Unsung Heroes Key to Browns Offensive Surge Against Bengals
The Cleveland Browns were able to defeat the Cincinnati Bengals, sweeping the season series, in no small part due to unsung heroes lower on the depth chart stepping up to make huge contributions.
Baker Mayfield will receive a significant amount of credit, throwing for five touchdowns that led the team to the victory. This was a feat that was expected to be achievable entering this season for Mayfield, but it hadn't come to fruition until this game.
What wasn't expected was the group of players that were on the receiving end of so many of the 22 completions Mayfield threw in this game.
110 of Mayfield's 293 yards went to Rashard Higgins while rookies Harrison Bryant and Donovan Peoples-Jones each had 56 receiving yards and combined for three touchdowns. Two for Bryant with the final, ultimately game winning touchdown going to Jones.
David Njoku chipped in a touchdown of his own, catching two passes for 20 yards, including a diving effort on a 16 yard dart for a touchdown.
Odell Beckham left the game after just one pass due to a knee injury, which may prove to be significant. Austin Hooper was out, recovering from an appendectomy. Nick Chubb was out with the MCL injury he suffered. Wyatt Teller was still out with the calf strain.
The Browns got significant contributions from players that weren't expected to be counted on this season in a pair of rookies, who both stepped up and played really well when opportunities presented themselves.
Higgins hasn't been the Browns third receiver and at times, hasn't even been the fourth receiver. Largely a result of style as opposed to a lack of substance, the Browns have looked elsewhere for skill sets that compliment Beckham and Jarvis Landry along with the rest of their offense. Higgins is a reliable and effective player, but his skill set can be redundant with Landry, so the Browns at times have put in guys with more size, speed or both on the field ahead of him.
Every time Higgins has been called upon, he has delivered and begged the question why he isn't utilized more consistently. Higgins was targeted six times in this game and caught all six, which all proved to be important, including a pair of great plays on the final drive of the game.
On the season, Higgins has been targeted 12 times. He's caught 11 passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns. After this game, he's fourth on the team in receiving yards.
It's not just that the Browns had rookies step up or some guys who haven't had as many opportunities as others on this team. It's the fact they stepped up in a game where had it not been for their impact on the game, the Browns lose.
It builds confidence in the players themselves as well as the coaches calling on them. If the Browns had Hooper or Beckham at their disposal, they would've been out there. They couldn't be and these players were forced into action and proved they could step in and make the plays necessary to win the game.
And while he isn't an unfamiliar name, J.C. Tretter is nevertheless an unsung hero. He went down in a heap on the same play as Odell Beckham. Tretter went to the sideline, was evaluated and went back in without missing a single snap. The Browns may like what they have in rookie Nick Harris, but they have to be thrilled that they didn't have to see how Harris and Chris Hubbard performed on the interior of the line against the Bengals.
Tretter played well and was part of a unit that was largely able to keep Mayfield comfortable in the pocket, enabling him to pick apart the Bengals. It was quickly forgotten that he was ever hurt in the first place, because Tretter just always seems to grin and bear it for this team. He once again proves his value to this team and reinforces why it was a prudent decision for ex-Browns GM John Dorsey to sign him to an extension last season.
Mayfield will get the lion's share of the credit and the Browns don't with this game without him, but he needed contributions from Rashard Higgins, Harrison Bryant, Donovan Peoples-Jones, David Njoku and J.C. Tretter to get there.