Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland.
Should we be surprised the Browns are 2-4 at their bye week?
Many would say, “No, they were over-hyped. Their schedule in the first half was difficult. You don’t go from 0-16 overnight. It takes time.”
Others would say, “First-time head coach. Second-year quarterback. ‘Nuff said.”
Didn’t Browns GM John Dorsey, who built this team, say in training camp, “Don’t believe the hype”?
To his credit, Dorsey insisted all that talent he assembled on the roster had to be molded into a team. That was a subtle message to his (and Baker Mayfield’s) hand-picked coach, Freddie Kitchens.
“I’ve done my job, now do yours,” Dorsey essentially was saying.
So here we are, after another error-ridden performance by the Browns that dropped them to 0-3 at home and 2-4 overall, and Kitchens is admitting that he hasn’t completed the job of making this loaded roster a team just yet.
“At some point, we have to become a team,” Kitchens said. “The difference between a group and a team is significant. To be a team, you have to do your job and then you bring it together collectively and then you become a team and you trust the guy beside you that is going to do his job. Until you get to that point, you are a group. The better team [Seattle Seahawks] beat our group yesterday.
“I think our guys are committed to doing what they are supposed to do – coaches, players, everybody – to becoming a team. We tried to do that during training camp, but you do not get that and you do not figure that out sometimes until you hit adversity. That is when you realize are you a group or are you a team. Hopefully, when we go to New England, we will be a team.
“I will say this, too – all of this talent we have, that has gotten us 2-4, OK? Now, let’s try something different. Let’s try to be a team and see if we can be better moving forward.”
Digging deeper: It’s pretty easy to say the things that are holding back the Browns are penalties and turnovers. No kidding, Captain Obvious.
That’s like a golfer saying, “If I didn’t hit three balls out of bounds, I would have shot 80.”
The real answer lies in why they are committing penalties and turnovers.
Through six games, the Browns have committed 57 penalties. That’s a pace of 152 for 16 games, which would annihilate the franchise record of 128 set in the Bud Carson-coached season of 1989. Their 506 penalty yards are on pace for 1,349, which also would shatter the franchise record of 1,165 in 1978.
Now, penalties are way up in the NFL because of the league’s officiating crisis. Even so, I’ve always been told that penalties are a function of coaching. The definition of a well-coached team is one that doesn’t beat itself by committing penalties and making turnovers.
As for the turnovers, I think Kitchens has to shoulder a lot of the responsibility.
The head coach – not the quarterback -- has to “manage” the game. Kitchens’ mismanagement of the end of the first half against Seattle is a case study of what not to do.
Instead of milking the clock in the final five minutes and tacking three, or seven, points onto a 20-12 lead, Kitchens pressed peddle to the metal and was overly-aggressive (read: recklessly greedy).
On second-and-9 from the Seahawks’ 10-yard line and 1:38 to play, Kitchens employed Justin McCray as a tackle-eligible extra blocker, but called for Mayfield to throw into the end zone. The tiny passing window in those cramped quarters slammed shut, and Mayfield’s pass for Jarvis Landry was deflected and intercepted.
Seattle moved 88 yards for a touchdown. A 23-12 or 27-12 lead was reduced to 20-18 at halftime.
Incredibly, Kitchens maintained his intent was to score a touchdown, make a defensive stop, and then score again – all in less than 2 minutes of game time. Against Russell Wilson.
“I am always going to be aggressive,” Kitchens said.
I would suggest that Kitchens needs to look in the mirror and see the real problem. This is not the SEC, where coaches pile up points to win votes in the polls. He is not coaching Alabama. He is coaching an NFL team. Wins are the only thing that matters.
There are times to eat game clock. There are times to punt. There are times to kick field goals.
The Browns' young quarterback is throwing more interceptions than anybody in the league. Take the ball out of Mayfield’s hands on occasion. He is having a terrible second season. Settle down the offense. Compose the offensive line. Put the ball in the hands of the second-leading rusher in the NFL, Nick Chubb.
Manage the game with the sole intent to win the game – not to showcase offensive ingenuity or pull a quarterback out of a slump. Mayfield needs to be managed. Don’t think he is infallible.
Kitchens made the same mistake at the end of the first half against San Francisco and late in the fourth quarter against the Rams – throwing incessantly inside the 10 rather than trusting Chubb and his offensive line to hammer the ball into the end zone.
As Herman Edwards famously said, “You play to win the game.”
Week of reflection: Cornerback T.J. Carrie said he is “very stunned” the Browns are 2-4 with all their talent. Landry, too, appeared shell-shocked in a rare Monday appearance in the team’s media room.
Kitchens’ bye-week theme that talent alone does not win in the NFL appeared to hit home.
“For as long as I remember, there’s always been the phrase, ‘Talent wins games, teams win championships,’” Landry said. “That’s always stuck with me. To me, whatever you put on paper, it doesn’t mean anything when you step out there. I’ve always understood it’s not about talent.
“I’ve played on talented teams and we’ve won nothing. And I’ve played on teams that are disciplined, accountable … We had a team full of leaders my only playoff team [with Miami]. And then the following year, pretty much the same team, and we lacked all those traits that got us to where we were before and we started to feel entitled, that we deserved this and that, and we ended up going, like, 6-10.”
Perhaps the good news is the Browns have their bye week after only their sixth game. That leaves them 10 games to figure it out.
“We trying,” Landry said. “We’re trying really hard. No one necessarily has all the answers. Some of things we have to figure out, we have to go through stuff to figure them out. It’s not an easy road. Sometimes it’s painful. And It hurts. Some of the losses we’ve taken this year, it hurts. You don’t want these things to come back on you at the end of the season and say, ‘ I wish we had that game, or that play [back].’”
It’s not too late. But they all have to figure it out right now. Coaches included.