The Cleveland Browns are now 5-7 after their 20-13 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. The loss all but derails any hope of the Browns making the playoffs this season due to the big hole they have dug for themselves with this loss. The defeat at the feet of a Duck Hodges led Steelers really burns. With the season on the downswing, the conversation now turns to Browns Head Coach Freddie Kitchens.
What should be the fate of Kitchens after the season? There are so many facets to this question that it ends up being an extremely difficult one to answer, but one that needs to be answered by Browns General Manager John Dorsey.
Let’s start with the points that lead the discussion of letting go of the first-year coach. I think the No. 1 point against Kitchens is the team’s lack of discipline and attention to detail. This lack of discipline is shown in a variety of ways. On the field, the team has been called for 128 total flags, which is tied for first in the NFL, according to nflpenalties.com. These penalties include offsetting and declined penalties. The Browns continually hurt themselves with penalties. Along with the penalties, Cleveland shows its lack of attention to detail and discipline through its play on the field. We have seen numerous instances where players are not on the same page. This includes receivers running the wrong route as pointed out by many smart minds. We saw on the final pass of the game where the receiver and quarterback were on a different page than each other. The lack of attention to be on the same page is an on-going problem that should have been shored up by now. The team just kills itself with self-inflicted wounds on an abhorrent level.
Off the field, the lack of discipline and attention to detail can be seen as clear as day. We saw players worried about their shoes and getting fined for not following the NFL rules of dress code. We saw a player supposedly missing practice and getting suspended for the biggest game of the season. We saw players mysteriously benched or put in the doghouse when others who have continually shown a lack of discipline or good play be allowed to ride along unscathed. There are so many things that have sprouted up this season that show a lack of strong discipline throughout the team and attention to what matters.
Another point against Kitchens is the clear fact that this team has underperformed based on the talent on the team. We have seen this Browns team lose to teams led by quarterbacks Duck Hodges and Brandon Allen. Cleveland had a lot of expectations and potential based on the talent accumulated, but the team has not come close to reaching those expectations and potential.
A final point against Kitchens is his in-game coaching decisions and play calling. Kitchens has not been a consistent and good play-caller for much of the season. He has not been able to utilize his players in the best ways possible. The offensive play-calling has been up and down all year. His game management and decision making are not great either. He has trouble with clock management and deciding when to push the right buttons at the right time.
But, there are several points that can cause the decision-makers to pause on the firing of Kitchens. The biggest point for his return is the personnel hampers that he has faced this season. Dorsey is not free from fault. Dorsey’s handling of the offensive line has really impaired the offense and, in particular, quarterback Baker Mayfield. The lack of talent on the offensive line impairs what the Browns can do in terms of play-calling and execution. Dorsey had two years to address the offensive line and he has actually made it worse. There are a few decisions on the personnel side that have not made Kitchens’ job easier.
Another point for Kitchens is the fact that he and his team are still young and developing. Kitchens is a first-year head coach with a half year of offensive coordinator experience. Coming into the 2019 season, the Browns were the third-youngest team in the NFL. It is tough relying on young players to lead this team with a young coach at the helm, too. The expectations may have been too high given how young this team and coach is. Development is still ongoing for the players and coaches.
And, the last point for Kitchens is the fact that the Browns need to continuity. Changing the head coach after one year will upheave the entire team again. The young players will have to learn new things for a second straight season. The coaches who would want this job will likely be less this time around given the fact they are moving on from a coach after one year. Change is not always the best move.
So, what should happen? I am still on the fence. I was leaning toward making a change, but the points for keeping Kitchens have really kept me from diving all the way in. Dorsey cannot be left unblamed. He has made some bad decisions that have left this team with some big important holes, especially on the offensive line. It would be tough to put this all on Kitchens. I think these last four weeks are Kitchens’ final chance to show he can be the man going forward. Can he show the necessary improvement to give the decision-makers hope that he just needs time to get it together? In the end, it may be an uphill battle for Kitchens.