The Cleveland Browns offense has struggled under Freddie Kitchens, but his play-calling is in a much different situation than it was last season.
Freddie Kitchens was named the Cleveland Browns head coach this offseason because of his success as offensive coordinator and play-caller during the second half of the 2018 season.
His creativity and willingness to take shots helped take the offense to the next level. It also helped Baker Mayfield explode onto the scene and emerge as one of the top rookies from the 2018 draft class.
However, that has not been the case in 2019 and the offense has been viewed as a disaster in the first three games of the season. Mayfield has thrown two more interceptions than touchdowns and the offense has only mustered an average of 16.3 points in their first three games.
More from Dawg Pound Daily
- How the Browns could maximize Nick Chubb in 2023
- Can Deshaun Watson get to Patrick Mahomes level for Cleveland Browns?
- 3 Cleveland Browns who should see an expanded role in 2023 and 1 who should not
- Is Marcus Davenport on the Browns radar in 2023?
- 5 Free agents from Super Bowl LVII Cleveland Browns should target
Kitchens is still the play-caller, despite hiring Todd Monken as his offensive coordinator. But the offense has not resembled anything from last season. There is no creativity. There is poorly timed play calls. And there is no sign of the gunslinging Mayfield from his rookie season.
This has led to questions about why the offense is so drastically different compared to last season when Kitchens and Mayfield took the NFL by storm. Kitchens was supposed to continue to show his offensive prowess and make gutsy calls that put defenses on their heels. But unfortunately for Kitchens and Browns fans who want to see that type of offense, Kitchens and his play-calling is in a drastically different situation than it was in last season after Kitchens was named the offensive coordinator.
Last season, Kitchens was able to take over midseason with a good knowledge of what was working from the playbook and what wasn’t. This allowed him to talk to Mayfield and other members of the offense and only use what the team believed they were best suited to do. In 2019, it is a different playbook and different concepts, so Kitchens does not have the best set of schemes that the offense prefers. Instead, the offense is still experimenting with different concepts.
Kitchens likely kept note of what worked for the offense last season and then tried to build off it for this season. But how he has branched off those types of schemes may not be working as well as he was expecting them to work.
The biggest difference in the situation, however, is that Kitchens is no longer playing with house money. In 2018, there were no expectations for what the Browns offense was going to do under Kitchens. He was an unknown play-caller because this was his first opportunity to be an offensive coordinator. Because of this, Kitchens had a lot of freedom and could call what he wanted without dealing with a lot of backlash. This type of freedom made it less of a problem if he called trick plays and the plays did not work.
Defenses could not expect and game plan how Kitchens was going to call a game. They were kept guessing, and that allowed the Browns offense to pick apart holes in the defense. By the end of the season, the offense was not as efficient and explosive as it had been when Kitchens first took over and they were not scoring as many points, likely because defenses had a feel for Kitchens’ offense.
Now in 2019, Kitchens does not have as much freedom to call what he wanted. As head coach and play-caller, he is expected to put the offense in good situations to succeed. With the type of weapons on the offense, the group is expected to be an explosive unit who can make big play after big play. Last year, Mayfield took what was given to him and distributed the ball all over the field to different receivers instead of relying on one receiver and deep shots. This season, he is trying to get the ball to Odell Beckham Jr. as much as he can, as well as waiting for deep shots to get open.
Kitchens’ creativity has lacked in 2019 and is making the Browns offense much more predictable. Defenses are disguising coverages and their alignments, making it difficult for Mayfield to get a pre-snap read of the defense. Defensive coordinators have an idea what Kitchens and Mayfield want to do, and they are scheming game plans that the Browns have not been able to adjust to.
It is not surprising that Kitchens may be overwhelmed calling plays while learning how to be a head coach. But being in a situation where there are expectations for the offense to be a top-tier unit has made it more difficult for Kitchens to be creative and unpredictable.
As the season goes on and the Browns learn the problems with their offense, they can make the adjustments necessary. But no matter what, it may be harder than many anticipated for Kitchens to game plan and call the same types of games like last season.