DENVER – Scribbles in my notebook after the Browns’ 24-19 loss in Denver on Sunday:
1. The Browns went into this game wanting to cut down on penalties. They did. They had only five. None was of the mental-error, pre-snap variety. They wanted to cut down on turnovers. They had none.
2. After the game, Coach Freddie Kitchens and QB Baker Mayfield both mentioned how the team had a good week of practice. They cut out the mental errors. But they still lost. Not only that, they lost to a 2-6 Denver team and a QB (Brandon Allen) playing in his first regular-season game.
3. The Browns are in such a funk that even when they stop blatantly beating themselves with mental mistakes, they still can’t come up with enough big plays to win a game.
4. As Kitchens has said the last few weeks, “I just want to win a game.”
5. That reminds me of what one former Browns coach told me in confidence: “In Cleveland, you got through times wondering when you’ll ever win your next game.”
6. That’s the Browns this morning. That’s a team with a defense that misses tackles at key times. That’s a team that can’t figure out how to score in the red zone. . . after doing it so well last season. That’s a team where the coaching staff doesn’t know what plays to call when it means the most.
7. Watching the game in Denver, I kept thinking the Browns would figure out a way to win it ugly. That’s what they did last season, beating Denver here, 17-16. But when the Browns failed to convert in the red zone in the third quarter, I thought: “They’re going to lose this game.”
8. The clouds of defeat and stench of doubt hang over this team, as it has many other Browns teams. This one just has more talent, but the same mindset has returned. Now, the 5-3 record in the second half of 2018 seems like a bright, shining comet that flew in. . . and then flew away.
9. Bottom line: The Browns seemed to be playing with a sense of urgency knowing they need a win to keep their playoff hopes alive, but it was a collective failure on offense, defense and coaching when it came to making “winning plays.”
10. Myles Garrett had a chance to intercept a pass batted up in the air and walk into the end zone for a TD. He dropped it. Denver’s Noah Fant caught a short pass and turned it into a 75-yard TD ramble when three different Browns missed tackles. With a first-time QB on the field, this was a game primed for the Browns’ defense to create turnovers and turn them into scores. They forced one fumble, zero interceptions.
11. Lost in all the angst over Kitchens’ play-calling, Mayfield’s struggles and Odell Beckham’s drama is the failure of the defense. The Browns knew Denver planned to run the ball. They knew Allen liked to scramble. Yet Denver still rushed for 127 yards in 20 carries, a 6.4-yard average.
12. This season, it’s not just Kitchens who should be on the spot, the Steve Wilks defense rarely has stopped the run this season. Nor has it forced many turnovers. It’s a major disappointment. They came into the game ranked No. 29 against the run, and that probably didn’t change.
13. Kitchens said something about the defense needing to “have guys in the right spots” to take away big plays. He also bemoaned the missed tackles.
14. The reason this game was close was rookie kicker Austin Seibert doing a Phil Dawson imitation. He was perfect on four field goals. He is 14-for-14 this season.
15. The Browns in the red zone are lost. Kitchens is doing things like having Nick Chubb off the field when it’s 3rd-and-3. He did it twice, having Dontrell Hilliard in the backfield. And twice, he gave the ball to Hilliard. Twice, that failed to get the first down. Sigh.
16. Having Chubb on the field in those situations sets up a play fake and a chance for Mayfield to throw for a first down. Late in the game, Chubb was on the field for a 3rd-and-1 and was tackled for a 1-yard loss. So nothing worked. But I still want Chubb playing in those important situations.
17. Mayfield is a huge factor in the Browns’ demise. His touch on short passes from a year ago seems gone. He used to see more options when it came to receivers, now he’s focused on his first two receivers.
18. I generally hate QB sneaks because there is a risk of injury. Patrick Mahomes was injured on one a few weeks ago. A QB such as Mayfield is small. From the press box, I thought he made the 4th-and-1 sneak, but on the field the official said otherwise. Kitchens lost a replay challenge. I’d still prefer to give the ball to Chubb in those situations.
19. Mayfield’s rise lifted up the Browns last season. His 2019 struggles have weighed them down. It’s not all his fault. At different times, there have been coaching issues, blocking issues and penalty issues. But the Baker Mayfield who often rose above adversity last year has rarely been seen this season.
20. I’m very tired of Beckham and his cleats, etc. But I do want to see him get the ball more often. He is a big-play guy. He’ll battle defenders for the football when it’s thrown his way. He can make tacklers miss when after the catch, as he showed on gains of 39 and 27 yards. He caught 5-of-6 passes thrown in his direction.
21. There will be talk about Kitchens possibly being fired. I don’t know what they should do. Who takes over? Wilks? Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken? Special Teams Coach Mike Priefer? Wilks was fired after one year as Arizona’s head coach. Monken was a head coach at Southern Mississippi. Priefer is a career special teams coach.
22. If Kitchens is fired, I’d prefer the new coach to be someone who could be viewed as more than a bandaid for the rest of the year. But I have no idea what ownership and the front office thinks should be done right now with Kitchens. Fire him after eight games? But what has he shown in the eight games to inspire any confidence? That is what must be discussed this week in Berea.