Cleveland Browns’ coaching search a no brainer once you see these stats
The Cleveland Browns search for a head coach was part soap opera, part conspiracy theory, and part charade, but they ultimately wound up with the right coach.
Freddie Kitchens was the most obvious candidate all along as the Cleveland Browns searched for their next head coach. It’s not just about Baker Mayfield, it’s the astonishing, inexplicable improvement in the offensive line, which represents a historically great coaching job, the likes of which we have never seen before.
Frankly, it’s embarrassing listening to ESPN and FOX. They are knocking the hiring on the grounds that Kitchens doesn’t have a proven track record like Bruce Arians, or the IQ of Condoleezza Rice.
My gosh, it’s been 10 days since the end of the season. Doesn’t that mean that the coaching search process is chaotic, and the Browns are a ship without a rudder?
No. It does not mean that.
The Parable of the Chevrolet
Look, let’s suppose you want to buy a Chevrolet pickup truck. Great! But before you sign, you’re going to check the consumer articles about it, and you’re going to visit the Ford and Dodge dealer as well, and you probably also go to dealers that you have zero intention to buy from, say Toyota, Volkswagen, Kia, Volvo, Fiat, Tesla and everything other brand you are curious about.
It doesn’t mean that you don’t have a plan or that you’re indecisive, it just means you want to learn as much as possible about the products. Even if you do not see some other car that causes you to change your mind, you’re going to buy other cars for your family members later on.
Maybe a full-size pickup truck is not the most appropriate vehicle for a 16-year-old. So let’s learn a thing or two during the shopping process.
In the same way, the coaching search is a very valuable process. Some of the guys who are turned down for a head coach may eventually work for the team as an assistant coach. It’s also an opportunity to ask questions. “Hey, coach, what would you do to stop Lamar Jackson?” We might want to ask a good defensive coach like Matt Eberflus for his opinion.
Or, maybe due diligence turns up some dirt on Freddie Kitchens, and you might change your mind. Maybe he was out partying with Johnny Manziel, or who knows what? It behooves NFL teams to have a backup plan even if they are comfortable with Plan A.
It makes sense to go through this methodical interview process, particularly because they had control of Freddie Kitchens since he was under contract.
So What’s so Great About Freddie Kitchens?
Well, folks, this is what you need to know. In games 1-8, the Browns offense was mainly in the hands of Todd Haley, a well respected offensive coordinator for years with the Steelers among others. In this offense, the Browns OL was giving up sacks at a rate that is comparable to the NFL worst performance (the Houston Texans with 62 sacks surrendered, or 3.88 sacks per game).
The Browns gave up 33 sacks in those eight games or 4.13 sacks per game which is worst in the NFL. After the switch was made to Freddie Kitchens, the Browns gave up five sacks in the next eight games, or 0.63 sacks per game which is by far the best in NFL — much better than the Saints who averaged 1.13 sacks per game in 2018.
Anyone this side of Colin Cowherd can see that the Browns were transformed dramatically in midseason.
Sacks are not just a number. There is a physical consequence to this stat. If your quarterback getting crushed by 300-pound guys on a regular basis, this is not survivable.
If you are at the level of the league’s worst, at the “Red Line of Death,” your quarterback is going to get a concussion like Tyrod Taylor in Week 3, or maybe even something worse.
Looking at QB hits allowed, the story is similar. The Browns put up terrible numbers in the first half of the season and were by far the best statistically in the NFL after the coaching change. If your O-Line is allowing fewer QB hits than anyone else, there is a good chance you can keep your QB upright for an entire season.
The closest thing to compare it with may be Jim Caldwell becoming OC of the Ravens in game 15 of 2012, and sportswriter rightfully gave him great accolades for contributing to the Ravens Super Bowl season by reorganizing the offensive line. Statistically, the Ravens gave up 31 sacks in 13 games before Caldwell (2.38 sacks per game) only, and then 13 sacks in the next seven games including four playoff games (1.86 sacks/game).
That’s impressive but statistically speaking it is nowhere near the Browns’ worst-to-first transition in 2018. In case you are interested to know, the next year the Ravens gave up 48 sacks (3.00 per game).
The effect is also noticeable on Baker Mayfield. Under Hue Jackson in the Haley offense, Mayfield was taking a beating and not putting up good numbers, especially once opposing coaches had game film to look at.
Quarterback rating, of course, does not tell the entire story, but his passer rating of 78.9 under Haley was lower than much maligned Blake Bortles (79.8). The only starters to put up a lower passer rating 2018 were fellow rookies Josh Allen (67.9), Josh Rosen (66.7) and Sam Darnold (77.6).
So if you are imagining that if Hue Jackson had named Baker Mayfield the starter in Week 1, the result would probably not be a string of victories, that’s not what the numbers suggest. Instead, Mayfield would likely have been bottom five and would be physically banged up, and we would be talking about which quarterback to take with the top overall pick in 2019. Let’s not even go there.
Under Kitchens, Mayfield earned a rating of 106.2, which, if achieved over the entire season, would have been good for fourth in the NFL, behind Drew Brees, Pat Mahomes, Russell Wilson, and Matt Ryan — and just ahead of Phil Rivers.
Thus, if you’re just as happy with Blake Bortles and don’t care if your guy performs at a top-5 level, then, of course, you don’t have a use for Freddie Kitchens. Join Colin Cowherd and Ian Rapoport in booing the Browns decision.
The rest of us may just wait and see how this turns out.