A disappointing season: What explains the Browns’ struggles?

Andrew Ford, Staff Reporter

This year was supposed to be the year. All offseason, Cleveland Browns fans were ecstatic, anticipating a competitive team and a playoff run. This optimism was also supported by many in the media. Last season showed what the team was capable of, especially as they finished with almost a winning record.

Plus, on paper, the roster is loaded with talent. The Browns had players like Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, Denzel Ward, Myles Garrett and Jarvis Landry prove that their core nucleus was in place. Then, the team only improved (theoretically), picking up stud wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., pass rusher Olivier Vernon and controversial running back Kareem Hunt. 

Although there are still games to be played, by many people’s opinion, this season has been a disappointment. 

In the very first game, the Browns were blown out 43-13 by the Tennessee Titans. After a 2-2 start, Cleveland went on to lose their next four games. At 2-6, some blamed the schedule. Sure, their record was not ideal, but they played some really tough teams. 

The second half of the season did start off well—the Browns won three straight games, including wins over the Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers, the teams that occupy the two Wild Card spots in the AFC playoff race. 

However, the Browns’ momentum shifted in the last moments of the Steelers game. As most people know by now, a fight broke out between Garrett and Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph, ending with Garrett taking off Rudolph’s helmet and hitting him in the head with it. Subsequently, Garrett, arguably the team’s best defensive player, was suspended for at least the rest of the season. The next day, there was a sense of gloom that the season was lost. 

The loss to the Steelers in the rematch game on Dec. 1 only further doomed this season and put the team at 5-7—a longshot to make the playoffs. 

So what exactly went wrong this season? 

The biggest disappointment has been the Cleveland offense. The Browns sit at 21st in points per game in the league and 18th in yards per game. Yes, those metrics aren’t perfect measures for offensive efficiency, but they still carry some value. Given the talent the Browns have on offense, those rankings are, simply put, abysmal. 

Many pundits have been quick to blame Head Coach Freddie Kitchens for the lack of offensive performance. Kitchens likely bears some of the blame, but unfortunately this criticism leaves out the actor most culpable: the front office. 

The current administration for the Browns is undoubtedly better than most the team has had. Indeed, they have acquired the most talented roster that Cleveland has had in a long time, as mentioned earlier. However, when constructing the offense the front office neglected the most important unit of all: the offensive line. This hasn’t been an issue so much for the running game; Chubb actually leads the league in rushing yards. No, the real problem is that the Browns sacrificed solid offensive linemen in pursuit of flashy skill position players, and, thus, Mayfield has suffered. He has very little time to throw the ball, and, given his limited athleticism compared to other quarterbacks around the league, he needs an above average offensive line. The front office has failed to build one around him, and therefore, the blame for this season’s offensive letdown falls directly on the front office, and only partly on Kitchens.