On January 9th Freddie Kitchens was named head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Less than a year later he is out and the organization is in an all too familiar position. Once again Cleveland is searching for a new head coach and will have a top 10 pick in next year’s NFL draft. Let’s take a look back at the very short run of Kitchens as head coach and what really went wrong.
For the most part Browns fans were confident at the beginning of the year that Freddie would be a good coach. At the least, he had the backing and best wishes of the fanbase even if some we’re wary of hiring someone without head coaching experience. It appeared as if in 2018 he played a large role in the offensive turnaround. People also loved the fact that he was close with Baker and the other players seemed to like him as well. Kitchens already knew the Haslams and John Dorsey and everyone around the league spoke highly of his character. At the same time, he was different than everyone else which after the coaches we’ve had in the past seemed refreshing.
In terms of expectations at the beginning of the year, the fanbase was basically all on the same page; playoffs or bust. Whether this was realistic or not, no one expected a six-win season. Each week Freddie was taking part in the blame in his media availability. Ten different times he paraphrased that he needed to put these guys in better positions or call better plays. As the playoff hopes dwindled, Freddie’s humble approach to losing began to wear on the fans. Obviously losing ten times is a large part of the reason why Kitchens is gone, but there were other factors that may have played the decision.
Several times this season Kitchens was outcoached. Games like Denver, Seattle, LA Rams, and Pittsburgh the second time we’re all within reach and Freddie made mistakes. From the unforgettable 8 plays at the goal line to the more recent halfback pass on third and 1, Kitchen’s playcalling was questionable all season long, but it was more than that. The Browns just didn’t seem to have well-designed plays to begin with. Routes were taking too long to develop and offensively we just never seemed find a rhythm. One of the most frustrating things for fans was the lack of ability to get Odell Beckham Jr involved. Todd Monken’s offense put up huge numbers last year in Tampa Bay with much less talent and the Brown’s made personnel upgrades at the skill positions. Basically a high scoring offense was expected and that’s not what was delivered.
On the other side of the ball, there were huge problems that started with stopping the run game. Tackling and shedding blocks were problems all season long and it led to long gains and other issues. Without Myles on the field, there was little pressure on opposing quarterbacks. This exposed a young secondary that overall played well, but was beat on big plays and banged up. Although this isn’t all directly a reflection of Kitchens as an offensive specialist, it ultimately falls on the head coach to correct issues like this.
Looking at offensive and defensive efficiencies, Cleveland ranked poorly in several critical categories. According to Football Outsiders, the Brown’s ranked 20th overall offensively and 19th defensively. Team defense against the pass was by far the Brown’s best statistical category ranking 7th according to NFL.com, giving up just over 215 yards per game. Against the run is a different story with Cleveland coming in 30th and giving up almost 150 yards per game on the ground. On offense, the Brown’s finished 13th on the ground averaging just under 120 yards per game. However, the 4.8 yards per rushing attempt ranks in the top 5. In the passing game, the Browns ranked 22nd averaging just over 220 yards per game. Baker was also amongst lead leaders in interceptions with 21.
On third down efficiencies, again the Browns are average at best. Cleveland’s offense only converted third downs at 36.2% this season. For comparison that’s over 10% less than league leaders like Kansas City and Baltimore. Defensively they allowed conversions on 37.9% of plays, ranking 14th in the league. The mix of mediocre offense and defense made it almost impossible for this team to compete for the playoffs.
These weren’t the only issues fans and possibly the front office, had with Kitchens. For example, the permanent benching of Rahshard Higgins without an explanation did not go over well publically. Neither did situations with Damarious Randall or David Njoku that led to both missing time with little to no reason given. Then there was the situation with Jermaine Whiteheads that led to his ultimate dismissal. Once again not directly Freddie’s fault, but another sign that he may not have control over the team. This was again brought to light in a similar fashion when Myles Garrett was suspended for the year after swinging the helmet at Mason Rudolph. It felt as if at that point things were spiraling out of control, and losing the final three games was the reassurance that this was correct.
For the Cleveland Browns front office, this is the absolute last thing they wanted. They believed in Freddie and wanted him to succeed. It’s hard to point at exactly drove them to this decision but what is clear was things did not work out in 2019. No one really believed Kitchens was on a short leash or on the hot seat until these final few games. Dorsey and the Haslams did not seem to have a minimum number of wins in mind, but rather like the fans began to become frustrated and eventually lost hope in Freddie.
This season will be remembered as one of the most disappointing since the Brown’s return in 1999. Cleveland was the only team this decade not to have a playoff appearance. It has been brutal for fans and because of this Freddie took on great expectations when he acquired so much talent. Kitchens walked into a dangerous job. He needed to win now or be ready to pack his bags. With so much losing over the past 20 years, there is a built-in urgency that any coach is going to have here in Cleveland. Sadly, Freddie Kitchens just couldn’t meet those expectations.