The Browns made it to December! That would typically be cause for celebration in Berea, where the expectations are usually as muted as any place in the NFL. Not this season. The Browns are young, but when you enter a season trading for Odell Beckham Jr., Olivier Vernon, and risking your reputation by signing a supremely talented Kareem Hunt, you don’t get to call it a developmental year. It probably should have been with the decision to hire Freddie Kitchens — a first-time head coach with zero experience in the gig. That’s the season that John Dorsey has delivered out of both sides of his mouth. And after losing to a third-string quarterback once again, that’s the season. Period.
So let’s talk about some things, in no particular order.
I wouldn’t have worn the shirt in Freddie Kitchens’ shoes, because I wouldn’t have wanted to talk about it. That said, any talk about the shirt is a distraction to real conversation about football. That shirt had nothing to do with the Browns losing. It had nothing to do with Duck Hodges beating the Browns’ depleted defense. It had nothing to do with Baker Mayfield and the offense being unable to follow up their fast start to the game. The guy in the shirt mattered a lot, but the shirt itself did not.
Freddie Kitchens might get another season, but it’s hard to argue that he’s earned it. Kitchens can only be blamed so much because it’s not like he hired himself and allowed himself to call plays without much experience either as a head coach or a play-caller. That hirer’s guilt — and Haslam fear of firing another coach very quickly — might spell another season for Kitchens. It’s a horrible situation, regardless.
The Browns could keep Kitchens and he might turn it around. That would be great, but seems highly unlikely. Kitchens’ issues aren’t just waiting around for the guys to get his scheme and implement it more consistently on a weekly basis. Kitchens’ decision-making is suspect in-game all the time.
The Browns could fire Kitchens, which means the Browns will enter Baker Mayfield’s third season implementing another new scheme for the young quarterback. Between that and a horrible offensive line this year, the Browns are at serious risk of wasting the rookie tenure of the most promising QB prospect since Tim Couch. John Dorsey and the Haslams have their work cut out for them as they figure this situation out and try to set up the future in Berea.
Ever since I’ve talked about the Browns, it feels like Mike Tomlin goes underappreciated. He’s far from perfect, but he does achieve when his team is up against it. Third string rookie quarterback, second and third-string running backs, missing his top receiver, and yet, they perservered when they could have justified punting on a game, if not a season. Tomlin will never be Bill Belichick and that has some Steelers faithful consistently wishing the team would fire him and look for something better. The Browns wish they had a coach of Tomlin’s character and quality. He’s flawed in many ways, but not as a leader of men. He’s the kind of coach you can exchange coordinators around to make meaningful change without losing all sense of continuity.
Not really, but symbolically, this hurt my soul once again. I get accused of being blind on this issue, and I will just go ahead and admit it. This is my blindspot.
Sashi Brown didn’t have much of anything to do with the Browns losing to the Steelers on Sunday, but Joe Haden ending the game with an interception was insult to injury. The cutting of Joe Haden will always be one of the most egregious moves in one of the most egregious tenures in Cleveland Browns history by a guy who was never qualified for his position. And yet, because he delivered draft picks by trying to lose, he is lauded by some Browns fans. The Browns would never be where they are without Sashi Brown. I’m being extreme on purpose with this comparison, but they also couldn’t be where they are without Art Modell, right? I don’t find any defense of Sashi Brown to be compelling.
On this issue, I’m bitter. I’m scarred. I’ll never let it go.
Firing Freddie Kitchens might be the right move, but not unless you have something better lined up. It’s horrifying to think the best coach the Browns have employed in the last 20 years is Kyle Shanahan and they let him get away due to dysfunction. How good would this team be with Shanahan and his zone-blocking running scheme with both Chubb and Hunt running behind an undersized line? How amazing would Baker Mayfield look running play-action in that scheme finding Beckham and Landry across the middle and over the top?
That’s what the Browns should be chasing behind the scenes even as they continue to employ Freddie Kitchens. Obviously they can’t have Kyle Shanahan, but they might be able to get Kevin Stefanski from Minnesota. They might be able to get Josh McDaniels who recently spurned the Colts. Hell, maybe they can get the next Frank Reich or maybe it makes sense to get Mike McCarthy. All that’s above my pay grade. What I do know is that if the Browns aren’t working back channels to see what the options might be, they aren’t doing their jobs in the face of uncertainty regarding their hand-picked choice in Freddie Kitchens.