The Cleveland Browns high expectations for 2019 were soon replaced with casts of doubt once the team slipped to 2-5. The defense began losing key players to injury, and later suspension and players who were key to success in 2018 were in Freddie Kitchens’ doghouse. In a building filled with high tensions, wide receiver Rashard Higgins, who had a great rapport with quarterback Baker Mayfield in 2018, never came back from his early injury despite claiming he was healthy.
His snaps on game days remained quite low, and he never got the chance to make the same impact. Tight end David Njoku was activated off IR for the last four games of the season, yet never saw significant playing time. There were reports he had friction with Freddie Kitchens in practice, adding another player to the doghouse. Other reports of safety Damarious Randall skipping a practice surfaced during the trip to Pittsburgh, foreshadowing the dysfunction and obstacles the Browns made for themselves.
Per The Athletic, offensive coordinator Todd Monken would tell opposing coaches that the Browns were a mess and that Freddie Kitchens was not following the game plan they practiced throughout the week. A mix of drama, incompetence, and arrogance clouded a promising 2019 season for the Cleveland Browns. However, this season will play a vital role in turning things around next season.
Baker Mayfield was the victim of a dysfunctional environment. Set up to fail from the beginning of the season by the hire of a head coach with no experience. Although Mayfield was in favor of the hire, a lot of this season does not fall on his shoulders. Kitchens’ did not scheme against opponents’ weaknesses, he just called plays in the spur of the moment. Even with the bad coaching, Mayfield was also one of the unluckiest quarterbacks in the league.
Multiple times a receiver would not be in the right place or would pull off the route, and the result was a turnover. Other times, receivers are in the right spot and the ball deflects off their hands, causing an interception. Yes, Mayfield had turnovers that were his own fault, but a lot of other times he did not get help from his teammates. Baker Mayfield does need to play better himself, and you should expect him to under a better system in 2020.
Granted the correct hire is made this month, the Browns can use this tumultuous 2019 season as a springboard for 2020. Create an environment of everyone working towards the same goal together, with no front office friction, to put Mayfield and every other player in the best situation to win. Put in a system and plan to progress Mayfield and play to his strengths, something Kitchens failed to do in his tenure. The success of this team will not run on talent, as we learned this season. Use the 2019 season to get the right coach. Use the ups and downs of the Freddie Kitchens era to avoid a similar collapse in 2020.