Undisciplined play mars a much-anticipated Browns debut
No good words can describe the mood about 3:30 p.m. at First Energy First this past Sunday.
To say The Cleveland Browns were not expecting this outcome is an understatement. Even a tough loss by three could have been expected and accepted. This, however, is a feeling Browns fans have felt before over and over again. Even more painfully, it was supposed to be remedied. Browns fans were not going to feel like this ever again.
This was supposed to be “New Cleveland”.
The Browns lost in humiliating fashion to the Tennessee Titans 43-13. If rookie Head Coach Freddie Kitchens insists upon discipline, details, and hard work, someone forgot to remind the offensive and defensive lines. The Browns broke the most ignominious record in club history by committing 18 penalties for 182 yards, the most the franchise has committed since 1951. The defensive line started the game with unnecessary roughness penalties and the near ejection of Myles Garrett, all of which helped the Titan offense down the field.
This clearly set the tone for Titan Quarterback Marcus Mariotta, who, coincidentally, almost lost his starting job to Ryan Tanehill, to have a big day. It is always a bonus when the opposing QB does little to nothing and gets to start his drive on the defense’s side of the field. He took full advantage of this, going 14-24 with 248 yards, three touchdowns, and a QB Rating of 133.3. Even a pedestrian QB in the NFL can look like an All-Pro when the defense commits a seemingly infinite number of major infractions.
Conversely, a future star can look amateurish. Browns QB Baker Mayfield went an uncharacteristic 25-38, for 258 yards, one touchdown and three, yes, THREE, interceptions. Previously, Mayfield had gone 110 completions without throwing a pick. He seemed to press all game, forcing the ball to highly touted off-season acquisition Odell Beckham Jr, who caught seven passes for 71 yards. Most of the yards for the rest of the receivers were in a vain attempt to come back. David Njoku caught the only passing TD.
Mayfield pressed most of the game because he was running for his life most of the game. The Browns’ offensive line, the only suspect unit on the team, was downright offensive. Left Tackle Greg Robinson had the worst day: he was ejected for kicking Titans Safety Kenny Vaccaro in the middle of pile up. Granted, it appeared as though Vaccaro, along with other Titans defenders, was engaging in extra-curricular activities unseen by the officials, the old football adage stands: the second player in a fight is going to get flagged.
This does, in no way, excuse the ineptitude of the line. Multiple false start, holding (tight ends included), and unnecessary roughness calls plagued the patchwork line. Newly acquired swing lineman Justin McCray, arriving into Berea late last week from the Green Bay Packers, was thrust into the Right Tackle position due to Robinson’s ejection and Guard Kendall Lamm’s knee injury he sustained during the safety play. Starting Right Tackle Chris Hubbard, who probably would have moved inside, but was forced to play Left Tackle for Robinson.
It was every bit of the disaster it reads like.
The most shocking of all is that, for Kitchens to have stressed discipline all throughout camp, the team feel apart so quickly it almost seems as though the team either completely forgot or ignored him. Famously, the word in camp was that fighting and disorderly play would not be tolerated. During the joint practices with the Indianapolis Colts, the players even knew that fighting to “get a spot” would result in a team punishment. Being fundamentally sound was something that Kitchens stressed throughout activities and practices.
Kitchens insisted that this is not acceptable for his team. He talked about how the good teams maintained their composure and were mentally tougher than the other team, especially when the other team resorts to, as pro-wrestling fans would say, “heel tactics”.
One thing that is going to be difficult is to keep this in perspective. Browns fans everywhere are overreacting to this loss –as devastatingly shocking it was—without remembering that this is only the first game. Browns fans may have bought into the hype too much. Kitchens warns about overreaction as well.
“What we have to refrain from doing right now is overreacting. It is one game in a 16-game schedule,” Kitchens said in a statement on clevelandbrowns.com. “We talk all the time all throughout training camp that they were put in situations where problems arose so we identify those problems and then we rectify the problems. That is how you get better as a football team.”
“I fully expect that we have the men in the locker room that are going to do that,” Kitchens reassured.
The hope is that this game will be enough of a shock back to reality so that the coach’s reassurance will come true.