Cleveland Browns: Time to hit the brakes
What do the Cleveland Browns have in common with a teenager just learning to drive? More than you might think. Here’s the driving lesson I think the Browns need to learn during the bye week.
When I was teaching my son how to drive a car, I told him the hardest thing for him to learn would be the relationship between the accelerator and the brake. Sure enough, after a couple of herky-jerky trips around the subdivision, he picked it up. But for those first couple of trips he was extremely frustrated. He thought it would be a lot easier than it was.
My oldest daughter, on the other hand, is still learning, even after a minor fender bender, that driving defensively is not driving slow, it’s driving in a way that gives you options.
What do my adventures in parenting have to do with the state of the Cleveland Browns?
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After their 32-28 loss to the Seahawks, the Browns are a team looking for answers to questions coming at them from every direction. There was a key play towards the end of the first half that summed up the first six games of the season.
With just over a minute-and-a-half left and leading 20-12, the Browns had a 2nd-and-8 from the Seattle 10-yard line. Prudence dictated chewing up the rest of the clock and either scoring a touchdown or kicking a field goal. Either outcome would have put the Browns up by two scores with Seattle getting the ball first to start the second half.
Instead, head coach Freddie Kitchens and the Browns went for door number three. The Browns went into a no-huddle offense and quarterback Baker Mayfield threw a slightly errant pass to Jarvis Landry that was tipped and intercepted. What was especially baffling was that the Browns had all three of their timeouts. The entire red zone playbook was open to them.
Do you know what comes next guys? The Seahawks marched down the field and scored a touchdown. And even though they missed the two-point conversion, there was another nine-point swing, at least.
Daryl Ruiter sums up Kitchens’ response in his post-game interview:
The Cleveland Browns have a head coach who needs to learn that this sports car that he inherited has both an accelerator and a brake (we won’t even mention the clutch). He has a premium running back in Nick Chubb who is really good at chewing up yards and eating clock.
That would do wonders for a defense that has shown it can be effective when it can catch its breath. The Seahawks didn’t dominate in time of possession yesterday (unlike the 49ers game) but at key moments, the lack of complementary football put the defense in a bad position.
However, the problem is a bit more complex than just Kitchens. You see, we have a quarterback who wants to play aggressive all the time. We have a playmaking wide receiver who wants to push the envelope all the time. We have a defensive end who loves to play aggressive (and frequently jump the snap count). We have a free safety who wants to make a big tackle instead of just wrapping up.
The Browns are a young team that wants to play fast and loose. And the players are enabling a coach who wants to play fast and loose. Since the first game, I have felt Kitchens needs a voice in his ear to advise him that just because something can be done does not mean it should be done.
Maybe it’s time for Kitchens to have a “chat” with Nick Saban, Bill Parcells, Bruce Arians or the other coaches in the network that he has told fans and media he has available to him.
As a long-suffering fan, I have to admit this is a new kind of frustration. I’m used to the vanilla offenses of years past where throwing downfield was frowned upon. The result was too many games where the Cleveland Browns were never out of the game, but they were really never in the game if you know what I mean.
So on the one hand, I respect the desire to play to win instead of playing not to lose. However, it’s time for this team to pump the brakes. It’s time to find that balance between when to be aggressive and when to just “take what’s there”. Because we’re about to face a team that is a master at that.
Playing the game with a balance between the accelerator and the brake gives you options. Right now, the Browns have to be perfect to overcome the errors they are making from being too aggressive. It was manifest in personal fouls in the first game. It was manifest in being too stubborn in the Rams game. It was manifest in poor game management yesterday. And it has been all three of those and more in too many games, even the wins.
The Browns are learning what they can do well against premium competition that know what they do well. “Isn’t that what preseason is for?” It used to be. But today, teams can’t afford to work on timing and game management with starters in preseason games. So the Browns are doing it now. And it’s not pretty.
Cleveland needs to take the same advice they’ve been giving to fans and media. Just pump the brakes.