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Browns receivers coach downplays connection between OBJ’s absence and passing game’s improvement

Washington Football Team v Cleveland Browns

CLEVELAND, OHIO - SEPTEMBER 27: Odell Beckham Jr. #13 of the Cleveland Browns takes the field prior to the game against the Washington Football Team at FirstEnergy Stadium on September 27, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

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Immediately after the Browns lost receiver Odell Beckham Jr. for the balance of the year with a torn ACL, multiple members of the organization bristled at the notion that the passing game could actually be better without him. Quarterback Baker Mayfield, for instance, believed it was inappropriate to even ask the question.

Then came a game against the Raiders in which the Browns scored only six points -- and from which it became clear that the Browns needed OBJ.

Since then, however, Cleveland has rattled off four straight wins. As they prepare for a primetime showdown with Baltimore, receivers coach and passing game coordinator Chad O’Shea was asked to address why some may say that the team’s passing game does indeed look better without Beckham.

“That question is one I have never even thought about,” O’Shea said (making him possibly the only person connected to the NFL who hasn’t thought about it). “What we have thought about is we try to tell our players and ask our players, ‘Let’s get better.’ The Odell injury happened when it did. Obviously, regardless of if Odell was hurt or not, we are going to ask our players to improve on a daily basis. That is all we ask of them is we need to get better.

“It is my expectation that this time of the year we should be better than we were at the beginning of the year or midyear. It comes down to progress is made when you go out and you work extremely hard, which this group has done an outstanding job of working. When they put the time in and they invest in the preparation that they have, there is going to be improvement, regardless of who is out there playing. I know we are very fortunate to have the group of players that we have right now that are out there playing for us, and it is a group that I love to coach because they come out every day and they work extremely hard. When you work extremely hard, you take the coaching and you are receptive to doing the things we want to be done and the details, you are going to improve. I think the improvement is based off of them working hard and time.”

Browns coach Kevin Stefanski made similar comments to PFT after Cleveland’s Week 13 win over the Titans.

“Odell’s an incredible player,” Stefanski said. “So we miss him; that’s definitely the truth. I don’t know if the offense has changed wholesale without him in there, but he was able to make acrobatic plays on the ball that not many people in this game can make. But having said that I think specifically that wide receiver room, you have a bunch of guys that are working their butts off, and when their number gets called they make a play. And I think that’s a testament to them as players working hard and I think a testament to Chad O’Shea, who does a great job as their coach.”

Beckham definitely is a great player, so great that his presence constantly raised questions as to whether the ball was coming his way sufficiently. It arguably, if not actually, created a distraction for the team and a complication for the passing game, perhaps causing Mayfield to linger too long in his progression on Odell before moving on to the next receiver.

Without Beckham, Mayfield can simply throw to the open man, without concern that he’ll face questions and scrutiny regarding whether Beckham got the ball thrown his way enough times.

Even if the Browns would have been the same or better with Beckham, they’re 9-3 and on the verge of their first playoff berth since 2002. And they get a chance on Monday night and Sunday night to show the world everything they can do, under the bright lights of prime time.