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2018 Season Review: 7-8-1 (3rd in AFC North)
The Browns came into 2018 with a lot of hope. They got Tyrod Taylor as a quality starter from the Buffalo Bills, and then drafted their future QB with the 1st overall pick in Baker Mayfield. They also got some other quality players in the 2018 draft with 4th overall pick CB Denzel Ward, round two they took OL Austin Corbett, and RB Nick Chubb. They picked up a very talented but troubled player in WR Antonio Callaway also. All of those guys played VERY WELL for the Browns in 2018, minus Callaway who showed flashes but made some mistakes on and off the field early on.
In the off season, all the talk was about the coaching in Cleveland and should Baker start. Head Coach Hue Jackson was shit on by everybody inside and outside of Cleveland basically, it was only a matter of time before he got fired. Then you had the awkward coaching room of OC Todd Haley and DC Greg Williams battling for that interim HC position when Jackson was going to get fired. It was only a matter of time before Jacksons shitty coaching was booted out of Cleveland.
With taking a QB #1 overall there is pressure to start him right away. Most of the time in the NFL, I’d say that QB is not ready to play. However, Baker showed signed in the preseason that we was right behind if not just as good or better than Tyrod Taylor. Jackson, refused to start or play him and in his defense, if the Browns had better kicking they could have started out 2-0 against the Steelers and at the Saints. Instead, they went 0-1-1 and in a Thursday Night Football game against the Jets, Tyrod Taylor got knocked out of the game and it was Baker time. Baker come out, and led the Browns to their first win in 19 games.
It was clear that Baker was the guy, but for some reason Hue Jackson wouldn’t commit to him publicly. Didn’t take long for Jackson to get the boot, he got fired after Week going 2-5-1 on the season and 3-36-1 during his tenure with the Browns. He was awful, he was a joke, and after it left it was clear the players did not give two shits about him – especially Baker. What was the surprising part, was that OC Todd Haley was also let go. That left DC Gregg Williams to become the interim HC and Freddie Kitchens was promoted to interim OC.
From there the Browns had a successful season going 5-3. During that stretch however, the Browns did not win a single game against a team with a winning record, and they were outscored by 34 agaisnt those three playoff teams (Chiefs, Steelers, Ravens).
Overall on the season the Browns finished 20th in the league in scoring with 22.4 PPG. Under Kitchens, the team averaged 23.8 PPG. Baker had a great rookie year. In 14 games (13 starts) he had 3,725 yards, 27 TDs, 14 INTs, and added another 131 yards rushing. There was a big debate at which QB should go #1 overall, mainly between Baker and Sam Darnold, and so far it looks like the Browns made the right decision. Not only did Baker prove he can play, but he brought a swagger to the Browns they haven’t had in forever. Guys rallied around his play, and his attitude on and off the field.
Another highlight for the Browns in 2018 was fellow rookie Nick Chubb. It took the Browns a big to realize that he was their best back, but in 16 games (9 starting), he ran for 996 yards, 8 TDs, and caught 20 balls for 149 yards and 2 TDs. Chubb finished the year with 4 games over 100 yards including a 176 yard effort against the Falcons. Chubb proved that he could be a productive NFL RB.
From a receiving perspective, Jarvis Landry also had a Pro Bowl year with 81 receptions, 976 yards, but only 4 TDs. TE David Njoku in his second year had 56 receptions for 639 yards and 4 TDs also. Another rookie that made an impact was WR Antonio Callaway, who finished the year with 43 reception for 586 yards and 5 TDs, including this sick ass catch against the Saints.
On defense the Browns average at best by the numbers. They gave up 24.5 PPG which was 21st in the league, and they gave up the third most yards in the league with 393.0 yards per game. 257.8 of those yards through the air, and 135.2 on the ground. Those numbers are pretty miserable yet there is this image out there that the Browns had a good defense. They didn’t. They were also below average in getting after the QB, they only had 38 sacks. What did save them though, was being second in the league in forced turnovers with 31 (17 INTs & 14 FR).
Individually Myles Garrett had 13.5 sacks which led him to a pro bowl year. He also had 12 TFL and 29 QB hits. The sad part was the next best sack leader was Larry Ogunjobi with 5.5. They didn’t have reliable pass rusher opposite Garrett.
