The Browns’ Offense is Full of Growing Pains

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CLEVELAND, OHIO - SEPTEMBER 22: Running back Nick Chubb #24 tries to help as quarterback Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns looses the ball as he is tackled by outside linebacker Clay Matthews #52 of the Los Angeles Rams during the third quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium on September 22, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Rams defeated the Browns 20-13. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

It was said after the week two victory against the New York Jets that the Cleveland Browns needed to click on offense.   Save an 89-yard touchdown reception by Odell Beckham Jr., nothing about the offense has been promising.  There is no reason that this offense has only five total touchdowns this season.  Quite disappointing given the plethora of offensive skill players.

The Browns’ Offense is Full of Growing Pains

It’s only been three games, but anyone with football knowledge can narrow down what has plagued the Browns this season. In week one, it was everything from costly penalties to poor offensive line play. In week two, it was Myles Garrett’s over-aggressiveness and Baker Mayfield holding the ball too long. On Sunday night, it narrowed down to situational coaching and Mayfield’s execution. Most of the struggles from the previous weeks had been either resolved or well hidden.

So who can the fans blame for the team starting 1-2? Is it the sophomore slump for Mayfield? Does Coach Freddie Kitchens know what he’s doing? The age-old debate of preparation vs. execution. Honestly, it may be both.

The Baker Mayfield Reality

The hype train has surrounded Mayfield since he made his debut last season with the Browns finishing with a 7-9 record. There was nothing but high hopes for the organization especially adding talents like Beckham and Kareem Hunt in the offseason. However, lost in the hype were Mayfield’s deficiencies.

One way to expose him is to make Mayfield throw the ball more than 30 times. In games where Mayfield had 30+ attempts, the Browns were 3-7 in 2018. In the other three victories, he averaged 23 attempts. Mayfield had a 63% completion rate last season which is not terrible, but very inconsistent. There were games where he threw at a 73% clip. On the other hand, there were games where his completion percentage was in the 50s. This season, Mayfield has thrown 65%, 54%, and 50%, respectively. He is the epitome of a game manager.

The below-average completion percentage brings up another question. How quickly can Baker Mayfield go through his progressions? There have been concerns that Mayfield holds the ball too long. This has been an issue throughout the season, especially when the Browns are backed up near their endzone. Mayfield has been sacked 11 times this season and thrown up prayers resulting in five interceptions.

Pass rushers are faster than ever so even if Mayfield is a one-read quarterback, he needs to start using his legs to make positive plays and shorten the distance on the down.

During the final drive inside the 10-yard line, there was a play where a lane opened up in the middle of the field that Baker could’ve run through. Judging by the direction the defenders were moving, that run could have netted a few yards, if not a touchdown. In the film session, coaches need to stress the importance of being able to scramble when necessary. That could either be a drive extender or killer. Throw film of Daniel Jones’ game-winning touchdown run on the screen and press repeat.

Freddie Kitchens’ Continual Climb

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, Kitchens coaches likes this is college football and not the NFL. The decision making and play-calling seem to be overwhelming for the rookie head coach. He refuses to relieve himself of the duties citing the “growing pains” that come with roster additions.  Someone should inform Kitchens that stubbornness costs jobs in Cleveland.  

I have been saying since week one that Nick Chubb needs to be the feature for the Browns’ offense. Chubb has been good for four yards every time he touches the ball with the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. With that being said, I don’t understand how the Browns had timeouts and Kitchens didn’t call Chubb’s number inside of the 5-yard line. I don’t even think Kitchens knows why. “I should have ran it one time,” said Kitchens in the postgame presser. “That’s why I’m kicking myself.”

While Mayfield doesn’t always execute, the play calls don’t always do him any favors. For example, calling an all verticals route on 3rd and 10 with not one receiver stopping at the first down marker. A specialty for Kitchens seems to be dialing up a pass play that takes long to develop when backed up in the endzone.  Those are the plays that cost field position and resulted in a safety in week one.  The worst call I’ve seen in recent memory was the draw play on 4th and 9.  “Bad call,” said Kitchens regarding the play. You don’t say.

Shot of Truth

Bob Wylie’s comments regarding Kitchens may have more merit than we thought. “Baker likes Freddie,’’ Wylie said regarding the hire of Kitchens. “There’s a good relationship there even though Kenny Zampese did all the coaching there. Baker likes Freddie, so that had to factor into the decision.”  At the time, that quote was considered harsh and sour grapes.  However, watching the Browns’ offense this season, Wylie gave us a real peek behind the curtain.  

I don’t believe either Mayfield or Kitchens are overrated.  Their 2018 success garnered expectations that may be unrealistic at this point in their professional careers.

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