Instead of getting Stairway to Heaven we have Communication Breakdown. That’s what I was thinking as I listened to Philadelphia’s classic rock station playing over the airport loudspeaker as Sunday’s game winded to a close. My restaurant order was a basket of fries with queso because it’s delicious and bad food doesn’t count during NFL games. My drink of choice was a bloody Mary because its name reminds me of Carrie’s climax where what was supposed to be a wonderful run for the titular character turns into a nightmare and half the town goes up in flames.
That’s not exactly accurate. I’m not great with flying so I always indulge before boarding the plane, but the ending of that movie is a fairly good representation of the Browns season thus far. Going back to our prediction roundtable before the opening game, all of us had high hopes, as did most fans. Now that reality has dropped a bucket on our heads, it’s time to reevaluate and admit when we were wrong. I personally predicted a 10-win campaign, something that is still technically possible. But I find it highly unlikely that they’ll reach that mark, having to go 8-2 down the stretch.
Just like botching a season opener, crawling into the bye week seems to be a Cleveland tradition, and I’m sick of it. You’re sick of it, she’s sick of it, he’s sick of it too. After twenty years of the downs vastly outnumbering the ups, we’re all ready for a turnaround, and that’s what this season was supposed to be about right? Right?
A week off can allow a team time to refocus and adjust to what they’ve been doing wrong. I think it’s equally important for fans to do the same thing. *Hides behind the couch* This may not be our year, folks. That’s not meant to be a eulogy for the remainder of the season. With their talent, Cleveland could come out of the bye week looking like a completely different team, however unlikely that may be. But I think it’s healthy for us to manage our expectations.
Which aspect of the game am I eluding to specifically? Is it dropped passes, the fumbles, Baker’s inaccuracy? What about the lack of discipline or poor offensive line play? Or maybe (lord help us) crippling calls by the officials? As I mentioned in last week’s article, it’s not one thing, but everything. That being said, it’s time for us to let this coaching staff set their roots.
Offensive play-calling has been suspect and at times downright bad in just about every game this year. Personnel decisions such as Antonio Callaway’s role coming off suspension and the continued disuse, misuse, and just plain non-use of Rashard Higgins leave us scratching between whatever hairs we have left after pulling them out. I’m not here to argue one thing or another about what Freddie Kitchens has done in his first six games, but I think it is worth a reminder that he’s a rookie head coach, one that 350 days ago was in charge of the Cleveland running back room…and that’s it.
Kitchens’ meteoric rise has been just that. Even in his role as interim offensive coordinator, he was borrowing a system brought in by the recently fired Todd Haley and did not need to build one of his own. Pair this with his in-game duties and you have one very tall order for someone who’s still operating in the first half of the season. We knew this but it was hard not to be blinded by the accumulation of talent over the past three years. In the end, though, there is a reason why coaches play such a crucial role in the game, and winning requires not just solid decision making but the experience it takes to learn how to come up with the right conclusions.
With that being said, there is no guarantee that Freddie will learn from his mistakes or correct any of the issues that the team has shown in previous weeks. He may very well fall flat on his face and sink back into the league’s coaching carousel. Unfortunately, mistakes have been present and it will be up to him to learn from them. Failing to use Nick Chubb at the correct moments, passing far too often in the red zone, and timeout management are all things that can be mended. It will take time for him to get comfortable and return to the confident quarterback whisperer we saw in the final eight games of last season.
First-year coaches are a combined 11-23-1 this year. If you include Adam Gase in the mix who had a stint in Miami before taking the job in New York this offseason, you’d be looking at 12-27-1. It takes time to build a winning program. Continuing with this game, if you eliminate Matt LeFleur’s abnormally successful first year (which has come with a little help from Aaron Rodgers) from the original statistic above, the number would sit at 6-22-1. And while we’re at it, let’s beat a dead horse and talk about rookie coaches in the past.
Belichick recorded a 6-10 record in his first year. Parcells, a 3-12. Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson led the Cowboys to a 0-11-1 and 1-15 record respectively. All of the above have won multiple Super Bowls. Granted, in a way, this is a dumb comparison because every situation is different. There are a few examples going the opposite way as well. But the trend is the same from high school up to the pros. Rookie head coaches struggle, and no, the Browns did not hire a messiah, they hired Freddie Kitchens.
Last week I talked about my disappointment in the Browns week to week improvement, so in a way, I’m contradicting myself. But if there ever was a chance to take a step towards righting the ship, it’s the bye week.