Not only did the Browns hit on Baker Mayfield and Nick Chubb, but they also hit on Denzel Ward on defense. The CB from Ohio State earned a Pro Bowl spot after playing in 13 games and getting 3 INTS, 11 PD, 53 tackles, and 5 TFL. Ward very quickly became known as one of the best CBs in the league. Much like Garrett though, there wasn’t a great corner opposite of him which hurt the Browns.
Last note on the Browns season, they played in FOUR OT games during the year. They went 1-2-1 in those games.
Key Off Season Acquisitions
Head Coach Freddie Kitchens
Here’s a deep dive for Kitchens, technically he is apart of Nick Sabans coaching tree. In 2000, Kitchens was hired as a Grad Assistant under Saban at LSU.
That gig at LSU was Kitchens second coaching job but since then he has moved up from the college ranks to an NFL Head Coach. He’as always been on offense, from the RB Coach in North Texas to Mississippi St, to the TE coach at Mississippi St., the Dallas Cowboys, and the Arizona Cardinals. Kitchens was then promoted, so to say, to the QB Coach for the Cardinals from 2013 to 2016, then in 2017 he went back to RBs, and in 2018 he was the Browns RB coach before being made the interim Offensive Coordinator.
WR Odell Beckam Jr. (via trade from New York Giants)
What a trade for the Browns. OBJ gets a ton of shit but when he is undoubtedly one of the best WRs in the league. You pair him with Baker Mayfield (who is better than Eli), Jarvis Landry, David Njoku, Antonio Callaway, and a very solid offensive line and you have a scary fucking offense.
Odell gets a fresh new start in Cleveland and a QB who throws the pass he loves very well: the slant. Odell and Baker should fit great together and Odell if healthy could have a career year with Baker throwing him the ball. I love this get for the Browns, this opens up their offense so much more and teams will have to focus on OBJ that will open up areas for other guys on this offense. OBJ just needs to prove that the outbursts in New York were that of passion and love for the game, and not because he dislike the NYG coaching staff or Eli. Because if its the latter and the Browns lose a lot of games early, then him and Baker could be fireworks.
OLB Oliver Vernon (via trade from New York Giants)
Vernon comes over from the Giants where he failed to play a full season the past two years. In three years with the Giants he racked up 22.0 sacks, 131 tackles, 28 tackles for loss, and 56 QB hits. Vernon is going to provide the Browns another viable pass rusher opposite Myles Garrett and should help Garrett get more one on one opportunities.
DT Sheldon Richardson (3 years, $37 million)
When you’re bad at stopping the run, you go out and get the best DT on the market. Richardson comes over from the Vikings to bolster the Browns DL, stuff the run, and help open up pass rushing opportunities for Vernon and Myles Garrett. Richardson was sought after by a lot of teams in the off season.
RB Kareem Hunt (1 year, $1.1 million)
Hunt got cut from the Chiefs after video surfaced of him pushing and kicking a woman. He shouldn’t be on an NFL team, but here he is and the NFL only suspended him 8 games so he will be a factor for the Browns. If he can stay out of trouble, he’ll come in Week 8 and have a huge impact on the Browns offense. He can run, he can catch, he can pass block. If he were clean and still on the Chiefs, he’d be considered a better back than Chubb.
It will take some time for him to get back into game shape, but I would think that by week 11 or 12, Hunt and Chubb will be close so splitting the amount of touches they get. Meaning, I think Chubb will get the majority of the carries but Hunt will get enough passes thrown his way that the timeshare will be close to split, with Chubb edging him out.
Round 2 Pick #46: CB Greedy Williams
This was the Browns first pick of the draft, and because they had a talented roster they got the chance to take best player available. Well they did that but also filled in a place where they’re probably weaker from a talent perspective. Behind Denzel Ward the Browns don’t have much so Greedy will be able to start from the get go. Greedy is a pure cover corner that doesn’t like to tackle very much, which may worry some fans. However, it’s hard to argue against his man to man skills.
