Freddie Kitchens sealed his fate by losing to the Cincinnati Bengals in the season finale. The Cleveland Browns fired Kitchens Sunday night, not even bothering to wait until ‘Black Monday’ to dispose of the first-year head coach. Despite being the preseason favorite to win the AFC North, the Browns finished 6-10 and ended the year with three consecutive defeats.
Cutting ties with a head coach after one season may come off as a hasty move, but Kitchens was in over his head from the get-go. Here are some of the reasons the Browns fired Kitchens.
5. Excessive penalties by Browns
In the season opener versus the Tennessee Titans, the Browns committed 18 penalties for a whopping 182 yards. Cleveland hadn’t committed that many penalties since 1951. The Titans routed the Browns 43-13 in an embarrassing debut for Kitchens.
The Browns had more penalties (18) and more penalty yards (182) than any NFL team has had in any game in the last two seasons.
— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) September 8, 2019
The Browns were charged with the fourth-most penalties (122) and penalty yards (1,106) in 2019.
4. Kitchens’ poor play-calling and red zone woes
Two weeks later in another home defeat, Freddie Kitchens had a baffling play-call for all eyes to see on Sunday Night Football. Kitchens, the offense’s play-caller, decided to run a halfback draw on a 4th-and-9 at the Los Angeles Rams’ 40-yard line with 9:19 to play down 17-13 in the fourth quarter. Running back Nick Chubb gained just three yards on the play.
The Rams took advantage of the short field and tacked on a field goal to push their lead to 20-13, the eventual final score.
this was Freddie Kitchens' 4th-and-9 play.
it was not very good pic.twitter.com/jzm3vbfeGr
— Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) September 23, 2019
The Browns had a strong red-zone offense under Kitchens in 2018, but they struggled inside the 20-yard line all year. Last season, the Browns scored touchdowns in each of their first 12 red zone trips under Kitchens—a remarkable feat for a club led by a rookie QB.
Their red zone woes were noticeably horrific versus the Buffalo Bills. They failed to score a touchdown on eight consecutive plays from the Bills’ 1/2-yard line.
They managed to beat the Bills, but their offensive issues were painfully obvious.
3. Baker Mayfield’s sophomore slump
The Browns fell to 0-3 at FirstEnergy Stadium after blowing a 20-6 lead to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 5. Cleveland scored touchdowns on its first three possessions, but they couldn’t close the deal. The Browns were undone by Baker Mayfield’s three interceptions.
Mayfield regressed in his sophomore season, throwing 22 touchdowns against 21 interceptions after setting a rookie-record with 27 passing TDs in 2018, and he completed a mere 59.3 percent of his passes.
Mayfield accumulated only six multi-TD passing games this season. He never gelled with Odell Beckham Jr., as the former All-Pro wideout caught 4 TDs all year.
Now former General manager John Dorsey handed Freddie Kitchens the head coaching gig because of his superb work with Mayfield in the quarterback’s rookie campaign. Kitchens was promoted to offensive coordinator midway through last season after Hue Jackson got canned and helped the Browns go 5-3 in their final eight games. Gregg Williams was the interim head coach during the Browns’ strong finish last year, but it was Kitchens who helped mentor Mayfield and reinvigorated the Browns’ anemic offense.
Mayfield and Kitchens were unable to replicate their success in year two, and the latter was fired as a result.
2. Losses to 3rd-string QBs
Cleveland faced a difficult slate of games to begin the year, but the second half of the schedule featured much weaker opponents. The Browns were unable to take advantage of the softened portion of the schedule. Not only did they fall victim to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 15 and the Bengals in the season finale, they lost twice to third-string quarterbacks.
Denver Broncos undrafted QB Brandon Allen beat the Browns in Week 9, tossing 2 TDs with a 125.6 passer rating. Allen got the start because Joe Flacco suffered a season-ending neck injury the prior week and second-round draft pick Drew Lock was still on injured reserve. Allen struggled in his only other two starts, both losses, before Lock eventually took over. But, Allen managed to beat the Browns, who were 3.5-point road favorites.
— NFL (@NFL) November 4, 2019
The Browns lost to Pittsburgh Steelers rookie signal-caller Devlin Hodges in Week 13. Hodges was a far cry from dominant. He completed only 14-of-21 passes for 212 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Still, he fared better than Mayfield, who completed just 18-of-32 passes for 196 yards. Mayfield tossed a touchdown and a pick, but he took five sacks and lost a fumble in the 20-13 loss.
1. Lack of accountability of star players
Reports surfaced before the Browns’ road contest in Arizona that the club planned to retain Freddie Kitchens in 2020 “barring a horrific collapse.” That collapse ensued during the final three weeks of the season, beginning with a blowout loss to the Cardinals. The Browns were whipped 35-17 by a team that entered the contest on a 6-game losing streak. Kenyan Drake massacred Cleveland’s defense, rushing for 137 yards and 4 TDs. Remarkably, that wasn’t even the most embarrassing part of the defeat.
Pro Bowl receiver Jarvis Landry and Kitchens engaged in a shouting match on the sidelines. It began after Kitchens opted to kick a field goal on a 4th-and-short at Arizona’s 27-yard-line with the Browns trailing by 11 in the fourth quarter. Landry was infuriated and screamed at Kitchens on the sidelines. Browns kicker Austin Seibert missed the field goal, further intensifying the argument between Landry and Kitchens.
— Jon Doss (@JonDoss) December 15, 2019
Landry wasn’t the only Cleveland player to chirp at Kitchens mid-game this season. Beckham Jr. and Kitchens had a confrontation the following week against Baltimore. Two public spats in an as many weeks demonstrated the players’ lack of respect for Kitchens.
Odell Beckham didn't look very pleased with Freddie Kitchens on the sideline. pic.twitter.com/ypRj5da1Zy
— NFLonCBS (@NFLonCBS) December 22, 2019
The undisciplined Browns were undone by self-inflicted wounds. Myles Garrett, the Browns’ best defensive player, embarrassed the team by swinging his helmet at Steelers QB Mason Rudolph in the closing seconds of a Thursday Night Football victory. Garrett was suspended indefinitely, causing him to miss the final six weeks of the 2019 season.
Kitchens failed to hold Garrett accountable. Two weeks after the melee, the 45-year-old donned a ridiculous “Pittsburgh Started It” T-shirt before the rematch. Steelers’ players were infuriated with Kitchens wearing that shirt and used it as motivation in their win over the Browns.
— Josh Rowntree (@JRown32) December 1, 2019
Where do Browns go from here?
Jimmy Haslem bought the Browns in 2012. The franchise has failed to maintain stability under his ownership. Haslem has gone through six head coaches—including the interim coaches—since buying the team.
Haslem is reportedly interested in Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Ravens o-coordinator Greg Roman. The Browns have also been linked to former Packers head coach Mike McCarthy.
The Browns are looking to fill their head coaching vacancy quickly after axing Freddie Kitchens. Cleveland undoubtedly needs steadiness at the top of its operations. Firing a coach after one season yet again is not the best look for Haslem, but this time, the embattled owner had no other reasonable alternative.
Kitchens became the latest one-and-done coach for the Browns, but he certainly earned his firing. The Browns were discombobulated from start to finish in one of the most disappointing seasons in team history.