The Cleveland Browns ended the 2018 season strong, going 5-2 in the last seven games. What looked like a promising team with a potential star in Baker Mayfield and a strong rusher in Nick Chubb suddenly became a Super Bowl contender with the additions of Odell Beckham Jr, Kareem Hunt, Olivier Vernon, and Sheldon Richardson.
The Browns were the second-most bet team to win the Super Bowl, and had odds of 15-1 on Fanduel Sportsbook. This was tied for sixth in Super Bowl odds, and indicated that the Browns should be a strong playoff team in 2019.
What we saw, however, was a far cry from those sky-high expectations. What went wrong with 2019 Cleveland Browns?
Coaching – Freddie Kitchens
Freddie Kitchens was hired in the offseason to be the Cleveland Browns’ head coach due to his apparent connection with Baker Mayfield. After Kitchens was appointed offensive coordinator in 2018, Baker Mayfield seemed to take the next step. He posted a 68.4 percent completion percentage and a 106.2 passer-rating in the final eight games of the season. This was up from a 58.3 percent completions and a 78.9 passer rating prior to the coordinator change.
In the offseason, Cleveland’s front office decided to make Kitchens the head coach, rather than continuing with their interim coach, Gregg Williams. But soon, the honeymoon ended. Kitchens’s lack of experience led to questionable calls, such as calling a draw play on a crucial 4th and 9 against the Rams.
The playcalling of Kitchens wasn’t the only issue however. He proved unfit to control a team of volatile personalities such as Odell Beckham Jr. and Baker Mayfield. He had numerous altercations with star players, including OBJ and Jarvis Landry. This likely had adverse effects on the locker room and the players’ respect for their coach.
Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham Jr.
One of the major storylines entering the regular season was the addition of Odell Beckham Jr. to a potential star quarterback and win-now team.
Although OBJ still demanded special attention from defenses, he and Baker never seemed to be on the same page for prolonged periods of time. Odell had a 55.64% catch rate this year, his lowest catch percentage of his career. This is below Baker’s own completion percentage this year. This showed that OBJ caught the ball with a lower efficiency compared to other receivers on his team.
Odell’s highest game reception total this year was eight, and he ranked 28th in catches this season and 26th in receiving yards. This wasn’t due to missing time with injuries. He played in 16 games this season, the first time he accomplished that feat since 2016, when he made the Pro Bowl. Optimists will look forward to second-year improvements, akin to Jarvis Landry’s own second-year jump with Baker Mayfield.
Myles Garrett Suspension
Admittedly, the Cleveland Browns season was pretty much over at this point, however, the Myles Garrett suspension was a significant event of this season. In Week 11, Myles Garrett got involved in a violent altercation with Mason Rudolph of the Pittsburgh Steelers. This culminated in Myles taking Mason’s helmet and using it as a weapon against Rudolph. Garrett is one of the Cleveland Browns’ best defensive players. And this event brought him and the Browns under further national scrutiny for their lack of discipline. He was suspended indefinitely by the NFL.
While this season was a disaster, the Cleveland Browns are still set up well for the future. Freddie Kitchens has been fired and replaced by Kevin Stefanski, former offensive coordinator of the Vikings.
Their new top priorities are restoring the locker room and keeping Odell Beckham Jr. and the others content, ready to improve upon this season. Baker Mayfield needs to return to the same trajectory he was on prior to this season, and perhaps the improvements in playcalling can take some pressure off of him.
Stefanski showed that he can utilize the run game effectively with Dalvin Cook, and hopefully this can continue with Nick Chubb. David Njoku was a healthy scratch in two of their last four games, and his return will greatly benefit Baker. The future is still bright for the Browns, who hope to build upon their young nucleus.