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Expectations are sky-high for a Cleveland Browns team after they won the offseason. They acquired one of the best wide receivers in Odell Beckham Jr. from the New York Giants. Unfortunately, Browns fans won’t be seeing their team in the playoffs.
I don’t envision the Browns being a contender because of rookie head coach Freddie Kitchens. Prior to becoming the head coach of the Browns on Jan. 24, 2018, he started off as the running backs coach and became the offensive coordinator on Oct. 29, 2018, according to clevelandbrowns.com.
Now for the first time in his career, Kitchens will have to deal with personalities and enormous pressure, as the team has not made the playoffs since 2002. I agree with USA Today football writer Nate Davis, who has the Browns missing out on the playoffs because of the inexperience of Kitchens.
“Rookie head coach Freddie Kitchens will have to do more than call plays, meld a new look-staff and manage outsized expectations,” Davis wrote. “And the overarching inexperience could rear its head coach given the buzz affixed a team trying to break a postseason drought by punching its ticket in 2012.”
The Browns have one of the most talented rosters in the league, but the inexperience with their roster also concerns me. The average age of their roster in 2018 was the second youngest at 25.3, according to phillyvoice.com.
This will result in the Browns struggling in closing out an opponent as the majority of their players, except Beckham Jr., have no playoff experience and have been on losing teams. Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield is heading into his second season in the NFL. Mayfield and the Browns finished the season strong. They won five of their last seven games, however, they struggled against teams with a winning record once Mayfield became the starter in week four.
Mayfield went 1-5 vs teams with above .500 record. In those six games, he threw for 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He will continue to have little success this season because he is still learning how to win.
When he played team with a .500 record or below, he showed why he was the first quarterback off the board in the 2018 NFL Draft. Mayfield threw for 16 touchdowns and three interceptions. The team went 4-1 in games vs these teams when Mayfield did not throw an interception. If the Browns want to have any chance at being a contender this year, Mayfield will have to play turnover free football
Seven of their 16 games this year are against teams who finished with a .500 record or better last season. This will prevent them from ending the longest postseason drought in the NFL because their defense won’t be able to carry them to wins when Mayfield struggles. In 2018, the defense ranked 21st in Points-Allowed and 30th in Yards-Allowed, according to Bleacher Report writer Maurice Morton.
But the main issue for me is the depth in their secondary.
The team’s top corner, Denzel Ward, had a decent rookie season as he finished with 11 pass breakups and three interceptions, according to Morton. However, the team does not have a reliable second corner lining up on the other side of Ward. It will most likely either be their rookie second round pick Greedy Williams or T.J. Carrie. Williams’ tackling is his major weakness, according to Morton. Carrie is not the type of corner who generates turnovers because he has only had four interceptions in his first five years, according to ESPN.com
Teams will expose this weakness as they will have their best wide receiver matched up with the weaker corner. This will put pressure on Mayfield and the offense to carry the Browns vs. teams over .500 because their defense is not their strength.
The Browns defense struggled to shut down opponents as they gave up 6,228 yards and they ranked 28th in that category overall, according to Pro Football Reference. They also had little success in stopping the run, as allowed 2,163 rushing yards and 4.7 yards per carry, according to Fanside writer Elliot Kennel.
The defense’s inability to get to the quarterback will result in them struggling when they face top quarterbacks this year. The team finished tied for 22nd with 37 sacks, according to Kennel.
The only way I see the Browns being able to get to the quarterback is if they blitz, but this will lead to their corners having no help. The team will get carved up by top competition if they have to bring more than their front four to pressure the quarterback.
Heading into the 2018 season, the Minnesota Vikings had the fifth highest odds to win the Super Bowl, according to Forbes.com. Most expected the Vikings to take the next step in reaching the Super Bowl when they signed Kirk Cousins to a three year $87 million fully guaranteed contract.
The team ended up being the biggest disappointment as they missed the playoffs and finished with a record 9-6-1 after reaching the NFC Championship in the prior year. The Browns will be this year’s version of the Vikings as they currently have the seventh highest odds to win the Super Bowl.
The Browns are still one year away from reaching the playoffs.