Scary good: Browns, Mayfield set for 'ghostly' Patriots D
Mentally refreshed and physically healed after sustaining a badly bruised left hip against Seattle, Cleveland's quarterback returns from the bye week only to face perhaps the NFL's scariest unit — New England's fear-inducing, turnover-prompting, No. 1-ranked defense, which intercepted Darnold four times in a 33-0 win over the New York Jets.
Following his third pick, Darnold, who was wearing a microphone for the TV broadcast, claimed he spotted spirits on the field.
The Patriots, who lead the league with 18 picks, were everywhere.
"I watched the game," Mayfield said after practice Wednesday. "They were giving him a lot of looks up front and just blitzed him a lot. I do not know their game plan so I can't speak for Sam. Obviously, they had certain things they wanted to have drawn up against their pressure, but they just did not execute it. That is the thing about football. You have to have to be able to have a plan and go execute it."
Easier said than done against New England.
Among coach Bill Belichick's many triumphs is the defensive mastermind's ability to confound young quarterbacks. The Patriots have won 20 straight games against first- or second-year QBs, the longest streak in league history.
Mayfield has thrown a league-high 11 interceptions in Year 2, and unless he's smarter with the ball, the Patriots will add him to their long list of quarterback conquests.
"They move guys around up front," Mayfield said. "They try to get you to give the perfect look or perfect protection and they mix stuff up. They pressure you. They hit you up. If you are a young quarterback, you can see that. They have done that so far this year. We will see how they play us, but we have to be ready for pressure and react."
Darnold couldn't do anything and had the worst game of his young career. He completed just 11 of 32 passes for 86 yards and recorded a paltry 3.6 rating — nice grade-point average, failing at the pro level.
Browns coach Freddie Kitchens was effusive in praising the Patriots under Belichick, saying the Super Bowl champions "do not have weaknesses."
One of their biggest strengths is an unmatched attention to detail on defense. Belichick is famous for negating what an opponent does well and exploiting any vulnerable spots.
"They make sure you dot all your i's and cross all your t's from a standpoint of protections," said Kitchens, who is contemplating changes to the starting offensive line. "They are going to attack your protections in detail. They very much play with passion. They get to the football. Assignment-wise, they do not miss any assignments.
"They make you beat them. ... They make you run several plays and you have to do it with precision or they are going to be there to make a play. They do not miss tackles. Their secondary is excellent in tackling. Their linebackers are obviously excellent tacklers, and they continue to get push up front. When they do call blitzes and the pressures, they do a tremendous job of maintaining gap integrity so you can't get out and run on them and things like that. They do a good job across the board."
In Cleveland's previous game, Mayfield made a concerted effort to get the ball to star receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who had six catches for 101 yards against the Seahawks.
Beckham has faced Belichick numerous times. He joked that his pregame chats with the legendary coach are predictable.
"He tells me the same thing every single time, 'I hope you enjoy today because there's not going to be much for you,'" Beckham said, smiling. "And that's what he's done every single time. It's just tough."
Belichick will undoubtedly focus on limiting Beckham's touches, which will make things even tougher for Mayfield.
Kitchens, who will try to make sure his young QB isn't spooked the way Darnold was, joked he often had visions while playing quarterback at Alabama.
"I was not very good so when I woke up in the morning, I usually saw ghosts," he cracked. "Ask the coaches I played for — I saw them. I do not know if it was ghosts that I was seeing, but it was something other than my receiver. Usually, I was seeing the other team's colors because usually I threw more to them than I did mine."
NOTES: Mayfield is appealing his $12,500 league fine for criticizing the officials after the Seattle game. Mayfield knew he'd be punished, but felt his pointed comments were justified. "People need to be held accountable for their job," he said. "When it affects my job, it sucks because it's not in my control." ... S Damarious Randall remains sidelined with a leg injury. ... The Browns will not face WR Josh Gordon, placed on injured reserve with a knee injury.