The Cleveland Browns had terrific performances by key players and some abysmal mistakes by others in their opening week victory against the Carolina Panthers. A game that looked like the Browns would control at multiple points in the game required a 58-yard field goal from rookie Cade York in order to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat which had just barely survived a brutal attack from victory.
Cade York, Kicker
In his first game as a pro, York hit four field goals and converted two extra points, giving him a total of 14 points. The last kick was the most important, drilling it from 58 yards in the final seconds of the game. A fourth-round pick on a kicker fielded criticism from plenty of onlookers, but his raw power had made him a fan favorite and this kick has made him a hero this week.
Nick Chubb, Running Back
Nick Chubb was at the peak of his powers in this game. He made what appeared to be surefire losses into gains and made modest gains into explosive plays. The difficulty was raised because the Browns were so ineffective in the passing game that the Panthers defense played close to the line of scrimmage. A testament to his balance, vision and film study, Chubb ran for 141 yards on 22 carries, averaging 6.4 yards per tote.
Donovan Peoples-Jones, Wide Receiver
The Browns passing game was miserable. A combination of ineffective play from the quarterback position and some drops, the team only mustered 138 net passing yards. Nearly half of those, 60, came from DPJ, who made multiple contested catches, two of which required diving efforts. He extended a few drives including the final drive that helped the Browns secure the victory.
Wide receiver was a huge question mark entering the season in no small part due to how enigmatic DPJ was last year. If this sets the tone for the rest of DPJ's season, it would provide a lift for the offense.
Browns Offensive Line
The Browns offensive line was more than up to the task in pass protection as well as run blocking. James Hudson III is a completely different player from his rookie season, showcasing excellent power as a run blocker. Ethan Pocic had a solid debut at center.
Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller continue to fuel the running game and Jedrick Wills looked promising. Wills is a player trying to prove he belongs in the conversation with the the other prominent Browns linemen was able to keep Brissett clean and helped the Browns get around on some runs to the perimeter on his side.
Myles Garrett, Defensive End
Garrett recorded sacks on back to back plays and forced a fumble the Browns were unable to recover. He was every bit the nightmare matchup for rookie Ikem Ekwonu who tried to hang on for dear life. Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield had to get the ball out on time just to avoid getting sacked at times and still took multiple hits right after getting rid of the ball. Garrett also chipped in a tackle for loss and was one of the Browns five deflections from the line of scrimmage.
The Browns defense only yielded 54 total rushing yards against the Panthers. Christian McCaffrey had ten carries for just 33 yards and one of those went for nine yards. The Panthers offense succeeded almost exclusively due to their passing game.
Particularly with the defensive tackle position, this was a huge question entering the season. They were up to the task this week and the hope is they can continue to grow after this performance.
Jacoby Brissett, Quarterback
Brissett is tasked with avoiding turnovers and taking what the defense gives him. He succeeded in protecting the ball for the most part, but he missed multiple opportunities to capitalize on what the defense was giving them. Brissett airmailed three different opportunities with Browns receivers behind the defense, two on the same drive, that not only would've been huge plays, but likely touchdowns.
The defense wasn't afraid that Brissett would execute, so they played tighter to the line of scrimmage, which started limiting running lanes. If Brissett hits those plays, it completely changes how the defense has to play the Browns and gives them more options.
When they were in position, they were great in coverage, making it difficult for Mayfield to find receivers and causing a turnover with a Grant Delpit interception. Unfortunately, they had two key blown coverages which led directly to two Panthers touchdowns.
Mayfield had 235 yards on the game and 125 of those came on wide open passes. One to tight end Ian Thomas near the end of the first half that went for 50 yards and set up a two-yard McCaffrey touchdown run. The other was a 75-yard touchdown to Robbie Anderson. Both involved confusion between safeties and corners as to which player was responsible in coverage. Combined with a horse collar personal foul from John Johnson III, the secondary would've warranted a substantial amount of the blame had the Browns lost. For a unit where the Browns have invested so many resources, and has talked about their desire to be recognized as the best in the league, they can't keep having these types of issues.
Demetric Felton, Wide Receiver/Punt Returner
The Browns lost Jakeem Grant to a torn Achilles' and had no backup plan to return punts. Felton looked completely lost in the early part of the game, scrambling to catch a couple punts and muffing one the Browns were fortunate to get back. He did settle in a little bit, but the Browns have little room for error and a turnover on a punt return would be a disaster.
Given the limitations on the Browns offense, punt returns can produce meaningful yardage, reducing the burden on the offense. Felton averaged 5.8 yards on five return attempts, which is pitiful.
That area of the game needs to at least be functional and simply cannot be yet another weakness on a team with plenty of them. This reflects poorly on special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, who has led a bottom tier unit in his tenure with the Browns.