Don’t Sleep on Freddie Kitchens

Having heard that Freddie Kitchens will be calling the plays for the New York Football Giants on Sunday, some Browns fans might be expecting an easy victory.

That would be a mistake.

The prevailing opinion is that the Browns’ “Lost Year” of 2019 was due to having an imbecile for a coach. But I believe that this historical era needs to be revised.

After the strong finish to the 2018 season with Freddie at the helm, everybody was pleased as punch. Nobody was expecting the Browns to regress in 2019. That’s why the beat-down administered by the Titans in Week 1 was so shocking.

So, how did Freddie go from being great in 2018 to stinking in 2019? Answer: he didn’t. He was the same guy. It was Baker Mayfield who dramatically regressed. And that was because he was injected with a heavy dose of Football Poison, otherwise known as Odell Beckham, Jr.

The flashes of genius that we saw in Freddie’s play-calling were washed away by the “throw it to Odell” scheme which simply did not work.

Coach Stefanski has won more games than Freddie, but he was also the recipient of a raft of top-notch talent on offense: Austin Hooper, Jedrick Wills, Jack Conklin, and an astonishingly improved Wyatt Teller.

The Browns should act like they are up against the 2018 version of Freddie Kitchens, not the 2019 version. Because the OBJ-free version of Freddie wasn’t too shabby.

Browns Defensive Player of the Week: Kareem Hunt

Kareem Hunt doesn’t play on the the Browns’ defense, but when there is a turnover, every player on the offense becomes a defensive player. And that’s what happened during the last minute of the Browns’ shellacking of the Tennessee Titans last Sunday. Baker Mayfield fumbled the ball, again, and Kareem had to save a Kenny Vaccaro scoop-and-score. See the 13:10 mark of this video.

Kareem says he practices this, and it shows. He took the perfect angle to run down Vaccaro. What I liked best is that Vaccaro didn’t even try to juke Hunt. It was almost as if he was resigned to his fate: “Oh shit, Kareem fucking Hunt is on my ass. I should probably just surrender myself.” And then Kareem unceremoniously rag-dolled Vaccaro, throwing him down without even hitting the ground himself. What a fantastic football player.

If the Browns are ever short-handed at linebacker, we know who can fill in.

Honorable mention to Donovan Peoples-Jones who had to take a wider angle than Kareem, but might have caught Vaccaro near the goal line. Andy Janovich also made a good effort, though his 4.81 speed wasn’t a match for Vaccaro.

This is Baker’s second fumble in three games. The first was against the Eagles where Baker was saved by a quick whistle. I wonder if Baker does the same fumble drill that the running-backs do. You know, the one we saw Kareem and Nick Chubb doing at the beginning of episode 9 of Building the Browns. Baker has done an incredible job of reducing his interceptions, and now he has to fix his fumbling problem.

Laser Mayfield

After Baker Mayfield’s franchise-record 22 consecutive pass-completions against the Bengals on October 25, 2020, many analysts downplayed the achievement because the Bengals had a poor record. I had the opposite opinion and wrote: The Second Coming of Baker Mayfield. Here’s a quote:

“Baker is now free to re-ascend into Football Heaven where he had previously spent his entire life before OBJ came to town.”

And that’s exactly what has happened. Since that watershed moment when OBJ exited the scene, Baker has been throwing laser-beams to his receivers.

Having been humiliated by the Titans in the 2019 season opener, the consensus last week was that the Browns would do better, but would still lose. And then Baker lasered those smug Titans for thirty-eight points in the first half, putting on another historic display of quarterbacking prowess.

The o-line kept Baker clean, and his receivers got open, but make no mistake, Baker was the star of the show. Fans were ecstatic during what might have been the most exciting half of football ever. It just doesn’t get better than that.

Fans were also raving about Rashard Higgins, who was just doing exactly what he has also been doing for his entire life. Here’s what Josh Keatley wrote:

“Benching Higgins may have been the biggest mistake of the John Dorsey tenure.”

That’s high praise, but let the record show that Hig was also benched in 2020 and only got to play after a series of injuries suffered by other receivers.

