Some thoughts on another disappointing Sunday in Pittsburgh
Five takeaways from the Browns’ crushing 20-13 loss to Pittsburgh Sunday:
THE BIGGEST PROBLEM: There’s plenty to criticize about first-year Browns coach Freddie Kitchens.
There’s the team’s lack of discipline. The inability to consistently incorporate wide receiver Odell Beckham. The terrible game management.
And why does he continue to call plays to tight end Demetrius Harris in the end zone?
But for me, it boils down to one issue.
Kitchens seems to believe that quarterback Baker Mayfield is the Browns’ best player.
It was never more apparent than in the fourth quarter Sunday.
Cleveland trailed by a touchdown with about seven minutes remaining when defensive back Terrance Mitchell intercepted Steelers quarterback Duck Hodges and returned the ball to the Pittsburgh 30.
It was the perfect opportunity for the Browns to tie the game.
It was the perfect time to use your best player.
Chubb had only six carries in the second half. The NFL’s second-leading rusher coming in hadn’t broken a really big run yet, but considering the Browns pass offense had been struggling and had managed a single field goal since the first quarter, it seemed like a good chance to get Chubb involved.
Instead, Mayfield threw two incompletions and was sacked.
The Browns punted, and didn’t get the ball back until there were less than two minutes remaining.
For the game, Chubb finished with 16 carries for 58 yards.
A week ago I mentioned how I wanted Chubb to get the ball more, then saw he’d gotten the second-most carries in the league.
But it seems like when the Browns fall behind, Kitchens simply abandons the run. Kareem Hunt looked good early the game, catching a touchdown pass from Mayfield and carrying the ball seven times for 46 yards.
But he too seemed to disappear after halftime.
In an important AFC North showdown, you won’t win by ignoring the run.
There’s no excuse for going away from your best player.
MAYFIELD: Kitchens got his job because of Mayfield.
We all know that.
Kitchens was a running backs coach at the start of last season. He moved to offensive coordinator when Hue Jackson and Todd Haley were fired.
Mayfield and Kitchens appeared to click, and the latter was given credit for the former’s success in the second half of last season.
Was the credit deserved? Who knows.
But we do know that the Browns didn’t want to break up Kitchens and Mayfield. They didn’t want to risk losing a guy who Mayfield was comfortable with. That’s why they made Kitchens the head coach.
It made sense at the time. Hey, I was in favor of the hire.
But here’s the problem.
The regression from Mayfield — the kind everyone was afraid of with a new coach — has occurred anyway.
Mayfield is third in the league with 14 interceptions. He’s 19th in the league with 15 touchdowns. He’s been sacked 32 times, the eighth most in the NFL.
Not all of this is his fault. Quarterbacks get too much credit and too much blame. Right now, the offensive line is a mess, and the playcalling is too pass heavy, allowing defensive lines to tee off on the Browns’ signal-caller.
But I really thought Mayfield was going to be special. After last season, when he threw 30 touchdown passes and ignited an optimism in fans not seen in years, I fully bought in.
And this year, he’s been a disappointment.
THE NON-COMEBACK KID: Mayfield seems to be at his worst late in games.
Sunday, he had a chance to lead a game-tying or winning comeback in the final two minutes.
Despite being aided by a very generous roughing the passer call, he couldn’t do it. He overshot Jarvis Landry by a mile and was intercepted by Joe Haden, ending the game.
Throughout this season, and even going back to last year, Mayfield can’t seem to get the team over the top when its behind late.
In the final game of 2018 at Baltimore, Mayfield nearly got the Browns into range for a game-winning field goal, but threw an interception.
In the third week of the season, the Browns had the ball inside the Rams 10 in the final two minutes, trailing by a touchdown.
Mayfield threw four incompletions.
A few weeks later against the Seahawks, with the chance to lead a game-winning TD drive, Mayfield was intercepted. Then, a few weeks later in Denver, needing a late touchdown to win, he missed an open Beckham and threw an incompletion to Landry on fourth down.
Mayfield did lead a touchdown drive late to beat Buffalo. But his ratio on games like that isn’t great.
So far this season, Mayfield looks like an average quarterback. Young quarterbacks like Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson are outshining him on a weekly basis.
Heck, even unheralded veterans like Ryan Tannehill are playing better.
My thought going into this season was that as long as Baker stayed healthy.
Mayfield has been hit hard at times, but he insists he’s healthy.
Well, as it’s turned out to be a disappointing year. And Mayfield’s a reason why.
THE SHIRT: No, Freddie Kitchens wearing a “Pittsburgh Started It” T-shirt had nothing to do with the Browns losing.
The shirt, referencing the fight between the Browns and Steelers two weeks ago, was a bad look for a coach whose team has a little too much of an attitude.
I wish he hadn’t worn it, but only because I knew the response would be overwhelming if the Browns lost, and frankly, I’m tired of all the bravado from a team with a losing record.
Yes, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin would never do that. He might try to trip an opposing receiver, but he’d never wear a shirt to fire up another team.
Mike Tomlin is a brilliant coach and I’m sure if he had to do it all over again, he wouldn’t have tried to trip Jacoby Jones all those years ago.
But all of this talk teams doing things the right way doesn’t really add up here.
The bottom line is Tomlin is an elite coach and Kitchens is not.
A wardrobe decision doesn’t change that.
THE REST OF THE YEAR: I think the Browns are out of the playoffs.
I said that after the team started 2-6, and then they won three straight.
The best the Browns can finish is 9-7, which might be good enough for a playoff spot.
But do I think Cleveland can win out? No. I expect them to beat the Bengals and maybe the Cardinals.
But the Ravens?
So, another year without the playoffs.
As fans, we’re all used to it.
But that doesn’t make it easier.