During his two years at LSU Greedy had 8 INTs, 19 PDs, and 71 total tackles. Opposite Denzel Ward, he’s going to get a lot of balls thrown his way.
Round 5 Pick #170: K Austin Seibert
Yes, we’re talking about kickers. The Browns could have possibly made the playoffs last year if they had a better kickers. They went through Zane Gonzalez the first two games, he went 2 for 5 and missed two XP’s. He went 0-1 in a tie against the Steelers, and went 0-2 on XPs, and 2-4 on FGs in a game they lost by three. The other kicker the Browns went through was Greg Joseph who played the other 14 games. He went 17-20 but also missed 4 XPs. Not bad at all, his only misses were from 40+ but the kicking situation needed to be addressed.
Bring in Austin Seibert who started all four years at Oklahoma, made 310 of 315 XPs, and 63 of 79 FGs. Last year more importantly, he hit 17 of 19. Seibert and Joseph will duel it out in camp for the starting spot, but given the fact that the Browns spent a 5th round pick on Seibert, he’s the favorite to start. I can’t believe I just wrote this much about a kicker.
Key Off Season Departures
G Kevin Zietler (via trade to the New York Giants)
The Browns needed to give up something to get OBJ and they gave up one of the better guards in the league. Zietler leaves the Browns OL could become the weakest part of this team from a talent perspective.
QB Tyrod Taylor (via free agency to the Los Angeles Chargers)
Not a huge loss with the emergence of Baker, but Taylor is arguably the best backup in the league. If anything did happen to Baker, it would have been nice to have a guy like Taylor to back him up. Interesting that Taylor went to another spot where he has zero chance to start.
LB Jamie Collins
Collins was a starter for Cleveland, although he wasn’t the player they thought they were getting from New England when they traded for him. Collins only had 7 sacks in 30 games for the Browns. His loss is cushioned by the addition of Oliver Vernon.
RB Duke Johnson (via trade to the Houston Texans)
The Browns finally unloaded Johnson to the Browns after he asked for a trade. With OBJ in town, the signing of Hunt, and Njoku coming along I think Johnson saw the writing on the wall that his touches were going to get drastically cut. He goes to Houston where he has a chance to do a lot with only Lamar Miller in the backfield.
Hype, hype, hype. The Browns have a lot of it going into 2019, and for good reason. This team is loaded with talent on each side of the ball, the real questions with this team come off the field.
First and foremost, what kind of coach is Freddie Kitchens going to be. Kitchens got this job because of his relationship with Baker Mayfield. It so nice to see a coach getting along with his QB but Kitchens is going to have much more to do than dealing with Baker as a head coach. Kitchens is very much an unproven commodity, he’s only had half a season of actually calling games and has never officially been any kind of coordinator. He does have a good history of head coaches he’s learned from however. We mentioned Nick Saban as a joke earlier but still, he’s seen Nick work at LSU. From an NFL level he’s coached under Bruce Arians and Bill Parcells. Both very, very good coaches. He was also on multiple Arizona teams that made runs in the playoffs, including the 2008 team that reached the Super Bowl. If they Browns do make the Playoffs, at least Kitchens has a feel for post season coaching and seen how a successful HC runs a team then. The fear for Browns fans is that Kitchens becomes a glorified baby sitter, which is where we needs to rely on Baker. There are a lot of personalities on this team that can become volatile if things go bad.
I am a fan of OBJ and think his outbursts are over blown by main stream media. However, they can be a distraction and who knows how he’ll react if he’s not getting the ball enough whether this team is winning or losing. The Browns have more weapons than the Giants ever had with OBJ. OBJ will be the #1 target for Baker but there are still guys like Landry, Callaway, and Njoku who could go off big at any time. Not only can OBJ be a distraction, but Landry is also a candidate for that too. Callaway has had his fair share of off field issues as well. Finally, what happens when Kareem Hunt comes back and joins this team? Hunt has proven he’s a better back than Nick Chubb. Maybe Chubb comes out this year and blows us all away, but how will Hunt take to a secondary position? How does Chubb react if he gets bumped to the #2 guy? How the hell does Kitchens get all these guys touches and make everybody happy on offense?