And Hig will probably be benched again when OBJ and the other “faster” Browns receivers come back – assuming that Paul DePodesta is still wielding his slide-rule. But Hig is plenty fast. See #39 of the Titans in this photo?:

Higg Beats Borders

That’s Breon Borders who runs a 4.49s 40-yard time, substantially faster than Hig’s 4.64. And yet, there’s Hig burning him for a touchdown – something he has been doing his entire career. Here is a scouting report from 2016 (emphasis is mine):

“Higgins was ultra productive in college, putting up crazy numbers over the past two seasons. He is Colorado State’s all time leader in catches (230), receiving yards (3520), and touchdowns (31). He put up these eye popping numbers by being an excellent route runner and having great hands. Higgins is one of the more advanced Wide Receivers in regards to footwork and route running and route concepts. He plays the game very smart. He shows good awareness to read the defense and find the open gaps. He uses subtle movements to get defenders flat footed and off balance. After the catch, Higgins shows quick feet and good change of direction to make defenders miss. Despite his smaller than ideal frame, he shows no fear going over the middle and will fight for contested balls. He tracks the ball well and shows a good ability to high point the ball. When the ball is not in his hands, Higgins shows a willingness to become a blocker downfield.”

Every word of that is still true today.

Fans were unhappy with Coach Stefanski taking his foot off the gas in the second half and letting the Titans restore their dignity. But having Baker laser-beam the defense in the first half, then Chubb & Hunt pound them to dust in the second half is not a bad strategy for winning. You also have to allow your o-line to join in the fun with the run-blocking that they enjoy more than pass-blocking.

Who’s going to stop the Browns now? Answer: nobody. Barring serious injuries, the Browns will win the Super Bowl. Then, next season, OBJ will come back, Hig will go back to being a “healthy scratch,” Baker will be discombobulated, and the Browns will struggle to make the playoffs.

But for now, the Browns are The Greatest Football Show on Earth, so enjoy it while you can.

Baker Mayfield Soars without OBJ Albatross

As I have been saying for a while now, the way to fix Baker Mayfield is to ditch Odell Beckham, Jr. And that is exactly what has happened. Read it and weep, OBJ fans:

So far this season, the Browns have played six games with OBJ on the field, and five with him off. With OBJ playing, Baker’s passer-rating was a rotten 84.3. Without OBJ, Baker’s rating is an excellent 103.3!

In other words, if OBJ were not on the team this year, Baker would be the ninth-best quarterback in the league, ahead of QBs like Josh Allen, Ben Roethlisberger, Justin Herbert, Dak Prescott, etc. See the rankings here.

Without OBJ, Baker’s completion percentage has improved from 60.6% to 62.1%, with three of those non-OBJ games played in horrendous weather. Baker’s rating also got a large boost from throwing fewer interceptions: 7 with OBJ, 0 without. Keep in mind that the theory is that OBJ distracted Baker. And without OBJ, Baker is now free to concentrate on improving other parts of his game, like reducing his interceptions. This is a big deal because it shows that Baker is improving again.

In his rookie year of 2018, Baker ranked at #19 with a 93.7 rating. Then OBJ joined the team in 2019, and Baker nose-dived to #31 with a hideous rating of 78.8. He actually ranked beneath Mason Rudolph!

Baker was poised to stink up the season again this year until OBJ’s injury. While obviously bad for OBJ, that injury will be worth millions of dollars for Bakes at contract-negotiation time.

We were all baffled by Baker’s regression in 2019. Just about everybody blamed it on coach Freddie Kitchens. However, the mystery deepened when the regression continued into 2020 under coach Stefanski. Now, the case has been solved.

But the big question is: will the Browns keep OBJ for next season? Remember, Baker’s resurrection was a happenstance. Coach Stefanski did not fix the situation. Coach Van Pelt did not pull the plug on OBJ’s reality distortion field. And Paul DePodesta didn’t figure it out with his fucking slide-rule. It was pure dumb luck, and that dumbness just might inflict OBJ on long-suffering Browns fans again in 2021.

If that happens, then the Browns need a new scheme. Baker said that if he saw OBJ with man-to-man coverage, he would throw the ball to him regardless of what play was called because it was assumed that OBJ was Football Jesus and could win the jump-ball against any cornerback. It didn’t work. Back here, I calculated some stats that showed OBJ was the worst receiver on the team, catching only 53.5% of his targets (compared to 80% for Rashard Higgins.)

