Is it too early for the Cleveland Browns to hit the panic button on their season or is the timing just right?
The Cleveland Browns are a team many people predicted to win the AFC North at the end of the season. However, to the surprise of many people and especially Browns fans, the team has looked more dysfunctional than spectacular. Is this because of the coach, chemistry, or schedule?
Possibly it is because of all the undeserved hype and unrealistic expectations that were given to the Browns before the 2019 season.
After finishing the 2018 season with 7-8-1 record, the Browns optimism reached new heights. That record and buzz around the team made people forget about all the incompetent football teams Cleveland has had over the last couple of years.
The 2018 NFL season was an example of a team finally trying to change a losing culture. Baker Mayfield was at the forefront of the transition, but even he cannot be responsible to lift an organization that has been filled with such turmoil over the last decade.
The Cleveland Browns front office jumped at the opportunity of trying to change the decade long losing into winning. By acquiring Odell Beckham in a trade with the New York Giants, they obtained arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL. Beckham joined other marquee acquisitions, Olivier Vernon and Kareem Hunt, making some sort of a 'super team.'
So, what exactly is wrong with this team full of stars?
Some NFL teams struggle early in the season as they search for their identity. This is partly due to new players or a new head coach.
The Browns have both, which helps explain some of the early struggles they are having, but these struggles fall deeper than what is being advertised.
Head Coach Freddie Kitchens and company are way over their heads. The Browns have not only disappointed with their play-calling thus far but have been downright confusing. Kitchens looks lost in games at times, as seen on Sunday against the Rams when on 4th and 9, he called a draw play.
The play, ineffective, had many people scratching their heads, and it would not be the first time Kitchens’ play-calling would come into question Sunday night.
In the RedZone, Cleveland passed on every down instead of running with Nick Chubb near the end zone. They were once again unsuccessful.
The Browns had multiple chances to take the lead and maybe even win the game, but they fell short, a possible foreshadowing of this seasons outcome.
The weakest point of the Cleveland Browns is their offensive line, which limits the offense and more specifically the passing game.
The passing game, which is supposed to be one of the strong suits of the Browns, is weakened due to the lack of protection the team can provide Mayfield in the pocket.
The Browns, an organization with a historical lack of franchise quarterbacks, are failing to protect their bright light of hope, Baker Mayfield, adding emphasis to their bad front office decisions.
The Browns not only have a coaching problem but an identity problem. They also have multiple obstacles to overcome, one of them, being the youngest team in the NFL. Cleveland is also the most penalized team in the NFL through week three. Penalties and age complement each other, as many players are lacking the experience needed to compete at a high level.
The Browns face a brutal schedule until November, but will also add firepower to their offense with the addition of Kareem Hunt later in the season.
Until then, the Browns cannot afford to lose many more games if they want to have a decent chance at the division title or playoffs.
Cleveland faces the toughest stretch of their schedule as they play on the road in Baltimore, San Francisco, and Foxboro along with having to play the Seahawks at home.
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This creates one of the hardest four-game stretches in the NFL.
The schedule does lighten later in the season, but it could be too late for Cleveland at that point. If the Browns lose the next four games, Kitchens’ job may be in jeopardy due to pressure on general manager John Dorsey.
Any change would cause Mayfield to have his fourth coach in two years, causing more dysfunction for one of the league's most talented roster.
While many would argue to stay patient, the Browns face a make-it-or-break-it stretch in their schedule. Ending the month of October with a record of 1-6 would likely end Cleveland playoff hopes. The hype would be over, and the Browns would go right back to where they were prior to Mayfield, Beckham Jr, and last season's success.
Cleveland, hit the panic button.
*preview photo credited to NBC News
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