The Seahawks landed in this football-mad state late Friday night for Sunday’s game at Cleveland.
Being in Ohio on a Friday night is a slice of Americana. Entire communities shut down to go to the high school football stadium to see their town’s boys play.
Entire communities such as Steubenville.
My hometown in the Steel Valley along the Ohio River is about two hours south of Cleveland. Harding Stadium, home of the Big Red of Steubenville High School, is a 10,000-seat venue.
Steubenville’s population is 18,000.
When I played for Big Red in consecutive state championship games in Ohio Stadium (in 1987 and ‘88, if you have to ask), we had 30,000 people inside Ohio State’s famed “Horsheshoe” in Columbus. Pretty much the entire Ohio Valley was there. Even our rivals’ fans and players showed up for those title games 2 1/2 hours from Steubenville.
Seahawks nickel defensive back Jamar Taylor was a starter for the Browns in 2016 and ‘17 before Cleveland traded him to Arizona in May 2018. He was a captain for Cleveland that second season.
He has more than a little appreciation for what football means to Ohio, and to Cleveland.
“Oh, great appreciation,” Taylor said this week. “It’s a blue-collar city. Hard-working, steel-factory-type of city. And the fans LOVE football.
“They love football. They love the Cleveland Browns. We expect it to be packed. ...You are going to see a lot of fans out there. They are going to be barking. They are going to be out there with their orange and brown on. ... We expect it to be a little rowdy.
“I have nothing but love for Cleveland, because they showed me and my family nothing but respect for the 2 1/2, three years that we were there.”
When Taylor played for the Browns they went 1-15 in 2016 then 0-16 the following season. Yet Clevelanders still filled the Dawg Pound and barked, through all those losses.
“Oh, yeah. When I was there, for sure, we definitely put them through some things,” Taylor said, chuckling. “They never wavered. They are great fans.
“I remember when we were 1-15, or, I think, we were 0-14 and we beat the Chargers. And they were there. They were there. That’s what you love about Cleveland, Ohio, not only the football team and all their other sports teams: they are loyal fans. They will support you no matter what.”
Taylor and the Seahawks arrive here ready for their first game in 10 days since their rally past the Los Angeles Rams.
“The guys are ready to roll. We had a fantastic week. Very upbeat throughout the week coming off Thursday,” coach Pete Carroll said. “Everybody’s really tuned in and it worked out right. Looking forward to it and expecting them to be at their best.”
Seattle’s biggest concern is injuries to Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown and rugged right guard D.J. Fluker. Both are highly unlikely to play. That leaves backups George Fant at left tackle and Jamarco Jones at guard. Jones,, a tackle who replaced Fluker in the Rams game, is ready to make his first NFL start in Cleveland, and at guard.
That’s suboptimal for a game against Myles Garrett. The Browns’ defensive end and 2017 top-overall draft pick is second in the league with seven sacks through five games for Cleveland.
“He’s real legit,” Carroll said.
“They have a bunch of problems that they present for us. Hopefully, we’ve got it worked out and we can put together a good ballgame.”
Friday, the Seahawks promoted guard Jordan Roos and tight end Jacob Hollister from the practice squad for depth. Ethan Pocic, usually the backup guard, went on injured reserve with a back injury.
Garrett is perhaps the biggest of five players to watch in Sunday’s game:
1. Tyler Lockett hasn’t just moved into retired Doug Baldwin’s role as Seattle’s new number-one wide receiver. He has seized it. Russell Wilson was perfect targeting Lockett last season, a max passer rating of 158.3. Wilson has a rating of 138.3 throwing to Lockett so far this season. Eleven Seahawks have caught passes through five games, but Lockett has caught more than a fourth of Wilson’s completions and touchdown passes.
Now Seahawks offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is using opponents’ keying on Lockett against them. Seattle’s second touchdown last week in the win over the Rams came after Lockett changed his favorite, most-successful route the last two seasons and teammate DK Metcalf ran free to where Lockett usually goes.
Lockett has become so influential he’s producing TDs without touching the ball.
“Tyler can affect the game so many ways,” Schottenheimer said.
“I think you guys all know how I feel about him.”
2. Germain Ifedi has a tall task on Sunday. The Browns will be sending Garrett at the Seahawks’ right tackle all game long—just like Garrett used to come after Ifedi in practices at Texas A&M a few years ago.
Garrett, the first-overall pick in the 2017 draft, already has seven sacks this season. That’s second-most in the NFL. Ifedi, Seattle’s first-round pick a year before the Browns chose Garrett, has continued to have problems with speed rushers and penalties this season.
“We had some battles,” Ifedi said, smiling.
Carroll said of Ifedi: “This is the best he’s played.”
Sunday is a huge test that will help the Seahawks determine whether they want to re-sign Ifedi at their price after his rookie contracts ends with the 2019 season. They’ve already declined their fifth-year option on him for 2020.
3. This isn’t how year two with Baker Mayfield was supposed to go in Cleveland. The rookie star last season is just a 56-percent passer with four touchdowns and nine turnovers in five games. He’s been sacked 16 times already.
San Francisco pass rusher Nick Bosa said the 6-foot-1 Mayfield couldn’t see over 6-7 Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner in the 49ers’ 31-3 rout of the Browns Monday night.
Seattle will be sending 6-5 ends Jadeveon Clowney and Ziggy Ansah at Mayfield Sunday. This will be another test of Mayfield’s resiliency, and whether his—and the previously trendy Browns’—stars are truly plummeting this season.
4. The Browns are allowing an average of 5.2 yards per carry and 151 yards rushing per game so far this season. That’s 30th in the league in both categories.
That likely means even more of Chris Carson for the Seahawks on Sunday.
Carson rewarded Carroll’s unyielding faith in him last week with 118 yards on 27 carries in Seattle’s one-point win over the Rams. It was Carson’s second consecutive 100-yard game.
If Seattle gets to carry out its game plan Sunday, Carson will get at least 20 opportunities to get another 100-yard game against a Browns defense that allowed Matt Breida 118 yards and Tevin Coleman 97 Monday night in Cleveland’s blowout loss at San Francisco.