The Cleveland Browns had their best offensive performance of the season against the Ravens, and Freddie Kitchens returned to his 2018 play-calling.
One of the biggest gripes about the Cleveland Browns offense at the start of the 2019 season has been the struggles of Freddie Kitchens as the play-caller. He was not showing the same aggressiveness and creativity that helped him earn the Browns head coaching job, causing the offense to be sluggish.
Last season, Kitchens helped the offense explode during the second half of the season using innovative play designs, establishing the run, and then using play-action. Baker Mayfield looked extremely comfortable in the offense and it helped him thrive as a rookie.
In the first three games of the 2019 season, that type of offense was practically nonexistent. There were glimpses of the concepts, but nothing was sustained throughout the course of a game. Instead, the offense seemed to be keen on making plays downfield.
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However, that was not the case during the Browns Week 4 victory against the Baltimore Ravens as the offense exploded for 40 points and 530 total yards. The strong offensive performance showed plenty of similarities to how the offense functioned during their strong second half last season.
Instead of relying on taking deep shots downfield, the Browns passing offense worked the short and intermediate part of the field and had great success. Mayfield was putting the ball in the hands of the receivers and let them do the work. Even if the ball was completed less than 20 yards downfield, the Browns receivers were making people miss and were gaining yards after the catch.
The main reason the Browns were looking to take shots downfield was because they wanted explosive plays. But Cleveland’s receivers were making explosive plays Sunday because they are dangerous when the ball is in their hands. This helped Mayfield have his best performance of 2019, completing 20/30 of his passes for 342 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
The quick throws also helped the offensive line because they were not forced to block much longer than 2.5 seconds. The ball was getting out of Mayfield’s hands quickly and the offensive line was not allowing pressure because of the quick release.
This is where Kitchens’ offense thrived last season. Mayfield was distributing the ball to multiple receivers and the receivers were creating chunk plays. It prevented Mayfield from getting hit and stressed defenses because it forced them to make tackles.
Another one of the most important similarities for Kitchens and the Browns offense was how they established and relied on the run. Nick Chubb was easily the best player on the Browns offense Sunday, rushing for 165 yards and three touchdowns, including an 88-yard touchdown, on 20 carries. Chubb was breaking multiple tackles and was always falling forward when he would get wrapped up.
The ability to run the ball forced the defense to worry about Chubb and the run game, leaving openings in the passing game for Mayfield to take advantage of. And it also gave the Browns chances to run play-action, causing the defense to bite on the run and creating even more holes.
Kitchens’ play-calling kept the Ravens on their toes and made the offense less predictable. The players were also executing the play calls, which is always beneficial. But something that has been clearly missing in the Browns offense was Kitchens’ creativity, which shined last season.
Kitchens called multiple tricky play designs, including multiple shovel passes, a double-reverse which was designed for Odell Beckham Jr. to throw deep, and an option play with Jarvis Landry and Beckham. The creativity caught the Ravens offense off guard, and it almost resulted in big plays each time.
When Kitchens is on a roll as a play-caller, defenses have a hard time guessing what is coming next. Kitchens will use plenty of misdirection to put defenses in a bad position, creating plenty of space for the Browns offense to operate.
It appears the Browns have worked out the kinks of their offense and they now know what concepts work for them. Kitchens is channeling his success from last season and it is already creating success in 2019.
The big question is how involved Todd Monken is with the offense. The plan was to mix concepts from Kitchens’ offense with Monken’s offense. But Sunday sure looked a lot like Kitchens’ offense, and that is not a bad thing. Kitchens returned to what worked for the Browns last season, and it could be the key to unlocking what was supposed to be an explosive Browns offense in 2019.