Kitchens shouldn’t be fired…unless you ask me during a game
Five thoughts on the Browns, who play the Arizona Cardinals Sunday.
IN THE HEAT OF THE MOMENT: When people have asked me if I think the Browns should fire coach Freddie Kitchens after this season, my usual answer is no.
It’s not that I think Kitchens has done an especially good job in his first season as coach. It’s more that I just don’t believe in quickly getting rid of coaches.
Since 1999, the Browns have frequently fired coaches. Chris Palmer got two years. Pat Shurmur got two. Rob Chudzinski got one year and Mike Pettine got two.
Romeo Crennel is the longest-tenured coach, and he was only in charge for four seasons.
I think one of the biggest reasons the Browns have struggled so much is because they are constantly changing coaches, general managers and philosophies.
And Kitchens is about to go into the 15th week of his first season with a 6-7 record and a mathematical chance at the postseason.
So, no, I don’t believe Kitchens should be fired.
Except, that is, for that three-hour window each week when I actually watch the games.
When I watch Kitchens frequently abandon the run, challenge plays with little chance of success, and have players intentionally false start to make a fourth-and-long a fourth-and-longer, I find myself thinking the Browns need to make a change.
I think the Browns only have a certain window of years to become a contender in the NFL. I feel like the team — and quarterback Baker Mayfield — have regressed. Beyond that, Kitchens seems to have no idea how to utilize Odell Beckham.
So the question is, can the Browns trust that Kitchens will grow as a head coach? Or will keeping him only waste another season if Kitchens doesn’t improve?
It’s not an easy call.
I wouldn’t fire Kitchens right now.
But ask me again in three weeks.
GOING OUT TO ARIZONA: The Browns don’t play the Arizona Cardinals much.
Because of the way the NFL schedules are set up, Cleveland and Arizona only meet once every four years.
So maybe this stat shouldn’t be surprising.
But the Browns haven’t beaten the Cardinals in Arizona since Ronald Reagan was president.
At that time, the Cardinals were known as the Phoenix Cardinals, even though the team technically played at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe. It was the Cardinals’ first year in the desert, having relocated from St. Louis after the ’87 season.
As an 8-year-old kid, I was excited for two reasons. First of all, Bernie Kosar, who had been injured in the first game of the ’88 season, was back. And secondly, the Browns would be wearing brown jerseys.
Nowadays, that wouldn’t be much of a deal. But from 1985-1988, Cleveland wore white uniforms at home.
Since most teams, then and now, wore their dark jerseys for their home games, the Browns rarely wore brown.
In 1986, the Browns wore white jerseys for every regular season game. The next season, they wore brown once, in New England against the Patriots.
But that was during the ’87 strike, and both teams were filled with replacement players.
This was the first time for me to see Kosar and the “real” Browns in brown since 1985.
It was exciting. Yes, I was kind of a nerd. Why do you ask?
Kosar’s return went reasonably well. He threw three touchdown passes — one on a tackle-eligible play to the linenan Rickey Bolden — and Cleveland won 29-21.
The Browns have lost their last three games against the Cardinals, and haven’t beaten the franchise since 2003.
CHANCES FOR A WIN: A victory this week would put the Browns back at .500 since they were 2-2 after beating the Ravens in Week 4.
That also marked the last time the Browns won a road game.
Cleveland is favored to win; the Cardinals have lost six straight games.
It’d be nice to see the Browns click early, take a big lead and cruise.
But that hasn’t happened this year, except in the Dolphins game.
The Browns need to win to keep their faint playoff hopes alive. Those hopes seem microscopic to me, because I can’t see them beating the Ravens a second time.
But then again, to go into the second-to-last week of the regular season mathematically alive is an improvement over most years.
Can the Browns beat Arizona? Yes. The Cardinals have a dynamic quarterback in Kyler Murray and a future Hall of Famer in Larry Fitzgerard. They don’t have much else.
Recent history says no. We’ll see.
THE OBJ QUESTION: The story this week was that Beckham was hurt. And that he wanted to be traded.
I know this season hasn’t lived up to the expectations of Beckham or the Browns. Beckham has 844 receiving yards and just two touchdowns. But regardless of the statistics, he and Mayfield haven’t clicked, at least not in the way the QB has with Jarvis Landry.
I don’t know how badly Beckham wants out of Cleveland — he hasn’t said much of anything on the topic — but I think the Browns would be crazy to give up a player of OBJ’s abilities.
I’m not sure if Beckham will be a pro bowler in Cleveland. But I do know the Browns — who have him under contract for several more years — should at least give him more time to see if he can be.
LAMAR JACKSON: I don’t think there’s any doubt that Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is this season’s NFL MVP. Jackson threw five touchdown passes in Thursday night’s 42-21 win over the Jets.
It’s tempting to think the Browns would have been better off had they taken Jackson with the first overall pick instead of Mayfield.
But I think Jackson wouldn’t have done as well in Cleveland as Baltimore.
Jackson’s an amazing football player who has earned all the accolades he has and will receive. But I also think his success has something to do with having an elite NFL coach in John Harbaugh.
Sometimes I see people saying the Browns will have trouble for years because they’ll be dealing with Jackson.
But from my point of view, the biggest obstacle to the Browns success is facing two elite coaches in Harbaugh and Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin year after year.
The Steelers and Ravens are elite organizations.
The Browns aren’t there yet.
Most would say they’re a long way off.
Zach Baker is the sports editor at The Advertiser-Tribune.
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