As a long-suffering Browns fan this has been one of the most painful seasons to endure, but I’m still more hopeful for our team than I’ve been in a long time. We just need to accept some uncomfortable realities, and make some simple but critical improvements.
First and foremost, Baker Mayfield has convinced me that he legitimately cares about our organization and the fans who have hung on and supported them for so long. So I started out, and remain, a big fan of his — and I hope and pray he’s with us for a long time, doing a lot of great things.
But I think Dorsey may have given Mayfield too much power, and ultimately let him pick the head coach. And I think Mayfield is a lot of great things but as a rookie quarterback in the league, “savvy General Manager who’s prepared to make tough personnel choices to help our team win” isn’t one of them.
I think Mayfield liked Kitchens because Freddie appealed to his ego, and is probably a pretty nice guy, and seemed like someone who Mayfield could get along, win, and grow with.
But it’s painfully obvious at this point that Kitchens is a disaster. As if the insanely stupid decision-making and play calling weren’t bad enough, his stupid-in-every-way use of challenges were just icing on the cake.
The Browns had a real shot at beating the undefeated Patriots in New England. Going into halftime down only 7 and having shown that we can manufacture great drives that result in touchdowns, was enormous. But the game was just thrown away by a series of blunders that all permeated from that head coaching spot.
KITCHENS’ GREATEST FAILURE AS HEAD COACH
Mayfield is an incredible quarterback, and we have incredible receivers, and together they can do some incredible things and create some huge plays. But this entire season, anytime Mayfield is forced to sit in the pocket for any significant amount of time, terrible things happen. It’s not a line problem. It’s not like he’s getting pummeled every down. It’s a rookie quarterback problem, made worse by a head coach who’s too inexperienced or more likely scared to fix the problem.
Here’s the solution that Kitchens should’ve been focused on for the last 5-6 weeks: In terms of the passing game, the entire offense needs to be completely committed to making sure Mayfield can get the ball out in under 3 seconds. We need to fire off a constant barrage of short, fast passes and focus solely on moving the chains instead of big play touchdowns or fancy garbage.
We need to focus like a laser solely on moving the chains. Because, newsflash: If you do that enough then eventually the next first down marker is the goal line, and when you cross that you get 6 points.
Bottom line: We need to focus less on showing off our weapons, and more on putting them to good use.
WHAT TO DO NEXT
Kitchens is a disaster and this long overdue adjustment is clearly nowhere near his radar. And that’s because he should’ve never been the head coach to start with. And that’s because they should’ve never let a rookie quarterback — no matter how talented or how thoughtfully and seriously committed to the team for all the right reasons — have so much influence on who they selected to be the head coach.
This team should be focused exclusively on moving the chains. And every time Mayfield passes, the entire offense needs to know that their job is to make sure he gets the ball out in under 3 seconds. Short, lighting fast, 4-6 yard routes. Get excellent at those. Use Chubb liberally in between. Become experts at moving the chains based on high value production and work ethic, instead of glitzy showcasing. That’s what this team needs.
And don’t go hire some scrub who the league and announcers and ESPN all pretend is a great head coach because he’s been around for so long and hasn’t upset anyone. If we can’t get Bill Cowher out of retirement (someone I’ve long thought, well before Mayfield even came along, could help us build a 10+ year dynasty), then we need to look at someone new. We need a killer in that position. Not some idiot who’s gonna threaten our great talent. Not some has-been who’s had 20 different HC jobs and the league and announcers love but whose track record is ultimately lackluster. We need someone strong and sure who can look at this team, see the talent, and be starving to get them away from the glitzy stuff — and onward to the extremely quick passing plays intermixed with liberal use of Chubb.
And even if they fire Kitchens and find that person tomorrow…I’m sorry…but it might be too late already this season, even though we have the actual talent already on the field. This is a tough league of professionals, and I just don’t think there’s a real chance that our team develops enough to win in January against teams who have been firing on all cylinders for the last 8 weeks. So even if we get to the playoffs, I don’t see how we ever get through them given the damage Kitchens has done from a production-philosophy standpoint.
What we need this season is a smarter, more independent, less fearful coach who can introduce himself to the team by showing them a smarter philosophy about how to use their weapons more patiently and effectively. And despite being excited about our talent for once, I’m not optimistic that the organizational leadership knows about this problem and is prepared to solve it.
I guess we’ll all find out soon enough.
Final note: I know Mayfield loves Kitchens. And do you know why Baker loves Freddie? I’m guessing it’s because Mayfield is clearly as loyal as he is tough and talented. Kitchens put his stock in Mayfield back when Jackson had him playing 2nd string. And Mayfield wants Kitchens to know he’ll never forget him for that, or stop believing in him either. And that’s tremendous. But that’s also why the players — especially young guys like Mayfield — shouldn’t get that kind of influence on who the coaches will be. You don’t reward someone for their loyalty, or with your own, by giving them a job they’re no good at.
So it’s time to move on, and here’s to hoping we have our eye on the right adjustments as it all plays out.