How can Freddie Kitchens salvage Cleveland Browns’ season? – cleveland.com

CLEVELAND — At the midpoint of the NFL season, the Browns are the league’s biggest underachievers.

Baker Mayfield probably is the NFL’s most disappointing quarterback, given how well he played in 2018.

Freddie Kitchens is the NFL’s most criticized coach.

And with a 2-6 record, a team picked by many to win the AFC North and make the playoffs has to finished 6-2 to end up at .500.

And think about this: The Browns have not been savaged with major injuries. Key players Odell Beckham Jr., Nick Chubb, Jarvis Landry, Myles Garrett, Olivier Vernon and Mayfield have played every game.

Only the defensive secondary has lost significant players for several games. By the brutal NFL standards, that’s a relatively healthy season.

It’s yet another reason Kitchens has been scorched by critics in his rookie season as a head coach. Making it even worse for Kitchens, it’s hard to find reasons to defend him.

Kitchens’ offense has collapsed compared to a year ago when he was calling plays for the final eight games. The defense also has been a major problem.

The offense is ranked No. 24 in scoring (19.0 points per game) and No. 22 in allowing points (25.6). That’s how you end up with a 2-6 record.

The bright spot is Mike Priefer’s special teams, especially rookies Austin Seibert (kicker) and Jamie Gillan (punter). Remember when they were considered two of the team’s largest question marks?

THE CHALLENGE FOR KITCHENS

The coach can talk about the “lack of execution,” which is his latest theme.

He can can talk about the penalties and turnovers, which haunted the Browns until last Sunday’s 24-19 loss in Denver.

But there is an underlying theme that will emerge in the final eight games. It’s beyond what will probably be the weekly debate of “what can Freddie do to keep his job in 2020?”

It’s belief.

When a rookie coach receives heavy media criticism, players often say they are “looking in the mirror” to deal with the team’s problems.

But they really are looking at the coach.

If the media says the coach stinks, players on a losing team often are quick to agree. Good, blame him . . . not us.

It comes down to credibility, something Kitchens has yet to establish as a head coach. The 44-year-old Kitchens has no record to lift him up in hard times.

The reason he got the job was the how well Mayfield and the offense played last year when he called the plays. But that has fallen apart this season.

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

Kitchens has to face the media five times a week. He answers the same questions over and over. He defends the struggling Mayfield. He and Mayfield talk about getting the ball to the under-used Beckham.

Kitchens also tries to explain his play-calling.

But at this point, nothing can change the prevailing opinion of Kitchens being overwhelmed on the job other than winning.

As Kitchens has said several times lately, “I just want to win a game.”

Heading into Sunday’s home game against Buffalo, Kitchens now has Pro Bowl running back Kareem Hunt (off suspension) joining Nick Chubb (NFL’s No. 4 rusher) in the backfield.

He has Pro Bowlers Jarvis Landry and Beckham as receivers. He has Mayfield, who set a rookie record for TD passes last season.

How about scoring 25-to-30 points a game? That’s not unreasonable, given the talent level. Yet the Browns have scored more than 23 points only twice this season.

FYI: 23 points is the NFL average this season.

If I’m GM John Dorsey, I’m pushing Kitchens hard to fix the offense. Put Mayfield in position to succeed.

Also, end all the sideshows with Beckham’s shoes and Mayfield’s mustache. At different points of the season, players have been doing stupid things on Twitter. If the team is winning, that stuff can seem like part of good mojo. When losing, it’s a needless distraction.

Some guys on this team have to grow up. Kitchens has to set the standard. If the players don’t like it, so what? The team is 2-6.

I can’t imagine Kitchens likes the undisciplined image of his team right now. Take some steps to change that.