Well, what can I say, except that it’s Cleveland Browns football season and we’re all in misery. All of the preseason expectations, hype, and enthusiasm have gone by the wayside. A team with a top-five roster in the league is in the bottom-five from a win-loss perspective due to a lack of execution, discipline, attention to detail, and coaching. This team has become an infuriating train wreck that is nearly unbearable to watch. I have a feeling the 2019 Browns might be a future case study on how NOT to put your players in the best position to succeed.
With that said, there are a few questions that need answered:
You know, quarterback Baker Mayfield’s favorite target? His security blanket? The guy who, during the 2018 regular season had the highest success rate in the league on deep left passes, the 14th-most yards per target over the past five seasons (429 qualifying wide receivers), and the fifth-best passer rating when targeted from Weeks 9-17 (131.0). The guy who made the following plays during the 2018 season:
Yeah, he’s played a total of 59 snaps this season (31 of which were in the season opener vs. the Tennessee Titans) and has lost playing time to former Prairie View A&M and NFL journeyman wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge, who has three receptions in 15 career games. When asked about the lack of playing time for the wide receiver, head coaching Freddie Kitchens simply responded with:
#Browns HC Freddie Kitchens whether Higgins' situation impacting PT "It is not impacting Rashard's playing time. I'm not responding to that. At this time next week, we need to be 1-0. We need to resilient. I want to see us have resolve. We want to stay in the moment w/ this week"
— Keith Britton (@KeithBritton86) November 4, 2019
The fourth-year wide receiver was a prime breakout candidate in the fused Kitchens/Monken offense that has used “11” personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, and 3 WRs) on 84% of offensive plays, which is the 2nd-highest rate in the league (Sharp Football). Instead, he has taken a backseat to the consistently inconsistent Antonio Callaway, who has generated a 31.7 passer rating when targeted (128th out of 130 qualifying wide receivers). The whole situation is perplexing and one has to wonder if the masses are unaware of an internal situation with the team.
Chubb is not only the best player on the Browns offense, he is one of the best players at the position across the entire NFL. Per Pro Football Focus (“PFF”), he ranks top-five in rushing grade (85.9), rushing yards (803), yards per attempt (5.2), explosive runs (20), and yards after contact (552). Further, he is the best running back on the team in pass protection and can make plays with his hands to boot. In fact, he has caught 25 of 30 targets, with 195 yards after the catch that are the third-most on the team. Exhibit A from Week 12 of the 2018 season vs. the Cincinnati Bengals:
So, riddle me this, Batman, why is Chubb not playing on third downs? He is continuously losing snaps to fellow running back Dontrell Hilliard, who is PFF’s 82nd-ranked running back. Case in point was on third-and-3 and fourth-and-1 plays in the red zone this past Sunday vs. the Denver Broncos. A pivotal set of downs for the Browns and instead of featuring Chubb, he was on the sidelines twiddling thumbs like a nervous millennial thinking about the Social Security Program:
Third-and-3 (Hilliard with the carry over Chubb. Gain of two yards)
Fourth-and-1 (Mayfield with the quarterback keeper over Chubb. No gain)
The Browns ended up getting zero points on the possession when they should have taken a 19-17 lead and control of the contest.
I understand not overexerting a player via excess touches, but successful teams put the ball in the hands of their best players in vital situations. You can’t do that if they are not on the field.
It remains to be seen what effect running back Kareem Hunt will have on the offense when he returns, but we can reasonably expect he will take over Hilliard’s market share. Let’s hope Chubb is still the lead back.
The Browns were absolutely dominant in this field zone from Weeks 9-17 of the 2018 season under Freddie Kitchens, with a 54% success rate (5th-best in the league), 19 touchdowns, and zero turnovers. Mayfield was equally dominant from an individual perspective for the whole season, posting the following statistics and ranks:
2019 has been a completely different story. Per Sharp Football, the offense currently ranks 29th in success rate (37%), wherein the passing offense ranks dead last with a 28% success rate (11 successful plays on 40 total offensive plays). Further, Mayfield has completed just 14 of 39 pass attempts (one sack), with four touchdowns, three interceptions, and a 46.6 passer rating.
Of the multiple issues in the red zone, one of the most prevalent is the target distribution. Per Sharp Football, Jarvis Landry (10), Antonio Callaway (5), Demetrius Harris (4), and Damien Ratley (4) all have at least as many targets as Odell Beckham, Jr. (4). Inexcusable and unfathomable.
The performance in this area has been detrimental to the team’s success to say the least. You want to score more touchdowns? Get the ball into the hands of your playmakers, including targeting Beckham, Jr. and running Chubb. The game of football is complex, but also quite simple at the same time. Don’t overthink it, Mr. Kitchens.
If you would have told me the Browns would be 2-6 through eight games back in August, I would have asked you what brand of paint you were huffing. Now, here we are. This is worst case scenario. This is worse than the futile Hue Jackson years. This is the worst I have felt about this team in my 32 years of fandom. Maybe, just maybe, the team will show some signs of life vs. the 6-2 Buffalo Bills on Sunday at First Energy Stadium.