NFL Game of the Week: Cardinals vs. Browns
Looking ahead at Week 6, two former college teammates will be leading their teams onto the field in a pivotal cross-conference matchup between the unbeaten Arizona Cardinals (5-0) and the Cleveland Browns (3-2).
Before being selected with the first overall pick in consecutive drafts, quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray once shared the same locker room for the Oklahoma Sooners.
In 2017, Mayfield led Oklahoma to a 12-2 record and a Rose Bowl appearance, while throwing for 4,600 yards and 43 touchdowns en route to becoming the Heisman Trophy winner. After Mayfield was selected by Cleveland in that year’s NFL Draft, Murray filled his shoes to perfection in 2018, taking home a Heisman Trophy of his own following a season in which he amassed nearly 5,400 total yards and 54 scores.
The former Sooners squared off for the first time back in Week 14 of 2019, Murray’s rookie year. The young gun came out on top, as the Cardinals topped the Browns 38-24. Both teams suffered losing seasons that year, losing 10 games apiece.
Fast forward a couple years, and Mayfield’s Browns are developing into a perennial AFC contender. Meanwhile, Murray is arising in the desert as an early favorite to win MVP.
This season, we’ve gotten a mixed bag of results from the 3-2 Browns. In Week 1, they choked away a 22-10 halftime lead against the Kansas City Chiefs after being outscored 23-7 in the second half. However, the defense stepped up in a big way over the next three outings, allowing a suffocating total of just 10 second-half points.
During this period, Mayfield accounted for only two scores through the air. In Week 5, the Browns gunslinger got back into a groove against the red-hot Los Angeles Chargers, doubling his passing touchdown total on the year while throwing for 305 yards. Despite putting up 42 points on the board, Cleveland fell short of a victory, thanks to a secondary that was shredded by Justin Herbert.
On the opposite sideline, the Cardinals are off to one of their best starts in franchise history. Arizona has come out of the gates to a 5-0 record for the first time since 1974 – back when the team was still in St. Louis.
Murray has been a human highlight reel over the past five weeks, displaying an unworldly ability to turn nothing into something nearly every time he steps onto the field. With 13 total touchdowns to just four turnovers, it’s fair to say he has taken the league by storm.
The Cardinals’ defense has also given Murray a helping hand by shutting down two NFC West rivals, the Rams and 49ers, in consecutive weeks. With the second-best point differential in the NFL at +62, Arizona is firing on all cylinders.
To stand a chance in this game, the Browns are going to need to bounce back from a poor defensive effort a week ago to avoid playing catch-up behind a mediocre passing attack. It’s important to note that the Cardinals have struggled mightily against the run this year, which is the bread and butter of the Cleveland offense.
Even with Nick Chubb ruled out for Sunday’s matchup, look for Browns’ head coach Kevin Stefanski to establish a game plan that revolves heavily feeding Chubb’s counterpart, Kareem Hunt, keeping Kyler Murray off the field for as long as possible.
However, that’s only one part of the equation. Even if Cleveland manages to win the time of possession battle, they’ll still need to slow down Murray and his array of weapons.
A bend-but-don’t-break defensive approach may be the only solution, considering that containing Murray for four quarters is a daunting task. If the Browns fail to minimize the damage caused by Arizona’s explosive offense, they could very well find themselves in the loss column yet again.
Grant Sheets is a first-year student majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email him at email@example.com.