The answer is Baker Mayfield. Baker needs to help Kitchens take control of this team on offense. Baker needs to come out in camp and early on during the regular season and let every one know this is his team, and they need to follow his lead. As long as the Browns are winning, I don’t see this being an issue but if the Browns are struggling around .500, how is Baker going to keep this team on track?
Offensively, those are the issue for the Browns going into 2019. In all honesty, this team probably has more talent on the offensive side of the ball than any other team in the NFL. They have the kind of weapons to go up against the Chiefs and Rams on offense, they just want to be as succesfull as them.
On defense, this team needs to vastly improve in PPG and YPG. Turnovers saved this defense and team, to be seen as somewhat successful. As I stated before, there is this sentiment out there that the Browns had a good defense in 2018. They didn’t, they just forced the second most turnovers in the league which made them look good. They’ve added pieces that I love, mainly Sheldon Richardson and Oliver Vernon. Up front, this team should be somewhat dominant in 2019. Richardson is going to help clog up those runs lanes, especially in the AFC North where every other team wants to the run the ball first and foremost. The back-end is where this team might struggle.
They drafted Greedy Williams to play opposite Denzel Ward, but there’s no guarantee Greedy is going to be good. The Browns had a solid safety pairing in Damarious Randall and Jabrill Peppers, but they had to send Peppers to the Giants and they brought in Morgan Burnett. Burnett is on the back end of his career, so we’ll see how much he has left in the tank. Not only do they have to deal with the run in their division, but the NFL is now a pass happy league. The Browns on paper don’t go that deep into their secondary.
We haven’t even talked about their LB core which is also solid, but nothing to write home about. The Browns have a lot of questions on this defense, even though they have a lot of names. If this defense improves from say 24.5 PPG in 2018 to around 20 PPG in 2019, then this team is going to make the playoffs.
The AFC North plays the NFC West and AFC East this year. Because they finished third in the North, they also play the Tennessee Titans and Denver Broncos.
The Browns are the NFL darlings this year so they drew four different prime time games. Week 2 on Monday Night Football at the New York Jets, Week 3 on Sunday Night Football vs the Los Angeles Rams, Week 5 on MNF at the San Francisco 49ers, and Week 11 on Thursday Night Football vs the Pittsburgh Steelers. They also have notable late afternoon games against the New England Patriots in Week 8 and at the Steelers in Week 13 which will more than likely be the main late game of those weeks. So really, you’re going to see the Browns in prime time at least six times.
They also flip the script on home and away games. They only play three home games in the first nine weeks of the season including a Week 6 bye. Then Weeks 10 – 17 they play five games at home including three in a row from November 10th to November 24th. They end the year with a lot of winnable games playing Cincinnati twice, at Arizona, and Baltimore at home.
Finally the Browns have a division schedule similar to the Atlanta Falcons, they play one division game in the first 10 weeks of the season. They play the Steelers twice in a span of three weeks, and play the Bengals twice in a span of four weeks. The Browns can do themselves a favor by racking up non-division wins early before they play a lot of cold AFC North battles for the division later on in the season.
Fantasy Player You Want
Jarvis Landry I’ll take all day. With OBJ, Chubb, Njoku, Hunt, and Baker on this offense Landry has been forgotten. There’s no reason why Cleveland can’t have two 1,000 yard receivers and a 1,000 yard rusher. They have Antonio Callaway and Rashard Higgins behind Landry and OBJ but I don’t think they’ll take away enough of Landry’s targets for him not to have a chance to get 1,000 yards. Plus in PPR the guy should still be a monster.
Fantasy Player to Avoid
Kareem Hunt. I honestly don’t even know why you’re drafting him. For one, its taking up a spot on your roster for eight weeks. Secondly, Nick Chubb is a great back and barring an injury he’s probably still going to be the main guy for Cleveland.
This team has all the talent in the world on both ides of the ball. I can see this team winning up to 11 games. They will probably have more talent on their squad then almost every team they play in 2019. It’s all about if they can stick together and not let the drama of the season get to them.
If everything goes to shit, Baker has a sophomore slump, the drama takes this team over, then I could see this team only winning only 7 games. It’s hard to see a regression with how much this team has on both sides of the ball.