Cleveland Browns: Is Freddie Kitchens really an upgrade over Gregg Williams?

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 11: Head coach Gregg Williams of the Cleveland Browns reacts to a play second half against the Atlanta Falcons at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 11, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 11: Head coach Gregg Williams of the Cleveland Browns reacts to a play second half against the Atlanta Falcons at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 11, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

Cleveland Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens’ job is in jeopardy due to an underperforming team compared to the same team under Gregg Williams.

Cleveland Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens is a very likeable guy and Cleveland fans seem to love him, but his job is in jeopardy because he is producing less than his predecessor Gregg Williams. The 2019 Browns are much more talented than the team Gregg Williams took to a 5-3 finish last year, but the Browns are sputtering at 5-7.

When Hue Jackson was replaced by Williams midway through the 2018 season–while at the same time Freddie Kitchens became offensive coordinator–there was an immediate turnaround.  The team that gave up 33 sacks in the first half suddenly became nearly invincible, giving up only five sacks in the second half of the season. That level of turnaround, in which a team goes from one of the worst at giving up sacks to one of the best in the same season, is almost unprecedented in NFL history.

At the same time, after eight games in 2018, Mayfield was weakening under all those sacks and had only one win as a starter for Jackson and was getting worse. Mayfield had a brilliant start against the Jets in Week 3 last season, coming in for an injured Tyrod Taylor. But once the defensive coordinators had some NFL game tape on him, his performance leveled off and his passer rating was at a similar level to Brandon Weeden. In came Williams and Kitchens and suddenly Mayfield was one of the top performers in the NFL.

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However, the Browns’ defense did not show that level of improvement.  They could not stop the run despite having Myles Garrett, Joe Schobert and Jamie Collins up front. That is crazy. So it made sense to credit Kitchens for the turnaround more than defensive specialist Williams.

But the fact of the matter is that the offense is much weaker this year than last year. Mayfield is a good quarterback this year, but not quite the gunslinger of the second half of 2018.

Even more importantly, however, the team seems more concerned about being bullies rather than winners. One of Machiavelli’s rules of war is that “Discipline in war counts more than fury.” The Browns play with great fury and firepower, yet they can be defeated when the opponent is led by a disciplined rookie free agent quarterback. How is this possible?

The record is currently 5-7 and although theoretically there is hope for the playoffs if the Browns can run the table, that seems very unlikely. The Browns have championship talent, but they are a below average team. They are going nowhere this year.

The Browns had a nice come from behind victory against the Buffalo Bills, but this year the team has more often gotten discouraged and faded away in the face of adversity. Truly, the Browns are the Kardiac Kids 2.0, except now they go ahead and have the heart attack when they are behind. Watching them wither against the Pittsburgh Steelers was excruciatingly painful.

Is it possible that Gregg Williams deserves more credit for the turnaround than we thought? He is best known as the blitz-crazy disciple of Buddy Ryan, but do you remember what position he played in college? He was a quarterback! He also pitched in baseball and played basketball at Truman State University (at the time known as Central Missouri State). Maybe he is not as one-dimensional as it appears.

Williams early in his career had a little of Freddie Kitchens in him. Coaching defensive players is different from coaching offense. The job of the defense is to come in and disrupt things rather than sustain them. On their off-day, offensive players might enjoy the Indianapolis 500, but the defense would rather go see a demolition derby.

So the defensive coaches tend to be a little wild, and in Williams’ case, he got in major trouble for the so-called “Bountygate” scandal. That is not a totally negative thing. The fact of the matter is that at the pro level, defensive players do play with extreme intensity and try to knock their opponents out of the game. But you just cannot come out and say that on national television.

Gregg Williams the head coach learned from the mistakes he had made as a younger man. As head coach, he projected a different personality than Gregg Williams the defensive coordinator. The head coach was very organized, meticulous in preparation and professional and restrained with the media.

Although the stereotype is that Williams is a defensive guru, he might actually be a better head coach than defensive coordinator. He worked with Kitchens and gave Mayfield the opportunity to chuck the ball downfield, but they were not obsessed with trick plays, gadgets and bombs from a seven-step drop.

For what it is worth, Damarious Randall says he hates Williams. Well, under Kitchens, Randall felt free to get thrown out of the first Steelers game and heated things up with a trashy helmet-to-helmet hit of Deondre Johnson that showed blood coming from the poor guy’s ear, while Randall almost playfully lobbied the officials to let him stay in the game. Williams would have gotten in Randall’s face for that stupid act that left the Browns short on defensive backs. Maybe some of Williams unnecessary discipline was not such a bad idea.

So should the Browns run off and re-hire Williams? That is a possibility, but there are some fences that need to be mended, as there have been some friction between Williams and Myles Garrett, as well as Odell Beckham Jr.  Williams was also vocal about Denzel Ward‘s need to have better tackling technique. Can these issues be overcome? It is not like the coach needs to be loved by all the players. Coaches like Tom Landry and Chuck Noll were not always user-friendly.

One major concern is that we have never learned why it was necessary to part ways with Danny Shelton, Jason McCourty, and Carl Nassib. It may have had nothing to do with Williams, but the media has never been able to find out for sure. In any case, these moves were probably not purely football decisions, as it was known that they were pretty good players, especially McCourty. Was the relationship with coach Williams a contributing factor to the departure of some pretty good players? But no team can have as many as three starters leave the team per year without a good reason.

Kitchens richly deserves to be fired because of his undisciplined approach to NFL football, his underperforming team and his overly aggressive offensive play calling. He has been far worse than his predecessor, Gregg Williams. The Browns did not spend $30 million over the nominal cap allowance this year just to see a team struggle to reach .500.

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On the other hand, though this year has been a disaster, the real question is whether John Dorsey and the Haslam’s believe that Kitchens can improve next year. That decision can probably be best made at the end of the season. However, if things do not improve by the end of this season, it might be worth calling back Williams for an interview, if he is still interested.