By John Kaufman – NFL Analyst
What Do We Think?
We think that the Browns are overrated, that the expectations placed upon them this season were simply too high given that they are now 1-2, including and an eye-rolling 0-2 at home, with one win over a miserably injured New York Jets team.
What Do We Know?
We know that Baker has regressed, and that Freddie Kitchens has either forgotten how to call plays or never knew how in the first place. We know that this team is, for all intents and purposes, dead and buried.
I mean, that’s the talk around Believeland and on #Browns Twitter. So it must be true.
Because really, when has Twitter ever gotten anything wrong? Twitter is still batting 1.000, I’m sure.
C’mon folks. None of that stuff is true. Those are overreactions. And they are not my thoughts, nor are they my truths.
And after you read this, I’m gonna take a stab and say that they won’t be yours anymore either.
The criticisms above are the thoughts and truths of panicked Browns fans, of critics and know-it-alls, of small sample size zealots, of bandwagoners who are about to jump ship if they haven’t already. And I don’t mean to make fun of anyone or call anyone out here. That’s not what I’m about and that’s not the purpose of this article. I’m here to sort this out for you. I’m here to grab the wheel and steer this car away from the cliffs of insanity to which we’re currently careening with all this hyperbole and dramatization. I’m here to sift through the first three Browns games of the 2019 NFL season and answer the same three questions I answer each and every week for you:
We think the 2019 Cleveland Browns are a mess. But are they really?
We know the Browns are 1-2. But will they continue to underwhelm?
About these Cleveland Browns…
What Can We Prove?
We're going to prove that, despite our best efforts to bury this team and their efforts to appear buried, the 2019 Cleveland Browns are not yet sunk. (I know, I know. That sounds hard. Just trust me and come along.)
And look, there’s no denying that the 2019 Cleveland Browns have gotten off to a rocky start. First up was a 30-point beat down at home by the Tennessee Titans. Then they only won by 20 on the road, defeating a Jets squad that was missing QB Sam Darnold, DT Quinnen Williams, and LB C.J. Mosely. And in week three they lost another home game to last year’s Super Bowl loser, the LA Rams.
Three games in and what have we seen from these Browns? Two home losses, one lousy win they may not even have if the other team was healthy, a bajillion penalties (all numbers approximate), no offensive cohesion, a head coach that should be fired, an Offensive Coordinator who needs to start calling plays, a quarterback who should be demoted or cut or at the very least, be in fewer commercials, a bad offensive line, maybe the most injured defense in the NFL, an upset fan base, a difficult schedule coming up, and perhaps the longest run-on sentence in the history of the English language.
(That last one may actually be my fault.)
Yes indeed, the sky is indeed falling and this 2019 season, three games in though it may be, is over.
Or, maybe it isn’t. Maybe, just maybe, we don’t really know what to think about these Cleveland Browns. Not yet.
Okay, so it’s time to be completely honest with y’all. Across the Board Sports was founded because each and every one of us who are contributing to it wanted to deliver content to you that is nuanced, has depth, is the exact opposite of hot take-y (cold take-y? That can’t be a thing…), and has zero click bait articles. So if you truly enjoy being screamed at by the host of a TV debate show who shouts absurdly outlandish claims for an hour and then backs them up with a bunch of laughably weak statements that can easily be proven wrong in about 12 seconds with a rudimentary Google search, this website may not be for you. Sorry, but it’s true.
But if you think there’s value in a team of writers who don’t take the easy way out and who are willing to spend the time to really research a topic, instead of just whipping up fluff piece after fluff piece, then please, keep readying. ‘Cause it’s about to get all cold take-y in here. (Still not a thing? Dang. Okay. I’ll stop.)
The point of all that brutal honesty is so that you all understand the whole point of this article:
We barely know anything about these 2019 Cleveland Browns, so jumping to conclusions about how the rest of the season is going to play out is kinda bonkers, if you ask me.
I mean, think about it. Really think about this. After only three games, what do you actually know about this team?
We know that in week one against Tennessee they played one of the sloppiest games we’ve ever seen an NFL team play. They had 19 penalties totaling 182 yards, the most for this franchise since 1951.
Obviously penalties were issues A-Z for the Browns that day. But wouldn’t you know it? They have improved in that department.
In week two versus the Jets they had nine penalties for 85 yards. And last week against the Rams they had eight for 60 yards. So if at any point through these first three games you were one of the people saying that this team is doomed because they’re undisciplined, or that too many penalties means the head coach has no control of the team, I’m sorry, but you now have to say that your concern is waning, just like the number of penalties the Browns are committing.
Also, let’s not forget that despite each and every one of those 18 flags against the Titans, Cleveland led the game, 15-13, with 2:10 left in the 3rd quarter. Shortly after that is when Derrick Henry took that 75-yard screen pass to the house. That’s when the game started to get out of hand. But if you’re like me, then you probably noticed when a Browns LB was basically tackled at the point of attack by a Titans offensive lineman. See?
That should have drawn a hold from the referees on that play, negating the touchdown. (All those penalty flags flying that day and the refs missed that one. Hilarious.) If that play comes back, who knows how the game ends? Maybe they still lose. Obviously that is extremely possible. Maybe even likely. But maybe they don’t lose, because maybe Baker Mayfield doesn’t throw three 4th quarter INTs because he is pressing on every throw, trying to win the game with each drop-back. And maybe the Titans incredibly suspect quarterback, Marcus Mariota, makes a costly mistake late on the road and the Browns do end up snagging that W.
And then in week two the Browns went on the road and beat a Jets team that is as beat up as any in the NFL. A lot of people have said that they didn’t look too great in that win. I agree with that. That’s a fair assessment. Bottom line, they got a road win in the NFL which is never easy and is always a good thing. But it could have looked better.
