End-of-half disaster dooms Browns against Ravens

A Ravenous defense sniffed out Kareem Hunt's would-be option pass eight yards into the Browns' backfield. (Kuntz/Cleveland.com)

The 2019 Cleveland Browns mismanaged the end of the first half and ultimately cost themselves the game.

Sound familiar? The exact same thing happened in Week 6 against the Seattle Seahawks. Turns out head coach Freddie Kitchens didn’t learn his lesson.

With five minutes remaining in the second quarter and a 6-0 lead, the Browns had the ball deep in their own territory. They moved the ball to their own 28, and then on third-and-1, instead of running with Nick Chubb, Kitchens called a trick toss to Kareem Hunt, who also had the option to throw the ball. The result: a near-fumble and an eight-yard loss.

After the atrocious play call, the Browns punted. Starting at their own 37, Baltimore took two plays to score a touchdown and grab a 7-6 lead.

Cleveland got the ball back with 1:18 to go. Instead of trying to run the clock out, the Browns tried to score again. But after three Baker Mayfield incompletions, they punted with 55 seconds to go. Seven plays later, Baltimore was back in the end zone and closed the half up 14-6.

Cleveland pulled to within nine late in the fourth quarter, but aside from that, the second half was all Ravens. Lamar Jackson passed for 238 yards and three touchdowns, and Baltimore ran for 243 yards on the ground.

Meanwhile, Cleveland’s offense just couldn’t get going. Mayfield was held to under 200 yards passing and threw two interceptions. Nick Chubb ran for a season-low 45 yards on 15 carries.

Offense can’t take advantage of good protection

Almost as puzzling as Kitchens’ decisions was Cleveland’s lack of offensive output. Yes, Baltimore has a good defense, much improved since these teams’ earlier match-up. But the Browns protected Mayfield well, giving up just three QB hits and nine total pressures. The line also run blocked decently well, earning the fourth-best run block grade of their season per Pro Football Focus.

Mayfield didn’t play poorly; he just wasn’t very good. His two picks could’ve been double that, as two others were wiped off the board after review.

LG Joel Bitonio was PFF’s highest-graded Brown at 85.9. LT Greg Robinson and C J.C. Tretter also earned grades of 69+. RG Wyatt Teller was excellent when pass blocking, but struggled in the run game. In his return to the starting lineup, RT Chris Hubbard was his usual sub-par self.

Defense destroyed

It’s hard to blame defensive coordinator Steve Wilks at this point. He’s missing his two starting ends, a starting linebacker, and a starting strong safety. Three of the four DEs who saw significant snaps on Sunday weren’t even on the team a few weeks ago.

Nonetheless it’s disappointing how poorly the defense is playing. Even guys like Sheldon Richardson and Joe Schobert, who are supposed to be leaders, graded out at 33.3 and 26.0, respectively.

When you’re playing the Ravens, who have no threats at wide receiver, and your cornerbacks are the defenders who graded above a 60.0, you have problems. It was the Browns’ worst overall defensive performance of the season, at least rivaling the San Francisco disaster earlier in the year.

The one positive to take away from this game: there’s only one more before the season is over.