Cleveland Browns Head Coach Freddie Kitchens has had a meteoric rise through the coaching ranks. He started last season as the team’s Running Back Coach. After the firing of Hue Jackson and Todd Haley, Kitchens was promoted to Offensive Coordinator. After the season was finished, there were many surprised when the team chose Kitchens to take over the Head Coaching role. Some argued that he simply didn’t have the experience to be a serious candidate. Kitchens has had the good fortune of seeing a lot of talent join his team in the last few months. Unfortunately with the influx of talent came extra criticism that perhaps Kitchens may not be the right guy to handle the personalities that would be in his locker room.
Kitchens did a great job over the last few months keeping that kind of talk from getting out of hand. He made a habit of winning his press conferences. Kitchens has had some great soundbites on his way to becoming a relatable, everyman type coach. As Training Camp rolled on this season it began to look like Browns fans had little to worry about. The team looked solid during their preseason games. With very little drama in camp to speak of, the Browns found themselves in a rare space where other teams in the league looked more dysfunctional than them for a change.
If there was any concern in the preseason it was that Kitchens was not using his opportunities to get his starting unit playing time together. Through four games, the first-team defense only saw the field together for one drive. The starting offense never even logged a snap together. While Kitchens assured fans that he was content with what he had seen from the team in practice sessions, it left me with concerns. I’ve written numerous times that for Kitchens’ sake he better hope that the Browns come out of the gate firing on all cylinders. Otherwise, he will be left open for a fair share of second-guessing his preseason strategies.
As the Browns opened their season last Sunday at First Energy Stadium the anticipation was at a fever pitch. A packed house excitedly waited for all of the hype to become a reality. The excitement quickly turned sour as the Browns failed to come close to the expectations. The Tennessee Titans crashed down the Browns hype blowing out the team 43-13. Kitchens’ Browns failed in almost every conceivable way in the opener. With very few positives to build on let’s examine Kitchens’ numerous failures that will need to be fixed quickly.
Playcalling – Kitchens is the Head Coach of the Browns due to the job he did last season calling plays. He took a struggling offense and seemed to put them on the right path. On Sunday, the Browns’ playcalling looked eerily similar to Kitchens’ predecessor. The results were very similar as well. There were several head-scratchers that took place over the course of the game. At times the Browns seemed to completely abandon their running game, even on third and short situations. There is a fine line between avoiding predictability and foolishness when it comes to playcalling. Throwing deep balls on third and one starts to resemble the latter, especially when it doesn’t work. For any hope of success this season, Kitchens is going to have to channel his success from last season going forward.
Discipline – Penalties defined the Browns on Sunday. The Browns were flagged for penalties twenty times, with eighteen accepted for just shy of 200 yards. The lack of discipline the Browns put on display was beyond concerning. Many of the Browns’ penalties were reflective of a team that simply didn’t look prepared to play. Some of the Browns penalties showed a lack of mental fortitude. Myles Garrett threw a punch in the first quarter only to be overshadowed by Greg Robinson kicking a player in the face. The Browns committed five personal foul penalties in the first half alone. The Browns seemed more committed to fighting than football. That is an atrocious way to start a coaching career. Kitchens has assured the media that the dumb play will be cleaned up, but even half the penalty yardage the Browns racked up is a recipe for losing. To borrow a one-liner from Jerry Glanville, the NFL will stand for, “not for long,” if Kitchens cannot get his team in line.
Personnel management – Even Kitchens’ roster decisions started to come back and bite him on Sunday. The Browns only dressed seven offensive linemen for the game. After Robinson was ejected and his replacement Kendall Lamm was injured in the first half it left the Browns with no other options at offensive line. For the entire second half, the Browns ran the risk of actually running out of healthy players at the position. Knowing how unproven they are at the position, this also seemed like a foolish move by Kitchens. The makeshift offensive line played horribly in the second half, putting Baker Mayfield in peril for much of the game. Mayfield took such a beating that he needed x-rays on his throwing hand after the game. Running out of players is certainly not a good look for the first time Head Coach.
Sadly a mediocre performance in Week Two would be an upgrade from what was displayed last week. Browns fans can only hope what they have seen so far is a fluke and will be quickly corrected as the season goes forward. A couple of big wins could change the current narrative very quickly. Adversely, if the team continues to be a sloppy mess, Coach Kitchens’ seat will heat up very quickly.