In college football, when a team is off the rails, they call it “lack of institutional control.” After yesterday’s Browns game, that’s the phrase that I couldn’t get out of my brain. The day that started with Fu Manchus and illegal shoes ended with a loss to the most inexperienced quarterback in the league, only to be outdone by social media death threats from a player to a team employee. This isn’t a cohesive narrative, but here’s how I’m thinking about the Browns right now.
Freddie Kitchens is not leading this team. The amount of extra-curricular garbage happening on and off the field is an embarrassment. On top of it, he continually fails to put his best players in the best spots — and sometimes not even on the field in Nick Chubb’s case. Against the Broncos’ Brandon Allen, it was instructive how they simplified the plan. The Cleveland Browns have superior talent in many spots on the field, and yet, they won’t just vanilla up the offense and allow their best players to beat the opposition. I’d love to see Kitchens cut out some of the exotic player movement and just allow Baker Mayfield to figure out who has single coverage.
What happened to play-action and throws over the top of the defense? Baker Mayfield threw one ball 20 yards against Denver and nothing beyond 20. He completed zero passes that went 15 yards in the air and just one that was over 10 yards in the air and one that was just about 10. We saw Baker’s preference on the final pass of the day as he decided to fire the ball into the middle of two defenders rather than giving Beckham a chance in single coverage over the top. Why is this? Is this a reaction to the early turnovers this season? It doesn’t make much sense and it’s not keeping defenses honest.
I won’t give the Browns kudos for waiving Jermaine Whitehead because the player left them no choice. Of all the things the Browns didn’t need yesterday, having a player lose his mind in the post-game locker room and threaten people was one of those things. It’s interesting to me for a couple of reasons. I was talking to my dad about the game and the newly minted 72-year-old had no idea that this even occurred. Simultaneously, there were people on Twitter that seemed to think the Browns waited too long to make this move.
Our friend Nomina pointed out (also on Twitter,) that “Social media has made our expectations for how fast things can move fairly unrealistic. This was pretty fast.” I don’t know that some people understand the practicalities of making a life-changing decision on behalf of someone else. Were the Browns really going to take a player who was out of his mind with anger, and decide to cut him and inform him of that decision before he gets on a cross-country flight back to Cleveland from Denver? Really? I think not.
The old adage from The A to Z Podcast is that the Browns spend to much time majoring in the minor. I’m not sure anything could be truer in the week where the Browns spent extra time lobbying the league to allow them to wear the uniforms they want and their receivers have to change their illegal shoes at halftime. I’ve seen some defend this as not a big deal, and just indicative of the world we live in today, but I’m not buying it. I don’t think Mike Tomlin is a great coach, but he’s a hard ass and a leader. His team has been given a tough hand over the past few years with difficult players and situations. Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger before and after injury, and his team continues to focus on football.
The Browns are focused on the wrong things. Period. I don’t know how much of that is on Dorsey and the front office, but someone needs to be an adult and tell people “No.” Whoever was focused on the color rush uniform? Shut up and get our regular road uniforms ready. You want to wear literal clown shoes, Odell? No. Let’s just focus on winning a football game. All parents know that saying “no” is really important. All business people know that having someone around you who’s willing to call you out is important. The Browns apparenty don’t have a disciplinarian in the building right now who can tell everyone to stop focusing on anything but what really matters.
The Browns haven’t been able to maximize their talent so far this year, and now they’re going to be adding Kareem Hunt to the mix. The fact that one of Freddie’s failings in Denver seemed to be personnel groupings on key downs where Hilliard was in over Chubb, I guess it can’t get worse assuming Hunt pushes Hilliard out? The fact that I have to put this as a question mark is the most troubling thing of all about Freddie in 2019.
That’s where I’ll finish. I don’t know if the Browns need to fire Freddie Kitchens. I’m “Team Continuity” when it comes to these things generically. That said, I know the Browns can’t chase continuity if they don’t have a guy that they can believe in long-term. Continuity is a beautiful thing until you determine that time is not the missing ingredient that can lead to success. If the Browns think Freddie Kitchens won’t ever get there, they can’t wait. The fact that it’s credible to have this conversation at the midway point of the 2019 season is troubling. That said, the team is playing worse as the season moves along. They’re not maximizing talent on the roster.
Those are the facts of the matter as I see them. What John Dorsey and the Haslams do with it all from here is anyone’s guess.