Offensive Identity Crisis
Updated: Nov 10, 2019
Ross The Rugger, Browns Analyst
As the Browns entered the 2019 offseason hopes and expectations were at an all time high in Berea since the team returned to action. They were being crowned as the paper champs in the media and were a preseaon betting favorite all the way to the Super Bowl, even the most objective fans expected them to be playoff contender with this roster.
The skeptics had concerns of course, they are a very young team with Freddie Kitchens in his first ever season. They were incorporating a good amount of new personnel but with that level of talent they'd surely be rolling by the time October came around.
With out getting into game to game specifics it's safe to say that now that we have reached the halfway point of their season, no one saw it going quite like this. Plenty of fans and media members expected the Browns to stumble a bit out of the gate until they found their rhythm but they surely would start putting it together a little bit more every week until they were hitting on all cylinders.
Boy were we all wrong up to this point! They are 8 games into the season and instead of answers to the offseaon questions about how they would use all these play-makers, we are left with more questions then we started with. The most looming being who this team is, what is their identity as an offense? There are plenty of other questions about whats holding the offense up but this one is a question that is normally answered in camp and continually built on week to week during the season.
A this point it is fair to ask if Freddie Kitchens and his offensive staff used that time in offseason workouts and training camp to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their roster before incorporating their install. Watching them play one week to the next it's hard to see what they do consistently well enough to use to build their game plans around. What are that foundational concepts they know they can execute when they need it the most?
They have a game breaking running back in Nick Chubb who can grind out the tough yards but is still always one excellent jump cut away from taking it the distance. Chubb is second in the NFL in rushing yards per game at just over 100 yards and averaging over 5 yards a carry but in the most crucial moments he's often been on the sideline or ignored. Kareem Hunt makes his debut this week but how will he fit or be used?
Odell Beckham Jr was brought in to give them a Pro Bowl tandem of wide receivers between himself and his longtime best friend Jarvis Landry but to this point they have only a pair of touchdowns between them. Both have made some amazing plays but when they get to the red zone they just don't seem to have any play calls to get them in the end-zone. Beckham specifically is an incredibly acrobatic pass catcher who's known for his knack for spectacular touchdown grabs when given a chance. He has only had 3 such opportunities in 8 games so far this season and you can't help but wonder how that is even possible.
Baker Mayfield broke the rookie touchdown record in only 13 games last year, in large part because of his production boost under Kitchens in the second half of the season. This was what made many people so optimistic about what Kitchens could do with the improved talent on offense. Last season when he took over, the offense found a whole different gear as one of the most explosive in the league. So far due to a combination of incredibly bad luck and Baker seeming not to trust his protection or system he hasn't looked as sharp or accurate and they haven't been able to reignite that blaze.
The inability to get these star players playing up to their talent level and personnel decisions that have left everyone watching or involved scratching their heads has created some very serious questions about Kitchens ability to lead this offense. Some baffling game and clock management decisions have led to calls in the media and from fans for him to hand over play calling to Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken so he focus on game management completely. This cloud of doubt isn't making it any easier on the coaching staff to focus on finding solutions.
Kitchens must figure out what the offensive identity he wants this team to have is immediately with the team setting at a highly disappointing 2-6. The season isn't yet lost but it is hanging by a thread and the results of this 3 game home stand will be crucial to having anything to play for in December.
I look at their strong running game as well as a passing attack that struggles with consistency and protection and can't help but think a heavy rushing attack and more play action would be effective by allowing for much easier reads as well more time to throw while creating some better opportunities to attack the third level of the field for explosive plays. That's just me playing armchair expert though, the actual offensive staff has to figure out what they really can do the best and simplify the offense to what they can execute consistently for these 2 games in 5 days.
Once they know who they are as an offense they can start to build on it from there but this should have been figured out at least 4 weeks ago if not in camp. They have now reached the 11th hour, if they don't start answering these questions this Sunday the season will completely slip away. They have everything they need to turn it around, they are just running out of time to get it done.