In Denver, Browns Pound Nails In Kitchens’ Coffin

CB Denzel Ward made this tackle after a Courtland Sutton catch, but the 2-6 Browns' once-lofty playoff hopes are grounded.

The Cleveland Browns were supposed to right the ship against the Denver Broncos. The “easy” second half of Cleveland’s schedule was beginning, with pressure aplenty, most notably for head coach Freddie Kitchens. What should have been a launching point turned out to be a disaster, one that may have all but sealed the fate of the rookie head coach.

Perhaps the two largest issues for the Browns over their first seven games were penalties and turnovers. After turning the ball over on three straight plays and committing 13 penalties against the New England Patriots, Kitchens implemented more discipline in practice this past week, and it actually worked. Cleveland finished with zero turnovers and just five penalties, both season lows.

But the Browns still lost. They struggled to move the ball against a stout Denver defense, and gave up big plays at the worst times to a quarterback seeing his first regular season action. The play-calling was again questionable. The offensive line had an average day in protection and was atrocious in the run game. Baker Mayfield was inaccurate, indecisive, and unable to find players when they were open. The defense was unable to get pressure against a very bad offensive line. The secondary had a poor day in coverage.

And the tackling, oh the tackling. The players don’t wrap up, and when they do try to use their arms, they use only their arms, up high on players with 50+lbs on them. Take the 75-yard touchdown to Noah Fant for example.

This is the kind of stuff that should be cleaned up by now. The lack of effort and fundamentals is just unacceptable at this point. By the way, Whitehead was cut on Monday due to a tirade of threatening social media posts directed at fans and media members critical of his play. He also could have just been cut due to his play.

This offense added one of the most dynamic players in the NFL in Odell Beckham, and is significantly worse than it was last year. Mayfield has regressed. The line can’t run block and is average to below-average in pass blocking. The play-calling is “creative,” as in it’s predictable 98% of the time, and the other 2% it’s trying to outsmart the other team and failing miserably.

Ultimately, all of the issues with this team fall at the feet of the head coach. Kitchens was brilliant as offensive coordinator last season, and developed a fantastic relationship with Mayfield. He was creative, innovative, relatable, and young. You can’t ask for better characteristics in a head coach to lead a young and talented team.

Given that he was still Cleveland’s running backs coach at this point last year, Kitchens was bound to have a steep learning curve. He was going to make plenty of head-scratching mistakes, and some were going to cost his team wins. That much has certainly been true.

But we should be seeing improvement from the team and from Kitchens by now, and we aren’t. He’s still telegraphing his situational decisions, such as keeping Dontrell Hilliard in the backfield over Nick Chubb on third down, telling the defense that a pass is coming. Or, when the Browns just needed a few yards in the red zone to convert on third and fourth down, Chubb, the best RB in the NFL when it comes to running through contact, was on the sideline.

The play calls are not made early in the play clock, so the team is always rushing to the line and nearly getting called for delay of game. This also doesn’t give Mayfield much time to make pre-snap reads. Based on his NFL experience, it’s clear that Mayfield performs better in an up-tempo offense, so of course the Browns never run it.

Cleveland is now 2-6. The Indianapolis Colts are the only AFC playoff team (if the season ended today) with five wins. All the rest have six or seven. The Pittsburgh Steelers are 4-4 despite having Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges at QB. The Browns were getting Super Bowl hype in the preseason. It seems comical now. For all intents and purposes, the season is over.

The focus now shifts to next year. Not the 2020 Draft, but instead who will be coaching this team. It won’t be Kitchens, Todd Monken, or Steve Wilks. At least, it shouldn’t be.

The question is now what the Browns will do right now, for 2019. When they fired Hue Jackson, it was because John Dorsey hadn’t hired him, and Jackson held the worst record (with one team) in NFL history. But most importantly, things weren’t getting any better. So Jackson and Todd Haley were canned, and Gregg Williams assumed head coaching duties, with Kitchens taking over as offensive coordinator.

Things are different now. Dorsey put together this staff, and took a massive risk in hiring Kitchens. It clearly didn’t pay off. What good is getting rid of Kitchens right now? Even if the interim HC goes undefeated the rest of the season, they won’t be retained. Dorsey won’t (or shouldn’t) make that mistake again. But keeping the status quo signals that this level of performance is acceptable, when it obviously isn’t.

This is 100% the most disappointing Browns season since 1999, and no matter what happens the rest of the way, one thing is for certain: Freddie Kitchens is a dead man walking.