Heading into the start of the 2018 National Football League season, there wasn’t that much which was expected from the Cleveland Browns. And rightfully so as in the previous three seasons, the Browns had only managed to win four games. But things began to change in Cleveland last year when quarterback Baker Mayfield was inserted into the starting lineup. In Week Three last year, Mayfield came off of the bench to help the Browns get their first win since 2016, and the fun was only beginning.
In 13 starts last year, Mayfield was 6-7 with 27 touchdown passes to 14 interceptions as he would finish second to New York Giants running back Saquan Barkley in regards to being the National Football League’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. Overall the Browns would finish 2018 with a record of 7-8-1 as on the surface they appeared ready to be the NFL’s new super team.
And that notion only intensified during the off-season which saw the Browns being active on the trade front as they acquired the likes of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. from the Giants. But with nearly two months of this National Football League season in the books, Cleveland has been hit with a harsh dose of reality.
After seven games, the Browns find themselves with a record of 2-5 with three of those losses coming in primetime as so much was expected from this team coming into this season. And after some people expected Cleveland to give the New England Patriots a run for their money in the AFC, this team’s playoff hopes are on life support. However we should not be surprised at Cleveland’s current record as this team was doomed to fail long before the season began.
Following the Browns 2-5-1 start last year, Hue Jackson was fired as their head coach as he was replaced by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams who was now Cleveland’s interim head coach. Along with Jackson, Todd Haley was also fired as the Browns offensive coordinator, while quarterbacks coach Freddie Kitchens would take over the play calling on offense.
But after the Browns strong finish to 2018 which saw them win four out of their last six games, team owner Jimmy Haslam and general manager John Dorsey made the decision to promote Kitchens and not Williams to the post of being Cleveland’s head coach. This decision was made in spite of the fact that Kitchens didn’t have any previous experience as a head coach as he was deemed to be someone who got along with the young Mayfield. But in doing so Haslam and Dorsey failed to question whether or not that Kitchens could be a leader of men.
Under Kitchens, the Browns have become one of the National Football League’s most undisciplined teams as they already have 70 accepted penalties against them which is the most in the league, while he has been unable to hold his young team accountable.
This Browns roster is comprised of many talented individuals which includes Mayfield, Beckham, wide receiver Jarvis Landry, and running back Nick Chubb, but this is a team that lacks cohesion, while they are also learning that expectations in the National Football League come with a price.
In winning seven games last year for the Browns, it was easy being that nothing was expected from them. But things are different here in 2019 as the Browns were expected to compete. And that notion only intensified due to the brashness of Mayfield.
In Mayfield’s last year collegiately with the Oklahoma Sooners, he won the Heisman Trophy as the nation’s top football player. And aside from Mayfield’s play on the gridiron, it was his cockiness that appealed to some people.
Upon Jackson’s firing from the Browns last year, Mayfield didn’t yield on his criticism of his now former coach, and he even refused to shake Jackson’s hand on the field later in the season when Jackson was an assistant with the Cincinnati Bengals. Mayfield also has not shied away from giving his opinion on how other teams in the National Football League operate as during his interview with GQ Magazine over the summer, he questioned the Giants selection of quarterback Daniel Jones sixth overall in this past spring’s draft which is something that is unheard of for a starting quarterback in the league. And Mayfield’s outspokeness along with his visibility on television with numerous endorsement deals as well as his consistent clashing with reporters has put a huge target on his back for opponents.
Through seven games this year, Mayfield has already been sacked 21 times, while he has been picked off 12 times. Opposing defenses now have a year’s worth of game film on Mayfield as they are better anticipating his tendencies which includes keeping him in the pocket more, and disguising coverages which has led to confusion and happy feet on his part which is never a good combination for any signal caller in the National Football League to have.
Mayfield needs to take a page from the quarterback that he just lost to this past Sunday as Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has been at it now in the National Football League for 20 years, and he has done it by being a student of the game, while also not giving his opponent’s bulletin board material as this is something that Mayfield is learning the hard way as he is eating a huge slice of humble pie here in 2019.
And as the 2019 National Football League season appears to be a wash for the Browns, it is time for the Browns to go back to the drawing board in order to reassess things.
Going forward there is no reason that Kitchens should be the Browns head coach in 2020. Kitchens was handed a job that he was not qualified for which includes him being a player’s coach for a team that needs someone who is going to rule with more of an iron fist. The experiment of having both Beckham and Landry at wide receiver isn’t working either for the Browns. Yes Beckham and Landry were a dynamic tandem collegiately for the LSU Tigers, but there is a reason why the Miami Dolphins and Giants respectively were ready to move on from them as they are two players that are more worried about their individual stats as opposed to winning. And if the Browns are serious about winning with Mayfield under center, then they need players around him at the skill positions that will play off of him as opposed to being in his ear consistently about getting the ball thrown to them.
Dorsey must also fix the offensive line as it doesn’t make sense to have Pro Bowl caliber players at the skill positions, but not having anyone up front to open holes for the running back, or protect the quarterback. And most importantly, Cleveland needs to find players that hate to lose more than they enjoying to win.
One of the toughest things to do in the National Football League is to learn how to win, and to also deal with the expectations of winning which the Browns still have not figured out. These Browns spent all of the off-season listening to people telling them how good that they were going to be. And when Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was lost early on this season to an elbow injury, those expectations only increased as they were expected to win the AFC North.
But instead what we have right now is another case of the same old Browns as they’ve been mired by questionable play calling from Kitchens, a quarterback who cannot keep his mouth shut, and a team that has been the National Football League’s biggest disappointment in 2019 as the hope in Cleveland has quickly faded.