CLEVELAND (AP) — Like a mother lion with her hungry cubs, Baker Mayfield has many mouths to feed.
And just one football to share.
When Mayfield looks around Cleveland’s offensive huddle, the Browns quarterback is surrounded by almost an embarrassment of offensive riches.
There’s star wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, perhaps the NFL’s best running back tandem, and don’t forget tight end Austin Hooper, a Pro Bowler last season with Atlanta.
Undeniable weapons. Mayfield’s job is to deploy them properly.
Just two games into a new season, Cleveland’s offense remains a work in progress. However, following an impressive five-touchdown bounce-back performance in a 35-30 win over the Cincinnati Bengals last Thursday, first-year Browns coach Kevin Stefanski has seen early development and positives from this unit.
“Baby steps,” Stefanski said Wednesday as the Browns dug deeper into preparing for this week’s game against the Washington Football Team and its sack-happy defensive line. “I just go back to it is September, we need to build on it and it has to be a constant growth type of thing offensively.”
And while it was only the Bengals, who were missing injured tackle Geno Atkins up front, the Browns did show a glimpse of their potential firepower — and balance — in shaking off a dreadful debut in their opener at Baltimore.
Against Cincinnati, Cleveland passed for 215 yards and ran for 219 with Chubb and Hunt taking turns bowling over Bengals defenders on what Stefanski proudly described as “dirty runs.”
Fullback Andy Janovich piled on afterward, saying the Browns could have run for “300 or 400 yards — if we wanted.”
What Stefanski wants is for his offense to be unpredictable yet equal. He envisions a blend of runs and throws designed to keep the ball moving and defenses guessing.
“It is the run and the pass,” he said. “If we can be balanced, meaning we have a threat of the run and a threat of the pass to be efficient in both, I think we are playing offense to our strength. But it is definitely something that I would expect should grow throughout the year.”
After struggling to get Beckham the ball against the Ravens, the Browns made sure OBJ was involved early, and his 43-yard touchdown reception — his second-longest TD since coming to Cleveland — in the second quarter energized the offense and created momentum.
Mayfield said gaining that confidence and keeping it is key.
“That is the standard that we are trying to set and the expectation for us,” he said. “Have to come out firing and executing early on. You have those first 15 plays that you want to come out and get going, and we need to do that again.”
The Chubb-Hunt combination is a potent punch and luxury. No other team in the league has a former NFL rushing champion and runner-up on the same roster, let alone playing at the same time.
Starting right tackle Jack Conklin, who cleared lanes for Derrick Henry in Tennessee last season, said watching the pair break tackles inspires the entire line.
“It gets you really excited,” said Conklin, who is back after missing last week’s game with an ankle injury. “That’s the fun part with Nick and Kareem. We block up our guys so they can make somebody miss or just flat out run them over. That really pumps us up, and it is awesome to have those two back there.”
Mayfield wasn’t perfect against Cincinnati as he threw an interception in his eighth straight game. But unlike in the opener when he seemed panicky in the pocket, the Browns designed roll outs for Mayfield and let him make throws on the move, something he’s really good at.
There’s plenty of room for improvement and Mayfield said it’s gotten easier for him to keep all the playmakers happy because of the trust he’s built with Stefanski and coordinator Alex Van Pelt. They’ll call plays. He’ll execute them.
“I just do my job,” he said.
NOTES: Stefanski quickly pulled up his protective mask during the Zoom call when the league’s massive fines for coaches not wearing theirs during games was mentioned. “This thing,” he said, adjusting his black mask. “Is not coming off.” … DEs Olivier Vernon (abdomen), Adrian Clayborn (hip) and LB Jacob Phillips (knee) didn’t practice. … Rookie LT Jedrick Wills could be matched up this week against Washington DE Chase Young, the No. 2 overall pick in 2020. “He is just a freak of nature,” Wills said. “You do not see a lot of guys like him around the league. He just has a lot of size and ability and a lot of speed and power, which is a good combination of everything you need.”