After a game where the Cleveland Browns had 531 total yards of offense and scored 42 points, one of the conversations focused on perceived problems with wide receiver Odell Beckham.
Beckham is always the elephant in the room when it comes to the Cleveland Browns offense and the question that needs to be asked is 'Why?' Beyond the fact his name is associated with stardom that he hasn't warranted since he was a member of the New York Giants, we insist on holding the most talented receiving threat on offense to a standard where he's either great or a problem holding the team back with no room for a middle ground.
The over analysis of Beckham is becoming a self fulfilling prophecy where the end game is moving on from him regardless of what he's actually doing. Irrational notions including the idea that he makes quarterback Baker Mayfield worse only help to further this idea that Beckham is problematic.
The Browns offense doesn't get any of its receiving weapons involved in the passing offense consistently dating back to last year, but Beckham is the one always under the microscope.
For example, David Njoku is currently the team's leading receiver. He has had two impact games, looking the part of a star tight end, and three non descript games. Between the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers, Njoku caught 10 passes on 12 targets for 225 yards and a touchdown. In the three other games, Njoku has four receptions on five targets for 35 yards. He's been targeted once in the red zone this season.
The production in the passing game is spread out across a number of players. Kareem Hunt is currently the second leading receiver on the team, which has been great for the Browns and he should probably get the ball more. Austin Hooper, Donovan Peoples-Jones, and Rashard Higgins are all contributing and there is an appetite to see more from all of them as well.
Njoku touched on this in his post game following the Chargers loss.
"If defenses try to take things away, we have, you know, other options to use , so today I guess was my day when it comes to stats and you know, is what it is, but at the end of the day our main focal point is to win."
The Browns don't often fight against what defenses are trying to take away, opting to take the path of least resistance and maximizing production there, which can result in any number of different players having major contributions in a given week.
Beckham is scheduled to earn $15.75 million this year, which makes him the eighth highest paid receiver this year.
Having back to back games with 20 and 23 yards is incredibly frustrating with his impact on the salary cap in mind. Even acknowledging how inaccurate Mayfield was against the Minnesota Vikings which caused him to miss Beckham in a few opportunities that would've produced significant yardage, it helps propagate the idea that Beckham is playing poorly, the dynamic simply isn't working.
But if the money and the production is outrageous when it comes to Beckham, why isn't there type of outrage when Jarvis Landry, being paid $14.55 million last year, had three games with under 30 yards receiving including the playoff game against the Chiefs where he caught seven passes?
Had that been Beckham, it likely spurs a month of non-stop discussion to start the offseason.
If Beckham's production is viewed through the same scope as Landry or anyone else on this team, it becomes more about the end product as well as individual opportunities. Beckham's best game was against the Chicago Bears where he was the team's leading receiver. The same game, Njoku was not targeted a single time. Maybe that should be outrageous given what Njoku has done this year, but it wasn't because the Browns won and the offense was effective.
Specifically as it relates to play on the field, Beckham is getting open. At times, Mayfield is going to other options because that's where the coverage is taking him. For example, on the 71-yard touchdown pass to Njoku on a deep cross, Beckham had a step on his defender running a post down the middle of the field deeper than Njoku. Mayfield went to Njoku for a touchdown. Great play, but it could've been Beckham and he suddenly has a 91 yard day with a touchdown. This whole conversation goes away, right?
In this respect, it's merely a matter of time before Beckham has a breakout performance, potentially stringing multiple great games together.
From a philosophical point of view, if that is simply how Stefanski wants to run his offense, it begs the question if having high priced receivers is logical. Utilizing receivers as a result of game flow doesn't mesh well with dedicating 14.37 percent of the salary cap this year to two of them. The Browns want to have great receivers, but having them operate as high priced decoys may not be worth that kind of investment and there will be games where that is likely to happen.
At this point, the Browns don't view it as a problem largely because it may sort itself out sooner than later.
For now, if Beckham is open, they should find him, but they also need to keep incorporating Njoku into the offense and utilizing Hunt in the passing game. Hooper also needs to do more and both DPJ and Harrison Bryant should keep contributing, developing. Higgins is Mr. Reliable and at some point, Landry will be coming back from injured reserve and be reinserted into the lineup. That's not even mentioning rookies Demetric Felton and Anthony Schwartz.
The running game may be a two-headed monster, but the passing game is a hydra where any one of the heads can strike the decisive blow.
The Browns need to keep getting better and finding ways to maximize Beckham, but they can't also can't forget about everyone else in the process when they are open and producing. After all, this was a criticism of the team in 2020, which led to some believing that Mayfield was better without Beckham.
Perhaps there is a fundamental disconnect in how the Browns want to incorporate so many weapons in their offense and how maybe they should be more inclined to focus on Beckham. And that could be a problem in terms of how the team is structured as well as how the Browns view Beckham as opposed to how the public sees him. The Browns don't need to trade him as that won't fix anything but only leave them with less talent overall in a position where they need it.
None of this makes it wrong to be concerned or worried about what the Browns are or aren't getting from Beckham, since it hasn't really happened through three seasons. Nevertheless, he's getting open, creates spacing and takes attention away from teammates, which is benefiting the offense as a whole through the three games he has played this season. The Browns are better with him in the lineup.
Right this second, the focus for the Browns is simply to improve, eliminate miscommunication issues that result in broken plays and hopefully get the offensive line healthy. If they are able to achieve those things, Beckham's production should come and the Browns offense will be better for it when they need to be.