Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
Takeaways from Browns practice and interview sessions ...
Block party: Was Greg Joseph’s game-winning field goal at the end of overtime deflected by the Baltimore Ravens, or not? And does it matter?
Last question first: Yes, it does matter. Because if it wasn’t deflected, it was the ugliest 37-yard field goal ever seen and might loosen confidence in the team’s second kicker of the season.
After the game, the Browns’ official stat crew did not count it as a deflected kick. CBS game announcer Andrew Catalon said upon replay of the kick that it “almost looks like it was deflected, but it wasn’t.” Nobody in the Ravens’ locker room – particularly Tony Jefferson, who was closest to blocking the football – said he got a finger on the ball.
Both holder Britton Colquitt and Joseph said the ball was deflected. Colquitt was even snappish when asked if it was deflected. “Didn’t you watch the game?” the punter replied.
The next day, the Ravens’ PR department said Jefferson did deflect the ball, but Browns coach Hue Jackson said, “I do not think they grazed it at all. Matter of fact, I think my man Jefferson said he did not touch it. He was the one that was closest to it. It did not look like he touched it. It looked like we just kind of pulled it and kicked a wobbler.”
Neither in their reporting of the game on Sunday nor in their Monday post-mortem did Baltimore media refer to the kick being deflected – nor did coach John Harbaugh mention it in his wrap-up -- which seems odd since the play cost the Ravens a loss rather than a tie. And with Pittsburgh already having played the Browns to a tie, the AFC North race could very well hinge on a tie, rather than a loss.
On Wednesday, we revisited the kick with Joseph and, while sensitive about disagreeing with Jackson, he insisted it was deflected.
“[The sound of the block] was loud,” Joseph said.
What did he see in reviewing the video?
“The ball rotation definitely changed a little bit,” he said. “If you watch one of those from-behind views. I don’t think no matter how hard I try, I can’t hit a ball with forward rotation on it, to get it that high and travel that far.”
Joseph also missed a PAT and a 55-yard game-winning field goal try at the end of regulation. He said he kicked the game-winner so hard, the ball was able to make it over the crossbar despite the block.
So I asked Joseph if he felt he survived the worst and might be “home free” on sticking with a team that has had trouble finding a full-time kicker for five years.
“Every week’s a new challenge,” he said. “This team’s going to keep games close and I have to be there to do my job.”
In Joseph’s three games, the Browns have won by four points, lost in overtime by a final kick, and won in overtime by a final kick.
“That’s how it’s going to be. We’re not the team that’s going to get beat like that anymore. Every kick’s going to be important,” Joseph said.
Which brings up something that Phil Dawson always said about how kickers should be judged.
“You’re only as good as your next kick, not your last kick,” Dawson said.
Cut the sack: Baker Mayfield’s game grows every time he steps on the field. What does he see as the next step in his rapid development?
“We have to get rid of the sacks,” Mayfield said. “Looking back on it, we were one of the most-sacked teams in the NFL. We have to take care of that. With that comes being on the same page with communication, getting the ball out quicker and just taking care of it.”
The Browns’ have allowed 21 sacks, which is second-worst in the NFL to Buffalo’s 22. Now, that number is inflated by seven sacks of Tyrod Taylor in the first game by the Steelers. Still, Mayfield’s eight sacks in roughly 2 ½ games is equivalent to 51 over a full slate of 16 games – much too high.
“Baker takes on every issue we have, and I appreciate that about him,” Jackson said. “Obviously he can get the ball out quicker at times. We have to protect him better. We have to be in the right place for routes. Got to communicate better. We don’t want our quarterback getting sacked five times. There’s some things he knows he can do better, but I think it’s the whole unit, we need to do better that way.”
Long and short of it: Mayfield’s height was a big topic of conversation leading up to the draft, of course. And it still is.
On Wednesday, Mayfield made a reference to doubts about him succeeding despite measuring at 6-0 5/8 at the NFL Combine.
“I said it back at the combine when everybody said I was a short quarterback that could not do much, I said if anybody is going to do it, I believed in myself to do that,” he said.
At least one benefit to shortness at the position is that Mayfield can lose himself behind the sea of bodies at the line of scrimmage while safeties are trying to locate him.
Baltimore safety Eric Weddle said after Sunday’s game, “He moves the ball well. He’s hard to see back there because he’s short, so on some of the throws I couldn’t even see him.”
So I asked Derrick Willies, the 6-4 receiver on the receiving end of Mayfield’s clutch throw on third-and-8 from the Browns’ 18 to set up the game-winning kick against the Ravens, how he was able to follow Mayfield as the quarterback drifted slightly from pressure from Terrell Suggs.
“The play broke down,” Willies said. “I couldn’t see Baker behind the line – he’s a smaller guy, so he’s a littler harder to see. So I moved out, and he scrambled it, and it just kind of worked out.”
Willies said he and Mayfield got on the same wave-length during training camp, way back when Mayfield was getting reps behind Taylor with the second wave of receivers.
“I think that’s the relationship you have to have with the quarterback when you play receiver. Guys have to be on the same page. I would say, yeah, we finally got a relationship throughout training camp and throughout the preseason,” Willies said