If you thought we were leaving Odell Beckham Jr. target-related drama in 2019, you were mistaken.
The Browns didn't target Beckham until early in the second quarter of Sunday's loss to the Ravens, forcing a screen to the star receiver to get him going. He instead gained a yard, which was wiped out by a facemask penalty he incurred on the same play.
He finished with three receptions on 10 targets for 22 yards, the latest example of him and quarterback Baker Mayfield still struggling to get in sync. Beckham said Tuesday he enjoys receiving early targets, but knows it's a matter of executing amid the many other circumstances surrounding him and his teammates on a per-play basis, and not something that should be forced.
"Absolutely. It's like a shooter putting up a couple 3s early and you hit one, two of them, like, God knows you might drop 60, you know what I mean?" Beckham said of early receptions. "I would love to get involved early, but it just didn't go that way Sunday. And like I said, you've got to give your hats off to the other team sometimes. They just came out and they just played better than us."
Beckham's most notable target was a drop that swung the game both emotionally and mathematically. Trailing 17-6 late in the first half, Mayfield found running back Kareem Hunt for an eight-yard gain on second-and-10, putting the Browns' chances of victory at 25 percent, per Next Gen Stats' win probability metric.
On the next play, Beckham dropped a pass from Mayfield that would have earned the Browns a fresh set of downs within scoring range, potentially giving Cleveland a chance to cut the deficit to a single possession. Instead, the drop resulted in a field goal attempt from Austin Seibert that never had a chance.
Seibert lost his job Monday before landing with the division-rival Bengals on Tuesday. Cleveland's win probability fell to 15 percent after the miss.
"Yeah, we didn't connect a few times out there," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said Monday. "We have to get to the bottom of it, obviously. Pass game requires precision from 11 guys in order for it to go."
On Tuesday, Mayfield attributed Beckham's early lack of targets to taking what the defense was giving him, while also pointing to one-on-one matchups to explain why there was seemingly a sudden flurry of targets for Beckham later in the game.
Beckham was also missing from action for part of a series later in the first half, which the CBS broadcast reported was due to Beckham leaving to get an IV. Things clearly weren't in sync, which shouldn't be a surprise for a team playing its first game under a new staff in a season in which there were no preseason games.
"I've never played quarterback, so it's very hard to put yourself in someone else's shoes," Beckham said when asked why he and Mayfield have struggled to get on the same page. "As a receiver, you're like 'man, I'm open!' or this or that, and that's just not feasible for me to think about what he may be going through back there or if there's pressure or if there's things going on.
"I know there's a lot on his plate. I know that none of us played the way that we would have wanted to play on Sunday. You kind of just have to give your hats off to the Ravens. They came out there, they were the better team, they beat the [expletive] out of us and we keep it pushing."
Mayfield admitted Tuesday he had to rid himself of some early game nervousness Sunday that he'd typically shake off in the preseason. This is still a work in progress.
"Early on, just settle down," Mayfield explained when asked what he needs to improve. "I think there was a couple throws, just stressing to get it out of my hands, but as the game went on I felt that I did (settle down). My eyes were in the right place. Got the ball to where the reads were telling me to go. I think a little bit of the first game jitters without the preseason might have caused that, but at the same time, definitely need to be more settled in.
"You look back at it, there's a couple crucial plays that let that game get out of hand. A great team like that, like I said on Sunday, is going to take advantage of it."
Some might wonder whether Beckham can help himself by appealing to Stefanski's staff for new ways to get the ball. The Browns tried that plenty under Freddie Kitchens, moving Beckham around and even occasionally inserting him as a punt returner out of desperation.
One game into the season, it's not time to slam the panic button. Approaching coaches might send the wrong message publicly about a player who couldn't avoid the spotlight even if he locked himself in a bunker.
"It's a tough position to be in with the way that I feel like I've been misrepresented to the world," Beckham said. "It makes it hard to just seem as if 'Oh, I just want the ball' and all these things when really, I just want to help. I just want to be able to help this team in any way that I can.
"You kind of get the sense of just playing your role and you have to trust that the coaches are going to put you in the right position and we're gonna be able to go from there. I'm not very vocal about that thing and that could be my fault and something I need to learn from. Like I said, it's the first game."
We'll see if they can take a step forward on a short turnaround Thursday against the Bengals on NFL Network.