other options, which can include Kareem Hunt out of the backfield.
Given that the Browns are currently averaging 190.7 yards rushing per contest and the Falcons are surrendering over 100 yards per game despite facing two of the worst four rushing offenses in the league to date, the Browns may have good reason to feel confident heading into this matchup.
After Atlanta, the Browns will be tasked with hosting the Los Angeles Chargers, New England Patriots followed by back to back divisional games against the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals.
Not only are these teams equipped with more defensive talent, they will feature coaches who will switch up their looks in an effort to confuse Brissett. Several of these teams also have the firepower to put up more points and should the Browns get off to a sluggish start, be forced to play out of their comfort zone. That stretch of games will provide an excellent test for Brissett and what he is able to do.
Even if Brissett's numbers will likely regress as the season advances, he can still have the best season of his career and enable the Browns to enjoy success on offense as long as they remain effective in the running game and Amari Cooper continues to play the part of a #1 receiver. All of that should add up to the Browns being in position to fight for a spot in the postseason.