J.D. Bagley, @jdbagley5
Even with the circumstances of being on the road against an undefeated opponent, this is not the type of performance Cleveland fans were hoping to see out of their Brownies this week. Once again, it was self-inflicted wounds that dug the Browns a 17-0 hole, not feasible to recover from. Turnovers, penalties, and coaching decisions have been the biggest inefficiencies week in and week out, and it’s getting extremely tiresome continuing to hear Freddie Kitchens and Baker Mayfield address the media with the same spiel after every game. Things need to change and they need to change fast with the Browns sitting at 2-5, 3 games out of the division and 2.5 out of the wild card. I’m not saying the Browns should fire Freddie Kitchens… yet. More on that later.
This game could not have started off any worse for Cleveland. The rain is coming down sideways, the wind is swirling like crazy, you’re up against the best secondary in the league, and you.. you throw the ball 4 straight plays to start the game? I understand the Patriots were selling out to stop the run, playing tons of Cover 0 and Cover 1. But the offensive play calling just simply has to be better. It wasn’t until their 2nd drive of the game in which the Browns decided to run the ball. Kyle Van Noy made a great play to set the edge and blow up the pulling guard Joel Bitonio, sending his feet in the air where one of them connected with the football in Chubb’s right arm, freeing the ball and sending D’onta Hightower the other way for 6. On the ensuing offensive snap, Chubb takes a toss to the right before cutting back left, causing multiple defenders to miss on his way for 44 yards when Jonathan Jones came from behind and punched the ball out with a closed fist, in which New England recovered. Chubb is usually a very sure-handed runner totaling just 1 fumble on 306 carries in his NFL career before yesterday. After turnovers on consecutive carries, Chubb didn’t let the mistakes affect him as he bounced back to finish the day with 20 carries for 131 yards. This team needs more players like Nick Chubb. He owned up to his mistakes, didn’t get down on himself about it, went back out there and played hard for his teammates the rest of the way. That’s a leader if I’ve ever seen one. With all the media-savvy personalities we have on this team that care a lot about themselves, Nick Chubb is the one guy that I hope plays his entire career in Cleveland. He has set great examples on and off the field and will continue to do so in the future for younger players coming into the NFL. Back to the miscues. After his 2nd fumble, the Browns came back on offense down 10-0 where Baker Mayfield tried to find Jarvis Landry on a shovel pass that was intercepted by defensive lineman Lawerence Guy. Left tackle Justin McCray was pulling to his right on the play in which Joel Bitonio was supposed to cut off Guy on the edge but never got there in time. It was a rough start to the game for the Browns best offensive lineman. Following the 3rd turnover, Cleveland went down 17-0 in the 1st quarter, a near impossible hole to come out of especially against a team like the Patriots. Before long, Mayfield found Demetrius Harris for a 21-yard score about halfway through the 2nd quarter for Cleveland’s only touchdown of the game. Baker, who has yet to throw multiple touchdown passes in a game this year, ended the day 20/31 for 194 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT and was sacked 5 times, tied for his most of the season. His rocky start to the season continues, but he doesn’t deserve all the blame. Odell Beckham Jr. once again, dropped a crucial pass on 3rd and 10 where Mayfield put the ball perfectly on Beckham’s back shoulder but he was unable to haul it in. Like I’ve stated in previous weeks, this has been a recurring problem for the ‘circus catching’ Odell.
Let’s slow down on the Browns bashing here for a second and give credit where it’s due to Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady. Even though the Patriots offensive execution wasn’t sharp on all cylinders, their game plan was solid as always, dinking and dunking their way to two Julian Edelman touchdowns and a 27-13 win. Edelman and Brady are the perfect pairing when it comes to exploiting soft spots in coverage and putting together long drives to keep their defense rested and on the bench. This entire organization is a well-oiled machine that doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon. With that being said, the Browns defense didn’t play all that bad and there were some encouraging flashes from a few guys that were nice to see. In his first game back from a hamstring injury that held him out for 4 games, Denzel Ward played solid coverage all game long and even contributed on special teams, blocking a field goal to keep the Browns hopes alive. Although he dropped an interception in the end zone on 3rd and goal, Ward was in position to make the play and in any other weather circumstances he probably catches the ball. The other cornerback returning from injury this week was rookie Greedy Williams out of LSU. He also displayed a sound brand of football, especially coming up to defend the run, which was a knock of his coming out of college. The bye week definitely helped these two get up to 100% after missing multiple weeks. Let’s hope they can stay healthy and on the field for the remainder of the season. Flipping over to the front end of the defense, star edge rusher Myles Garrett added another sack to bring his season total to 10.0 through 7 games. At the pace he’s at right now, Garrett’s gotta have an eye out for Michael Strahan’s NFL record of 22.5 sacks in a season set back in 2001. He is truly a dominating force and a guy that offense’s have to account for every week when playing the Browns. Another edge rusher who has began to shine as of late is 1st year Brown, Olivier Vernon. With the attention on Garrett most of the time, Vernon has had his best games of the year the last two weeks and is finally beginning to benefit from a loaded defensive line after a quiet start to the season. The back breaking play for the Browns defense in this one was following an Austin Seibert field goal to make it a 1 score game in the 3rd quarter. New England was facing a 3rd and 10 from their own 16 where James White took a screen 59 yards, leading to a Patriots touchdown that ended up being the dagger and put this one out of reach. The perfectly executed screen play had Browns defenders all out of sorts, with White running behind blockers and nothing but turf ahead.
I have stood behind Freddie Kitchens and been in his corner all year long, giving him the necessary time to get adjusted to being a full-time NFL head coach and all that comes with it. Mishaps are going to happen and not everything is going to look perfect, I completely get that. But at some point, the finger needs to be pointed at the man in charge of it all when things repeatedly aren’t going well. This team has too much talent to endure the lack of discipline that they play with and that has to fall on somebody. My least favorite stat of the week, but one that stood out to me and felt necessary for this recap is that of @Ryan_McCrystal on Twitter. The Browns offense is averaging a turnover or penalty every 7.5 snaps, the worst rate in the NFL. Freddie Kitchens, to put it nicely, has been a bad play caller, a bad game manager, and that ends up resulting in an overall bad coach. It was on full display Sunday when you have a coaching mismatch like that of Kitchens vs Bill Belichick. To start it off, Freddie threw two challenge flags that he had virtually no chance of winning. Anyone who watches football knows those were very unlikely to get overturned, and the Browns end up losing two timeouts. Bad coaching. Kitchens wanted to go for it late in the game on 4th and 11 but his punt team was on the field. Bad coaching. He decides to tell his team to purposely false start because he didn’t want to use his final timeout, now making it 4th and 16 as he puts the offense back out there, resulting in a sack. Bad coaching. I could go on and on but the point still stands. There has been too many head scratching moments this season to the point that I have one foot out of the door on Freddie. Firing a coach after 7 games is a wild concept, especially when we’re talking about a first year head coach guiding the youngest roster in the league. And with the turmoil of head coach’s this franchise has been through, it would be an utter joke for John Dorsey and the Haslam’s to pull the plug on Kitchens this early. But time is ticking for him to get this team headed in the right direction and if he can’t, there’s a good chance his name will be in the news on Monday, December 30th, a day widely known around the NFL as ‘Black Monday’.