Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Mid-week thoughts

 It’s so easy to compliment Freddie Kitchens these days, especially with an offense that genuinely carries a dangerous label. It’s difficult to criticize what we have seen the last three games since he took over as the Browns’ offensive coordinator.

But here is one vote against what Kitchens did in the second half of Sunday’s 35-20 bludgeoning of the Cincinnati Bengals. He fell into a trap of believing the game was already won and backed off in, as in no need to embarrass the opposition.

The Bengals stormed back and drew to within 35-20 on consecutive possessions in the fourth quarter while the Cleveland offense went flat, registering a pair of three-and-outs and a four-and-out.

Instead of continuing to attack, they looked much more like the abysmally bad offenses fans have gotten used to over the last several seasons.

After taking a 35-7 lead two minutes into the third quarter, taking advantage of a turnover on a poor snap, the Browns ran just 17 plays that gained 60 net yards. Nick Chubb carried the ball on 12 of those plays, picking up 53 of those yards.

Baker Mayfield threw the football just four times in the entire second half, completing two for only 14 yards and his fourth scoring pass of the afternoon. It’s hard to figure out whether Kitchens wanted to work in the run game or thought Mayfield had thrown enough.

There is nothing wrong with continuing to do what got you there in the first place. Just because you run up a score like 35-7 over a division rival with 28 minutes left in the game doesn’t mean you should back off and go conservative, especially against a division rival. You could even call it a prevent offense.

It might have looked as though the Bengals made halftime adjustments. That was not the case at all. It was suddenly and inexplicably bad football, a total turnaround from the first half, during which the offense scored on four straight drives and totally dominated.

Kitchens went away from what worked in the first 30 minutes, perhaps trying out some new wrinkles, figuring the outcome was secured. It was, as it turned out, but there were some needless anxious moments along the way.

The defense, which spent 17½ minutes on the field because the offense couldn’t sustain a drive, finally came to the rescue after surrendering a 14-play, 94-yard drive to make it a 15-point game. The next Cincinnati drive reached the Cleveland 13-yard line before stalling with 3:09 left in regulation as fans started getting nervous.

The whole idea of offensive football is to chip away at and then take away the will of opposing defenses. Keep doing what you’re doing until they wave what amounts to a white flag of surrender.

Right now, it sure looks as though the club’s offensive unit loves what Kitchens is doing. It shows in their execution. It has really looked like a legitimate NFL offense six of the last eight quarters. It’s those other two quarters that need to be addressed.

There is absolutely no reason to steer away from it no matter the score. Calling off the dogs might work with a better team. Right now, though, it does not work for the Browns.
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Baker Mayfield’s chilly handshake with ex-Browns coach Hue Jackson after Sunday’s game and his post-game comments regarding that handshake met with a mixed reaction in the social media universe.

My take: Same as when the Condoleezza Rice-Browns head coach story broke a few weeks back: Much ado about nothing. The latter is now forgotten; the former will soon be forgotten. As you were.

Scraps . . . On a personal note, family matters will take me away from the resurgent Browns for a couple of games. I plan on catching up with them via DirecTV and will share my thoughts at that time. Predicting a couple of close losses in Houston (31-24) Sunday and at home against Carolina (34-28) a week from Sunday against a pair of very good quarterbacks in Deshaun Watson and Cam Newton.  Defense takes a vacation in both games. Hope I’m wr, wro, wron . . . incorrect.

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