Cleveland Browns Must Work Quickly To Save 2019 Season

Photo: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

When the Cleveland Browns decided to keep Freddie Kitchens on staff as the team's head coach in 2019, it was done in the name of continuity. And, in the aftermath of that decision, the Browns pushed all their chips into the 2019 basket. The team was aggressive: trading for DE Olivier Vernon and WR Odell Beckham Jr while signing RB Kareem Hunt and DL Sheldon Richardson in free agency and trading up to draft CB Greedy Williams with the team's first pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. With a "new" (but not really) head coach, the Browns were able to rally the troops earlier than the majority of the NFL this spring and got some extra install time to really make sure the collective group was ready for something Cleveland hasn't had in quite some time -- a postseason appearance and lofty expectations.

All of that for what, exactly? A frustrating 2-4 start to the 2019 season that has left the Browns' aggressive offseason push on the brink of collapse. Many analysts (myself included) felt that Cleveland was postured wonderfully to grow upon the momentum the team had built by the end of 2018, but that hasn't materialized on the field mainly because of poor ball security and undisciplined play. Injuries, to be fair to Cleveland, have been a big factor as well -- the team is without TE David Njoku, LB Christian Kirksey and has battled lingering injuries in the secondary for weeks.

The Browns are on the brink. And with the 2019 NFL trade deadline less than a week away, their window to patch the leaks is closing rapidly. The good news for Cleveland is this: the schedule turns much more favorably after a brutal task this weekend when the Browns travel to Foxboro to play the New England Patriots. With how opportunistic the Patriots defense has been this season, QB Baker Mayfield needs to find his mojo before the Patriots put a stake into the hearts of the Browns' postseason aspirations.

Mayfield leads in the NFL in interceptions this season with 11 through 6 games. He's thrown at least one every week and his offense hasn't found the end zone through the air more than once any week thus far this year. He's not getting any help from his receivers in this department, either -- the Browns' shortcomings are a collective failure in chemistry, decision making and execution. More than half of Mayfield's interceptions this season have come on balls that hit receivers in the hands. It is all kinds of ugly.

So where do the Browns go from here? There's work to be done by head coach Freddie Kitchens, general manager John Dorsey and Mayfield.

Kitchens' Job: Get your guys disciplined

The 2019 Cleveland Browns are dead last in the NFL in penalties. They average 9.5 penalties per game this season -- with an average of 84.3 penalty yards per game. The yardage is the worst in the league by almost 10 yards per game. The Indianapolis Colts lead the league in least yardage and their figure is less than half per game of what the Browns are hit with (40.7 yards per game). The Browns have the biggest yardage discrepancy in penalties called against versus for them of any team in the league with -199 yards. Each of the next four teams in the top five thus far this season have played an extra game and none are within 75 yards of how bad things are in Cleveland.

Freddie, get your guys focused and quit letting sloppy, unfocused play extend drives for the opposition and put your young quarterback in disadvantageous situations. The limitations on the offensive line (more on that in a moment) are bad enough, 2nd and 20 after offensive holding isn't going to do anyone up front any favors.

Ultimately, the Browns' ability to stop killing themselves with simple execution (catching the ball) and not getting penalized probably has an extra win in Cleveland already this season -- but it is paramount to the Browns stringing wins together from here on out.

Dorsey's Job: Get an upgrade up front

Do you think if John Dorsey could do it over again, he'd still trade OG Kevin Zeitler to New York for DE Olivier Vernon? Vernon has netted the Browns 1 sack, 1 tackle for loss and 5 QB hits in 6 games thus far in 2019 -- while the right side of Cleveland's offensive line is effectively providing the resistance of a generic wet paper towel in one of those Downy commercials. The team has also targeted left tackle Greg Robinson as a problem -- and Robinson is admittedly ending too many plays on the ground to be without blame in assessing the performance of the Cleveland offensive line.

The Browns' offense has problems that extend beyond the front five but getting Rashard Higgins healthy and Antonio Callaway back from injury should at least help (assuming Callaway's hands cooperate). Dorsey's job before the trade deadline is to go get an upgrade along the offensive line. That could be Washington LT Trent Williams, if the Browns want to triple down on their "win now" window and give Washington the huge haul it would require to get a deal done. Or maybe Philadelphia Eagles OL Halapalouti Vatai would be a logical addition at a cheaper cost, given the Eagles' drafting of Andre Dillard in the first round of this year's NFL Draft.

No matter where it comes from, the Browns need to buy themselves an upgrade.

Mayfield's Job: Take what they give you

The Browns have got to cut down on the turnovers and a lot of that will come back to Mayfield not trying to hit home runs and get the ball out of his hands quicker. NFL's Next Gen Stats cites Mayfield as the QB who takes the 4th most time to throw of any passer in the NFL (2.90 seconds). It's not necessary, especially when Mayfield still ends up aggressively targeting tight coverage as frequently as he does. Of NFL passers with 175 pass attempts or more thus far this season, Mayfield is the 8th most aggressive according to Next Gen Stats (percentage of targets with a defender less than 1 yard away).

Some of this is alleviated by Kitchens crafting quick hitters -- but Baker also needs to ensure this offense stays on schedule and ahead of the sticks. That can be accomplished by speeding up his decision making process and taking pressure off of the offensive line and the pass game by more frequently getting the ball out of his hands rapidly.

Fearless Forecast

Will Freddie Kitchens get this team's head on straight? That will be the defining variable in his first season as the Browns head coach. And if things don't get better, it wouldn't surprise to see the Browns decide to turn the page. It's been pretty frustrating to watch. But one thing we can be sure of? John Dorsey is going to wheel and deal himself a move or two before the deadline. Will it be enough?

Here's what the rest of the Browns' schedule looks like with the team currently sitting at 2-4:

  • @ New England (7-0)
  • @ Denver (2-5)
  • vs. Buffalo (5-1)
  • vs. Pittsburgh (2-4)
  • vs. Miami (0-6)
  • @ Pittsburgh (2-4)
  • vs. Cincinnati (0-7)
  • @ Arizona (3-3-1)
  • vs. Baltimore (5-2)
  • @ Cincinnati (0-7)

The Patriots game is very likely to be a loss, which would move Cleveland to 2-5 and on their postseason deathbed. Getting Pittsburgh at home for the first match-up of the season is huge, as it falls into a very winnable stretch of games amid the Broncos, Bills and Dolphins. Look for Cleveland to piece together a few wins in the heart of their season before finishing the year between 7 and 9 wins. This team has talent and plenty of it. But they're flawed from a personnel standpoint, a focus standpoint and a philosophical standpoint...with each of the three prominent figures in the Browns' organization having a role to play in mending them. Anything less than that and Coach Kitchens may be the odd man out and the pressure will most certainly be on.

Written By:

Kyle Crabbs

Director of Scouting

Kyle Crabbs is the Director of Scouting for The Draft Network. Prior to his time with TDN, Kyle worked for seven years as the founder of his own third-party scouting service, NDT Scouting. Providing media coverage and also consultation services for agencies, Crabbs penned an annual NFL Draft Prospectus featuring 300+ player profiles on an annual basis from 2014-2020. Crabbs is currently the co-host of the Draft Dudes podcast with fellow TDN scout Joe Marino and helps coordinate TDN's national scouting effort.