Four Downs with the Cleveland Browns: Takeaways from Week 3

The Cleveland Browns headed into Week 3 after beating the New York Jets on Monday NIght Football. The Browns welcomed the NFC Champion Los Angeles Rams on Sunday NIght where they took on the Rams short eight players but went toe-to-toe with them until inexplicable play-calling led to a frustrating loss and a 1-2 record.

The Cleveland Browns looked to build upon their Week 2 win over the undermanned New York Jets on Monday Night Football. In Week 3, the Browns took on the NFC Champion Los Angeles Rams on Sunday Night Football.

Unfortunately, the Browns were missing large portions of their secondary and other notable players but had their opportunities to get the win at First Energy Stadium. 

We saw a Browns defense that limited a potent Rams offense to 20 points, which is thirteen points under their 2018 average.

Unfortunately, the Browns ended the night after they could not capitalize on one final red-zone opportunity. With time running out, the Browns couldn’t score despite the ball being on the Rams four-yard line. A turnover in the waning seconds ultimately sealed the 20-13 home loss. 

There are many questions to be asked about this Week 3 matchup. Is Freddie Kitchens in way over his head? Why did the Browns run a draw play on a 4th and 9? Where are all of the explosive plays from last season? Is Baker Mayfield regressing? Can the offensive line protect their franchise quarterback?

Playcalling has to be questioned

Freddie Kitchens was named the Cleveland Browns head coach because of his “bromance” with Baker Mayfield and his inventive play-calling as offensive coordinator last season. 

The Cleveland Browns fans have to be wondering what happened to those plays. Kitchens made some bizarre decisions on Sunday Night. His first bonehead play-call was something no one would even try in a Madden game. 

With 9:19 left in the fourth quarter, Cleveland was trailing 17-13. They had the ball at the Rams’ 40-yard line in a fourth-and-nine situation. The Browns could look to their star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. or with defenses knowing that you might go there, you can get Jarvis Landry isolated in the slot. What did Freddie Kitchens call?

Kitchens called a DRAW PLAY for Nick Chubb that failed miserably. The attempt only produced two yards. The Rams took over the ball and minutes later kicked a field goal that would give them the final seven-point margin. 

In a more significant head-scratcher move, the Browns are down 20-13 with all three time outs left.  They had the ball first and goal from just inside the five-yard line with 43 seconds left.

In the final four plays of the game, the Browns did not run the ball despite giving Chubb the ball in a disastrous fourth-and-nine attempt earlier in the fourth quarter. Chubb was the Browns offensive star Sunday Night. He already gained 96 yards and was averaging 4.2 yards per carry.

Kitchens opted for four straight passes by Mayfield. The first three fell incomplete, and the last was intercepted in the end zone. The formation on each play was four-receiver sets and empty backfield, thereby telegraphing to the Rams that there would be no potential running plays. 

“I should have run it once. Should have run it three times,” Kitchens told reporters. “I was being facetious. I should have ran it one time. I should have.”

With the game on the line, zero touches for Chubb, no pass attempts to Odell Beckham Jr.? 

Kitchens took the blame for the loss which is great in the locker room, but it’s hollow. Action speaks louder than words. He needs to step up his game, and the offense needs to drastically improve from being the 26th ranked scoring offense in the upcoming weeks.

Baker the touchdown maker?

Baker Mayfield has looked uncomfortable on virtually every snap. His offensive line is not protecting him, giving up 11 sacks in three games this season. In comparison, Mayfield was sacked just 25 times all of 2018.

The offense is not in sync. While we can attribute a portion of that to the play-calling of long-developing routes, the struggles of his decision-making have to be a concern.

Mayfield holds on to the ball for too long on some plays but is too quick to throw on others. He is also showing happy feet and leaves the pocket before there’s pressure. Mayfield anticipates the pressure and doesn’t trust his offensive line. 

In Week 3, he struggled again, completing just half of his 36 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown. Overall, he has thrown three touchdowns and five interceptions over the first three weeks while completing just 56.9 percent of his passes. 

Given the talent Cleveland possesses on offense, this is not acceptable. Decision-making and offensive execution must improve. 

The Browns defense stepped up

The Cleveland Browns couldn’t ask any more from their defense. They forced three turnovers, including two interceptions and a fumble recovery. Unfortunately, the offense scored zero points off those turnovers. 

The defense played without much of their secondary nor one of their starting linebackers. It was a masterful game plan by defensive coordinator Steve Wilks. They gave the Browns a chance to win. 

The Browns and their defensive line absolutely throttled the Rams’ running game. Todd Gurley and Malcolm Brown combined for 17 carries for 50 yards, for a collective 2.94 yards per carry average.

Myles Garrett had his AFC-leading sixth sack of the season which forced a Jared Goff fumble. 

Linebackers Joe Schobert and Mack Wilson played outstanding football, and, of course, the secondary held their own against an elite Rams offense. 

Want to hear some good news?

There were some positives in Week 3, including running back Nick Chubb. He had 23 carries for 96 yards and caught four balls on seven targets for 35 yards. 

Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry combined for nine catches with Landry taking the team-high honors with 62 yards. 

Rookie kicker Austin Seibert made both field goals and an extra point. He has not missed an attempt since missing an extra-point try in Week 1. 

Another topic to look forward to is the Browns schedule. The next four games will be challenging. The Browns have games against teams with a current combined record of 10-2: Baltimore, San Francisco, Seattle (only home game), and New England, which comes after the Week 7 bye. 

However, after that tough stretch, the remaining schedule is not daunting whatsoever with games against Denver, Buffalo, Miami, Arizona, and of course their AFC North matchups. 

If the Cleveland Browns can manage to get through the upcoming difficult portion of their schedule at .500, the rest of their schedule should provide positive vibes for the Browns faithful. 

Coming up next

The Cleveland Browns travel to M&T Bank Stadium in Week 4 to take on their AFC North rival, the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens (2-1) sit atop the AFC North standings while Cleveland (1-2) is in second place. 

The Ravens enter this matchup coming off a 33-28 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3. Quarterback Lamar Jackson came down to earth a little bit last Sunday, while the Ravens relied on running back Mark Ingram, who rushed for 103 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries. 

The Ravens love to dictate game flow on the ground and are the top rushing team in the NFL with 216.7 rushing yards per game. 

Baltimore has been traditionally known for its defense, but its secondary is vulnerable. Patrick Mahomes threw for 374 passing yards on the Ravens last Sunday while first overall pick Kyler Murray threw for 349 yards in Week 2. Additionally, Baker Mayfield totaled 376 passing yards last year in Week 17 of last season.

The Browns have limped to a 1-2 record and have struggled offensively despite the overall talent and the preseason hype surrounding the team. 

Browns defensive coordinator Steve Wilks will need to come up with another masterful game plan on Sunday to take on the challenge of an emerging explosive offensive led by Lamar Jackson, who is not just a running back throwing passes any longer. 

This Week 4 matchup will go a long way in determining if Freddie Kitchens and the Cleveland Browns will compete for a playoff spot in 2019. It could also play a major role in how Kitchens is perceived in Cleveland.

Dennis Sosic is a writer for PFN covering the Cleveland Browns. He is also a co-host of the Fantasy Fixers Podcast for PFN’s Podcast Network. You can follow him @CALL_ME_SOS on Twitter.

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