Kitchens outmatched as Browns’ hopes sink

- Mike Jones Columnist

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – On the same night Bill Belichick took another step toward solidifyin­g his place among the greatest coaches of all time, Freddie Kitchens again looked as though he’s in over his head.

Belichick earned career win No. 300 – a feat achieved by only Don Shula and George Halas – and did so while his defense continued its historic campaign.

Meanwhile, Kitchens remains in search of career win No. 3. As his Browns fell to 2-5, they drifted further away from their goal of making the playoffs for the first time in 16 years.

That Cleveland lost to New England came as no surprise. The Patriots are the gold standard, everything the Browns aspire to become.

But the way in which Cleveland lost – and most notably the way a team coming off the bye started the game – reflected most poorly on Kitchens.

A three-turnover, penalty-plagued first quarter set the tone for another defeat in which the Browns failed to live up to their potential and instead exited the stadium with a laundry list of couldawoul­da-shouldas and uncertaint­y over the source of their shortcomin­gs.

There’s confusion because the Browns know exactly what they’re doing or not doing. They just don’t know why.

Cleveland committed a whopping 13 penalties against New England, adding to their league-leading 70 through seven games.

Far too often, offensive players have committed false starts (16 in total) because they forgot the snap count. And egregious misses on blocking assignment­s led to two of their turnovers as well as more busted plays.

“It’s just not discipline­d: guys not being focused on doing their job,” quarterbac­k Baker Mayfield said. “It starts first and foremost with me, to be a leader every single down. Get guys lined up, make sure that we’re set, we’re paying attention, because if we can’t use cadence, we’re hurting ourselves. Any time we try to use a double count, it seems like we’re false starting a little bit, but we’ll get the discipline­d part fixed, the accountabi­lity.”

It’s hard enough to beat the Patriots even with a near-flawless performanc­e. But with showings like Cleveland’s, it’s virtually impossible.

“Everything we said we couldn’t do and win the game, we did,” said Kitchens before dismissing the notion that a return from the bye – when the coaches had extra time to prepare while the players rested – made the performanc­e tougher to stomach.

“It’s disappoint­ing any time it happens. Because you know going in that we can’t continue to jump offsides, we can’t continue to do the things that get you beat. It’s very evident that that’s what is getting us beat. It’s turnovers and penalties. That’s it: turnovers and penalties.”

Because they know the source of their problems, Kitchens and Mayfield say they still have hope for a turnaround.

Kitchens must figure out how to get his players to devote a greater attention to detail. Perhaps he and his assistants need to do the same in their own preparatio­ns.

He must figure out how to help Mayfield get more comfortabl­e in the pocket. The quarterbac­k often has a bad case of happy feet whether there’s pressure coming or not. As a result, Mayfield looks anything but dangerous in this sophomore season.

Kitchens also must figure out how to do a better job of consistent­ly getting Pro Bowl receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry involved. Each tends to disappear for extended stretches of games at a frequency that’s way too high.

One of the biggest questions Kitchens faced when the Browns promoted him from interim offensive coordinato­r to head coach centered on his lack of experience and his ability to handle directing the offense with the same potency of his seven-game audition in 2018 while also running the team as a whole.

So far, he’s still looking for answers. His quarterbac­k has not progressed, and his offense lacks the same aggression and creativity of a year ago despite talent upgrades at skill positions.

And the Browns as a whole lack the discipline and focus required for a playoff run.

This is definitely a young team in need of growth and developmen­t in multiple department­s. And it’s wellknown that team officials need and want to upgrade their offensive line.

But Kitchens knows he can’t use his team’s youth as an excuse. He has to keep his group focused, instill greater discipline and carry that over into game days.

“I think 2-5, I don’t know what – everything’s in front of us. I don’t know what else to say about that. Everything’s in front of us,” he said. “So win the games that were supposed to win, and we’ll be fine.”

The only problem is Kitchens has uttered similar words throughout the season.

After each loss, he has stressed that it’s important for the Browns to guard against panicking while maintainin­g their focus and adds that there are still however many games remaining.

That’s the mindset Kitchens and his players must maintain while improving their approaches.

But, unfortunat­ely for them, the results suggest that’s just talk for now, and the season appears to be slipping away.

 ?? GREG M. COOPER/USA TODAY SPORTS ?? Freddie Kitchens says of the Browns’ struggles: “Everything we said we couldn’t do and win the game, we did. It’s disappoint­ing.”
GREG M. COOPER/USA TODAY SPORTS Freddie Kitchens says of the Browns’ struggles: “Everything we said we couldn’t do and win the game, we did. It’s disappoint­ing.”
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