So, that scheme would need to be shit-canned. In the new scheme, OBJ would be treated like any other receiver, and he should explicitly be prohibited from pouting about not getting the ball on every fucking play. Something like that might work, but probably not because Andrew Berry and coach Stefanski simply don’t have the balls to get OBJ in line.

I think the ideal home for OBJ is a team with a seasoned QB who will not let his will be bent by OBJ’s celebrity. And a coach, like Bill Belichick, who would not be a-feared to pop the thick bubble of narcissism that surrounds OBJ. Ironically, I would bet that OBJ’s numbers would improve if he became a humble cog in a well-oiled offensive scheme simply because narcissism has no place in a team sport.

Note: I calculated Baker’s passer-ratings with an Excel spreadsheet. If you would like a copy, just let me know and I will email it to you.

Note: Remember when Steelers coach Mike Tomlin yawned at OBJ last year? He was right.

Note: Baker’s longest pass this year was a 43-yard touchdown throw to OBJ in Week 2 against the Bengals. Baker tied that record with another 43-yard throw to Rashard Higgins against the Eagles. If it hadn’t been pouring rain, Baker might have gotten a slightly better touch on the ball allowing Higgins to catch it in stride for another 17 yards and a TD. But Hig had to dive for it. In any case, the point is that Baker can throw the long ball to any of his other receivers.

Rashard “Deep Threat” Higgins

Last week, Joe Thomas suggested that Rashard Higgins could be the deep threat that the Browns allegedly need to replace Odell Beckham, Jr. Then, in the very next game, this happened:

That was a 43-yard bomb. And with a tiny bit more precision on the throw, Higgins would have probably scored.

Did Joe Thomas nail that, or what? Don’t forget, it was Thomas who selected (unofficially) Jedrick Wills as the Browns’ first pick in the 2020 draft. And it appears that he knows about other positions beyond the o-line.

Baker also hit Khadarel Hodge for a 42-yarder. And both bombs were launched in heavy rain.

In case you haven’t noticed, the Browns are 3-1 without OBJ. And that projects out to 12-4, a record for which any Browns fan would gladly ditch OBJ. Baker has also not thrown an interception since that last one where OBJ got hurt.

Coincidence? I don’t think so. Like I have been saying for a long time, the way you fix Baker is to ditch OBJ. The last three games were played in monsoon-like conditions, so I am looking forward to see how Baker does in sunny Jacksonville this week.

Now, look again at the video above and notice how much separation Hig had on Eagles CB Avonte Maddox, who is faster than OBJ. With a 4.39s 40-yard dash time, Maddox is considerably faster than Hig who runs a 4.64, and yet Hig still beat him. How is that possible?

Well, according to Paul DePodesta’s analytics, it’s not. And that’s why (I believe) Hig rode the bench for most of this season and nearly all of 2019.

But Hig did indeed beat Maddox. If you look at Hig’s route here, it looks like Maddox was expecting him to head for the sideline, and when Hig turned to the middle, it was too late. Maddox’s superior speed didn’t help him because Hig is wily, and knows how to get open.

So, considering how the Browns are winning, how well Baker is playing, and how he is hitting Hig & Hodge deep, I think we can declare the whole “replace OBJ” issue as settled. And instead of wasting resources on bringing in another prima-donna speedster to badger Baker for the ball, we can think about getting more help on defense where the team actually needs it.

On another subject…as fun as it is to watch Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb hurdle tacklers, Coach Stump should discourage them from doing so.

Here is what Tony Dorsett had to say on the subject:

“That’s one thing that I don’t like. When you get airborne, you’re at the mercy of the hit, and sometimes you can’t protect yourself.”

In the video below, we see an example of what can happen. This kid was miraculously unhurt, but he could have easily snapped his spine. This is Bijan Robinson of the Texas Longhorns:

Olympic high hurdles are 3.5 feet tall; NFL players are considerably taller. So, the math is working against you. Now, if you are on the goal-line, and want to jump over the d-line to get into the end zone, that’s a little different because there are bodies below you that reduce the height of your drop. So, that looks less risky to me. In any case, injuries in the NFL are far too common as it is, and even players like Kareem Hunt who think they are indestructible should heed the advice of the legendary Dorsett.

