It’s no secret that the Cleveland Browns Offense, after months of hype and anticipation, has come up flat in the first two games of the 2019 season. In their opening game against the Titans, a record-setting (post-merger) day of penalties put the Browns consistently behind the 8-ball, which, when paired with the ejection of left tackle Greg Robinson and the immediate injury to the Browns only swing tackle Kendall Lamm, led to a game that was immensely frustrating to watch. Beyond that, it made it difficult to glean anything substantive about what the Browns problems were offensively.
In the Browns Week 2 Monday night game against the Jets, the Browns were able to nearly eliminate penalties offensively and thankfully no players were ejected, thus we were able to get a much clearer picture of what the Browns 2019 offense is trying to accomplish, or more to the point, HOW they are trying to attack defenses. The results were not much prettier than Week 1 – The Browns struggled to put up 23 points against a depleted Jets team that never truly threatened the Browns at any point.
The question is, WHY? What happened in between Week 17 last season and Weeks 1-2 of 2019? Where has all of Freddie’s offensive magic, that was the basis for Kitchens being elevated to Head Coach, gone to? Through two weeks the offense has had none of the pizazz that made the second half of 2018 so effective and exciting to watch. The perception is the offense has looked basic, with little of the misdirection, pre-snap motion, and creativity that was their calling card in weeks 9-17 last season. But is that perception or reality?
To test this I reviewed the last two games of 2018, week 16 vs the Bengals and week 17 at the Ravens, along with weeks 1 and 2 this season to compare those elements of the offense. I tracked plays that involved misdirection, play action, and pre-snap motion. I eliminated all special teams and victory formation plays and divided the rest into percentages of plays that involved these elements to see if the perception matched reality.
Here is what I found:
|Weeks 16-17 2018||Each||%||TOTAL ’19||Each||%||Dif|
|Total Plays||119||Total Plays||125|
|Play Action||15||12.6%||Play Action||14||11.2%||-1.4%|
Through two weeks, perception does appear to match reality. Misdirection is nearly gone from the gameplans, pre-snap motion is being used at a significantly reduced rate, and the number of plays where we do not use any of these three elements has increased considerably.
It is true that when Freddie inherited Todd Haley’s offense in 2018, he could not make sweeping changes to the system in place. Despite that, anyone with a pair of eyes could tell you how drastically the implementation of that system was altered, and to great effect. Every aspect of the offense improved. The offense was fluid, unpredictable and efficient. And his changes ultimately earned him a promotion to Head Coach.
There has been discussion after the first two weeks as to why the offense looks nothing like the one that closed out 2018. The arrival of Todd Monken was heralded by media and fans, and expectations were high that Kitchens and Monken would combine their offensive styles to take the offense to a new level in 2019. Instead, it appears the Browns have scrapped much of what made up their offensive identity in the final 8 weeks of 2018 and are attempting to find their way in a system much different than was expected by fans.
Freddie Kitchens being elevated to Head Coach was not met with unanimous cheers. The Browns took a chance on a coach that just 12 months prior was a running backs coach with no major coordinator or head coaching experience. They did this because they bet on the Kitchens that took one of the worst offenses in the NFL and turned them into one of the best offenses in the NFL nearly overnight. Freddie accomplished this with flexibility, creativity, and excellent play calling. There is no question that without that he would not have been considered for Head Coach. It is not overstating matters to say that two weeks into the season, none of those qualities have been on display and adjustments need to be made.
There is merit to preaching patience as this new offense develops within the new scheme and finds it’s stride, and there is reason to hope that the Browns will do just that, but with injuries piling up as the Browns head into the most difficult stretch of their schedule, the pressure on Kitchens, Monken, and Mayfield to right the ship before the team spirals out of control will increase exponentially with every loss. And if the offense does not improve, Jimmy Haslam and John Dorsey will be left wondering what exactly they hired Freddie Kitchens for, if not for the offense that has seemingly been left behind in 2018.