And finally, in week three Cleveland lost at home to LA, 20-13. Baker Mayfield looked spooked, leaving clean pockets early when there just wasn’t any pressure. Freddie Kitchens had, to put it mildly, a very bad game calling plays. The draw to Nick Chubb on 4th and 9 absolutely was one of the worst plays in league history. But you almost forgot about that play, if only because later in the 4th quarter with just under a minute left in the game and the Browns trailing 20-13, they had it first and goal from the four yard line, and Kitchens ran the ball exactly zero times. With all three time outs. With Nick Chubb as his running back.
It was hard to watch.
On those last four plays inside the five, Kitchens just flat-out bombed. But to be fair, Baker wasn’t perfect either. He missed a wide-open Jarvis Landry on third down because he inexplicably predetermined that he was going to throw the ball to TE Demetrius Harris on that play no matter what. Had he simply waited a moment to actually read what was in front of him, there’s no way he misses how open Landry gets, and they tie the game. Take a look:
The little red circle is where the ball is. The big red circle is why some Clevelanders are perpetually in therapy.
(By the way, that pic is from a tweet by Jake Burns – @jake_burns18 – who covers the Browns for the Orange and Brown Report – @theOBR. Please go check out his work. He understands football at an incredibly deep level, and he is excellent at explaining what he sees.)
Okay, so now you and I have gone through the first three weeks together. But maybe you didn’t need the recap. Because you’ve watched all the games and you’ve seen all the miscues and shortcomings. As a Browns fan or perhaps a fan of some other team who likes to keep tabs on the entire NFL, you were already aware of all that has happened, good and bad (though mostly bad), with these Cleveland Browns. So why the recap, John?
Because all we have is what has happened. We have no idea what’s going to happen next. We can guess all we want. We can try to predict the future or think that we already know it because, well, we’ve seen the Browns disappoint many times before. (Browns gonna Brown, am I right?)
But the reality of the NFL is this: we have no idea what’s coming next. None. Crazy things happen in this league.
All. The. Time.
The 2018 New England Patriots started out the season 1-2 after losing to Blake Bortles’ Jacksonville Jaguars, and then the Matt Patricia-led Detroit Lions.
Jacksonville finished the season at 5-11. Detroit, however, blew by the Jaguars in the win column, finishing with a 6-10 record.
New England went 11-5 and won the Super Bowl.
The 2017 Philadelphia Eagles lost their franchise quarterback to a torn ACL in week 14.
They went on to win the Super Bowl that year. With Nick Foles as their quarterback.
The 2016 New England Patriots, with the 30th ranked defense in the NFL, made it to the Super Bowl only to get run off the field in the first half to the tune of a 28-3 deficit.
And, well, you know the rest.
Please understand, I do not mean to compare the Cleveland Browns to those New England Patriots teams or that Philadelphia Eagles squad. Nor am I saying that because those teams won Super Bowls, anyone can. Not at all.
What I do mean to say is this:
Those teams were dead and buried. Toast. And they came back from the dead and did things that not one single football fan thought they could reasonably do.
After the Patriots lost to Detroit last year, Brady was done, Belichick might retire, the Pats had traded away both Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett, whatever will they do?
After Carson Wentz tore his ACL in stepped Nick Foles who, that last time we saw him on the football field, played like the punchline to an awful joke.
The only reason you kept watching the Patriots-Falcons Super Bowl after halftime is because maybe there would finally be a funny commercial. (There wasn’t.)
We absolutely knew that the above three results were impossible.
And then, right before our eyes, they weren’t.
So look, before you go firing Freddie Kitchens, and maybe even getting rid of Offensive Coordinator, Todd Monken, as well because you’re sure he’s also to blame for these offensive woes, and before you say that Baker Mayfield is trash and Cleveland should start scouting for a new quarterback…
Before you do any of those things, say this out loud with me:
I cannot predict the future any more than a fake Jamaican can.
(That’s a joke from like 1999, so you might need to Google that one. But when you’re done laughing, come right back, okay?)
You do not know what’s coming for the 2019 Cleveland Browns. Nobody does. And just because you’ve seen them underwhelm and look out of sorts so far, does not mean that that will continue. Remember, the NFL is strange and mystical in ways that we never see coming, even though we always so certain that we know that what we’ve seen happen for sure will continue to occur.
(Um, there’s just one more chanting session and then we’re done here. You’re doing great so far, by the way.)
Let’s say this together, too:
It’s okay if things in the NFL take more than three games to coalesce.
Believe me, I understand how incredibly difficult it can be to have patience with the NFL because of the short nature of the season, and because the small number of games per season magnifies the impact of each game. I mean, for every season that you’ve been alive, you’ve heard this ripe gem from someone at ESPN:
“Only blah-blah-blah percent of teams that start 0-2 make the playoffs.”
ESPN drilled this sense of urgency into you. They told you that your team’s season ended because it started two weeks ago and, well, ya didn’t win either of those two games. So… see ya! You gotta go.
How absurd is that? I don’t have the data in front of me right now, but of course I would concede that teams that start out 2-0 or 2-1 inherently end up better than teams that start out 0-2 or 1-2. But a bad start is just that; a bad start. Teams have and will continue to recover from bad starts.
Here’s the bottom line folks, and I’m giving it to you straight here:
We must have patience with these Cleveland Browns. It may take more than three games for things to get right and for them to start living up to the hype. The talent is definitely there. They just have to start trusting each other and believing in one another, and then they’ll start to play together as a team.
As a born-and-raised Clevelander I can say this because I feel it in every molecule in my body:
I know we’ve waited for a very, very long time already. But listen, Cleveland. Just stick with this head coach, this quarterback, this team.
Because maybe, just maybe, the wait will be worth it.
John Kaufman - Across the Board Sports