As we already know, this is not how it was meant to go down. This was meant to be a coronation, a time of celebration paid for by the decades of agony the fan base underwent, a season of love if you’re a Rent fan. But alas, this is not how it was meant to go down and down it went. A partially lost season has been laid at our feet. Week 11 starts tonight with a matchup between rivals that hardly feel like rivals: a down-but-not-quite-out-yet Browns team coming off a come-from-behind victory and first home win versus a Steelers team many thought was destined to become mock draft darlings after quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s elbow injury but now are currently in the playoffs if the season ended today.
It seems odd to be negative after a win. It’s not in my nature to be pessimistic, honestly, but I feel like some reflection is due, and looking back on the game as you do before the next one comes, I had a simple thought: the Browns won despite the job done by head coach Freddie Kitchens. Some were quick to say “it’s all better now!” as Rashard Higgins caught the game-winning touchdown near the back of the endzone; but not I. I saw a game that was basically stolen, a game that felt as though neither team *wanted* to win. Oh, sure, the Browns had a great final drive, but throughout the entirety of the matchup, the gameplan was littered with mistakes and issues that came from above, mistakes that weren’t mental errors on the part of the roster but rather those pulling the strings.
What do I mean? Oh, maybe the eight shots from the one-yard line that didn’t find the goal line? Calling not one, but two fade routes to a receiver gifted with everything except height? 1 Not putting in the big boys sooner and gut-punching it into the Promised Land? Underutilizing a mobile-ish quarterback2 and maybe calling a rollout with any receiver, tight end, wideout, running back, anybody, running a drag route across the face of the goal line? How about just giving in and finally calling for the field goal unit, headlined by a kicker that famously hasn’t missed a three-point attempt all season, and getting ANY points out of a situation that almost certainly called for some. Kitchens calling for a field goal would have made it a two-score game, something that hasn’t happened in a great many games this year.
If that chain of events didn’t make you want to hurtle your head through the drywall, the fact that we almost sat through the same situation in the second quarter, and as fans, we were saved by a false start penalty on Chris Hubbard, a penalty which, I guess, took us out of fourth-and-goal-to-go territory and brought in the kicker. If you think it was maybe going to be different this go around, consider this: that field goal ended up being the winning margin of the game. If they continue to go for it, now from the eight-yard line, and miss…what changes in the game? A lot, more than likely.
When it wasn’t playcalling snafus, it was personnel groupings and roster management that caused much of the headache for fans. Why was Kareem Hunt not used as a fullback/lead blocker for Nick Chubb in the goal-line situations? This stat will get used multiple times by this site today, but I’ll start it off here:
— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) November 12, 2019
87 yards on seven attempts equals out to be a 12.4 yards per carry average. I guess when you only need to get three yards, why use a 12-yard play?3 The decision to inactivate wide receiver Antonio Callaway for being late to the game was probably a smart one, though many would argue Callaway’s strike count for personal conduct issues is nearing the two-and-15-16th’s territory parents use when they want to appear tough without actually inflicting any punishment. Callaway being inactive was met with fits of joy for most fans, as we all expected last year’s darling and supposed Mayfield-favorite Higgins to get a bulk of playing time…however, we were gifted only the one target, the game-winning catch.
Truth be told, I can live with some of these if the byproduct is winning. However, a favorite saying of mine is “good results from a bad process does not make it a good process.”4 And while the result this week was a win, the whole of the season have shown that we are far from seeing a good process here. I don’t know if I want Freddie fired, either now or after the season. I think he can grow in the position, he has been as evidenced by the fact that since the bye week, the team has only three turnovers in three games, and while the New England game featured 13 penalties, the last two have had nine total combined. As this season goes along, the team needs to win out to remain “in the hunt” for the playoffs, and winning despite your coach should never be the plan.