Written by: J.D. Bagley, @jdbagley5
This was the game in which the Browns were supposed to turn their season around, facing a Denver team who had just traded their best offensive weapon and put their veteran starting QB on injured reserve. The schedule was turning tides from the hardest in the NFL to the 2nd easiest, and Cleveland’s hopeful playoff run was presumed to begin here. Now, it will take an absolute miracle for the Browns to revive this season after a heartbreaking 24-19 loss in Denver as they fall to 2-6 on the season. With everything that has gone on, it is officially safe to say, the 2019 Cleveland Browns are an utter disappointment.
Freddie Kitchens is halfway out the door in Cleveland. After starting 2-6 and presenting no signs of being the coach of the future, there is very little support left from Browns backers. He is walking an extremely thin line and the way I see things, the only reason he wasn’t fired this morning is due to the history of this franchise and the fact that he’s a first year head coach. Any other coach in this type of situation, with the expectations that were placed on this team, would be fired by now for downright incompetence. Kitchens has had too many head scratching moments this year that it’s truly impossible to defend him at this point. I gave him the benefit of the doubt early on in order to let him adjust to being a head coach in the NFL, but it has reached the point where I am completely done vouching for him. It seems as if every week there’s at least one, if not multiple situations that he butchers with the game on the line. He has cost the Browns a shot at winning too many games. This week’s debacle was Kitchens putting Dontrell Hilliard in the game on not one, but two crucial 3rd downs and one 4th down, with Nick Chubb on the bench. Hilliard didn’t convert first downs on either of his rushing attempts. I can’t wrap my head around the fact that you have the NFL’s leading rusher, who is known for his powerful running style and ability to gain yards after contact, on the bench in this type of situation with the game on the line. It is truly mind boggling to me and there is no explanation for it. John Dorsey’s decision to hire a coach that he has structural power over, has backfired right in his face.
The emphasized point heading into this matchup was for the Browns to play a polished game, minimizing penalties and turnovers, which they actually did. Cleveland was penalized just 5 times for 40 total yards and only turned the ball over one time, a turnover on downs inside the red zone where Mayfield was unable to convert a QB sneak on 4th and 1. What killed them this week was not being able to score touchdowns in the red zone. The Browns scored just 1 touchdown on 5 trips to the red zone, settling for field goals on 3 occasions. That percentage will likely never turn out in your favor. Part of this is the play calling and the other part is poor execution. The offensive line is still a massive problem for the Browns and it doesn’t look like it will be solved until the offseason, with the trade deadline in the rearview mirror. Mayfield was sacked twice and Nick Chubb averaged just 3.25 yards per carry, doing a lot of his work after contact. Cleveland’s biggest play of the game came from Antonio Callaway on a tunnel screen where LT Greg Robinson made a great kick out block on Davontae Harris, springing Callaway free for a 41 yard gain. In regards to the passing game, Baker had a decent day finishing 27/42 for 273 yards and 1 TD. Although this was one of his better games of the year statistic wise, his accuracy has still been an issue compared to last year, where he was one of the more accurate quarterbacks in the NFL. There were a couple of instances Sunday in which Mayfield decided to show off his legs, which he hasn’t done much this year. A 16 yard scramble for a first down on 3rd and 14, and another where he evaded pressure and rolled to his left, before being shoved out of bounds 1 yard short of the first down marker. Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry both had an impact with great catches to keep the Browns alive late in the game, but it just wasn’t enough. Beckham was caught on camera saying, “I can’t get the ball to save my life.” after Mayfield didn’t throw the ball his way with 2 steps of separation on Chris Harris Jr. during a 4th down play late in the game. Odell denied that he said that saying, “controversy sells”. Regardless, the Browns are in a huge hole and this talented offense has yet to find its groove through 8 games like many thought it would. To top it all off, halfway through the 2nd quarter Beckham and Landry were alerted by the NFL that they needed to change their cleats at halftime or else they wouldn’t be allowed to play the rest of the game. Distractions have plagued this team all year, and this just adds to the list.
Defensively, the Browns were horrendous when it came to tackling the Broncos playmakers. Noah Fant caught a pass on a drag route across the middle of the field before breaking tackle attempts from three Cleveland defenders on his way to a 75 yard touchdown. Jermaine Whitehead was the center of the Browns tackling woes and he took his frustration to Twitter shortly after the game. Whitehead fired back at multiple critics of his play yesterday, including Browns reporter Dustin Fox with very violent and racial comments. His Twitter account was quickly suspended and as of Monday morning, he was waived from the Browns roster. This was absolutely the right move by John Dorsey and the front office as this franchise won’t tolerate any of that nonsense, regardless of how talented of a player you are. The only positive coming from this situation is the fact that now the Browns don’t have to clear a roster spot for Kareem Hunt as he is eligible to return this week from his 8 game suspension. Broncos #1 wide receiver Courtland Sutton got the best of Denzel Ward in their WR/CB matchup. In the 1st quarter, Ward had excellent coverage on Sutton but a perfect throw from Brandon Allen beat the great coverage, as Sutton leapt over Ward for a 21 yard touchdown. When you have a 6’4 receiver being guarded by a 5’11 corner, just throw it up and more times than not your guy will come down with it. Sutton was also able to get tons of separation on two 3rd down slant routes that were converted into first downs. A couple bright spots from the Browns defense came from the linebackers. Mack Wilson recorded his first career sack to get the ball back to the offense on a 3rd down with the Broncos backed up deep in their own territory. Joe Schobert caused a fumble that was recovered by Ward to give the Browns excellent starting field position inside the red zone, where they couldn’t capitalize, settling for a field goal.
This season has been extremely frustrating for Browns fans with the expectations higher than they had ever been since the return to Cleveland. But unfortunately, this has that all too well known, dreadful feeling of same old Browns.