Week 3 is in the books and the Browns are now in first place in the division. In a game closer than it should have been, the Browns controlled the clock and cadence. The offense continued to click and the defense buckled down in the second half after a concerning start to the game. Let’s take a look at whose stock is rising and whose stock is falling after three weeks of the season.
Rising: David Njoku – Tight End
Wow! Just Wow! What a game from Browns tight end David Njoku this week. Head Coach Kevin Stefanski brilliantly schemed Njoku into the game plan, who had been quiet statistically in the first two weeks. He finished the game with an impressive stat line commonly achieved by the NFL’s top tight ends, nine receptions on 10 targets for 89 yards with one touchdown.
After reeling in two catches earlier in the game, Njoku tallied his first touchdown of the season with 8:58 to go in the second quarter. There were times when the Steelers looked like they could not stop Njoku, particularly late in the second quarter when he reeled in three consecutive passes of six, 19, and 10 yards respectively. Seven of the nine passes Njoku caught came when quarterback Jacoby Brissett was in the shotgun.
Njoku is already proving his value in 2022. The first two weeks placed Njoku in the trenches to block, block and block some more. Kevin Stefanski is not afraid to use one of the league’s highest-paid tight ends to block, and Njoku continues to deliver. Similarly, when his number is called, Njoku is a reliable target who can be a mismatch for opposing defenses. All arrows point up for Njoku through three games this season.
Rising: Kevin Stefanski – Head Coach
It’s time for the Cleveland Browns fanbase to rally around Head Coach Kevin Stefanski. Offensively, he has masterfully called three excellent games to start the season. He has put all of his players on offense in a position to succeed. The play of Jacoby Brissett is also a credit to Stefanski’s game planning.
On a short week after perhaps the most disappointing loss in his tenure, Stefanski had the Browns ready to play on Thursday night. This game had the makings of season-altering, for better or worse. He even showed fire and passion in the locker room after the game.
There are questions across the coaching staff that Kevin Stefanski must work proactively to address, and it’s early enough in the season to button up some of the issues we’ve seen thus far. His even-keeled approach has served the team well thus far, and I am looking forward to seeing what he has up his sleeve in the weeks to come.
Falling: Special Teams
The special teams unit leaves something to be desired. At this point, the fundamentals seem like an achievement. Except for punter Corey Bojorquez, who nailed a crucial punt late in the game, for the second week in a row, it wasn’t pretty.
In the first quarter, the Browns were forced to punt on their second drive. As Bojorquez prepared to launch the ball, Steelers safety Miles Killebrew got past the line and deflected the punt. This resulted in a 25-yard punt that put the Steelers at the Browns 48 yard line to start their drive. Fortunately for the Browns, the Steelers could not find the end zone and missed their field goal attempt from 49 yards out.
While I give leeway to the kicking team for its struggles due to the very windy conditions, PAT miss after PAT miss continues to put the Browns in unfavorable positions. Rather than putting the team ahead by a full seven points, rookie kicker Cade York missed an extra point that loomed large as the Browns were clinging to a six-point lead through the fourth quarter. PATs must be made moving forward and I fully expect York to rebound.
The return game remains obsolete, though Chester Rogers appeared to be much more comfortable in the backfield than Demetric Felton. This is an area to watch as the season goes on.
Falling: John Johnson III – Safety
Browns safety John Johnson III gets a lot of heat on social media. Critics often pick and choose the plays for which they criticize him. This week, he gave them some more plays to choose from.
It was a tough first half for Johnson. In the first quarter, Johnson was bullied out of the way as he tried to tackle Najee Harris after his five-yard run into the end zone. While I credit Johnson for making his way to the play, his attempt at the tackle wasn’t great. On the Steelers’ only other scoring drive, Johnson was caught flatfooted in the second quarter as quarterback Mitchell Trubisky made way to the end zone for a touchdown. He did get a hand in there to cause Trubisky to fall, but it was too late.
Johnson has the respect of his teammates and is one of the leaders of the defense. His play needs to be better. Remember he started slowly last year and came on as the season went along. We’ll see what happens moving forward.