Rashard “Healthy Scratch” Higgins Does it Again

Last week, I was surprised to see that most analysts were picking the Texans to defeat the Browns. Everybody seemed to think that Deshaun Watson and his fleet of high-flying receivers would eviscerate the porous Browns defense, despite the fact that it was another too-windy-to-pass day in Cleveland. But when the dust settled, the Browns emerged triumphant.

And you might be surprised to learn that the top receiver in the game wasn’t Houston’s Will Fuller, Brandin Cooks, or Randall Cobb. It wasn’t even Browns’ Pro-Bowl receiver Jarvis Landry. It was none other than Rashard Higgins with his 3 catches for 48 yards.

During the Browns’ 64-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter, Higgins accounted for 35 of those yards. First, with a 21-yard catch, and then by drawing a 14-yard pass-interference call. These were big plays in such a low-scoring game.

Again, it was no-passing weather, but I’m discussing the passing game because I think it is important that Higgins played in a game with several superb receivers, and came out with the best stats. Now that he is finally getting some snaps, everybody is remembering just how good of a player he is.

But there is still a notion going around that without Odell Beckham, Jr., the Browns need a speedster deep-threat to keep DBs from coming in to help stop the Browns’ ground game. I guess adherents of this notion don’t think a Pro-Bowl receiver like Jarvis Landry is sufficient, and want to acquire a faster receiver. But the Browns don’t lack speedsters. Both Taywan Taylor and KhaDarel Hodge are faster than OBJ.

Furthermore, after the Houston game, Joe Thomas suggested that “Higgy” could be the deep-threat that the Browns need to stretch defenses vertically. Higgy isn’t an elite speedster, but defenses should definitely fear him. They may not have picked-up on it yet, but the Baker-Higgins duo is lightening in a bottle.

Joe Thomas went on to downplay the need for a speedster by pointing out that the Browns’ awesome ground-game is like a magnet sucking in the DBs. In other words, it’s not the lack of a passing threat that is bringing safeties into the box, but rather the necessity of having more bodies to catch Chubb, or add to the pile that Kareem drags around with him wherever he goes.

I think it’s safe to say that Joe Thomas is a bonafide football expert, and if he thinks Higgy can be the downfield threat, then there is a good chance that Higgy can do exactly that.

The fastest player on the Browns isn’t a wide-out, or even an offensive player. It’s cornerback Denzel Ward. See the list below. Higgins is not fast, but he’s not slow either. He’s neck-and-neck with Kareem Hunt and David Njoku, so he is in good company.

Just for fun, I included a couple of linemen in the list. Turns out, Myles Garret is faster than several Browns pass-catchers, faster than Kareem Hunt, and nipping at Nick Chubb’s heels. Amazing.

If you are not able to run in a straight line, don’t be surprised if Sheldon Richardson in-pursuit catches you from behind.

Baker Mayfield is as fast as his fullback, Andy Janovich.

40-yard-dash times for some Cleveland Browns players:
4.32 – Denzel Ward (CB)
4.33 – Taywan Taylor (WR)
4.39 – KhaDarel Hodge (WR)
4.43 – Odell Beckham, Jr (WR)
4.48 – Donovan Peoples-Jones (WR)
4.51 – Jarvis Landry (WR)
4.53 – Nick Chubb (RB)
4.57 – Myles Garrett (DE)
4.62 – Kareem Hunt (RB)
4.64 – Rashard Higgins (WR)
4.64 – David Njoku (TE)
4.71 – Stephen Carlson (TE)
4.72 – Austin Hooper (TE)
4.73 – Harrison Bryant (TE)
4.81 – Andy Janovich (FB)
4.81 – Baker Mayfield (QB)
4.86 – Sheldon Richardson (DT)

Note: on his first day back, Nick Chubb immediately resumed injecting Browns fans with heroin via his dazzling running abilities. Did you know that even after missing 4 games, Chubb is still the NFL leader in runs of 20 yards or longer with 7 such outbursts? Kyler Murray is in second place with 6. If he weren’t injured, Chubb would probably have double Murray’s total.

Note: Joe Thomas made his remarks on the “Cleveland Browns Daily” podcast on November 16, 2020. Skip forward 37 minutes.

Note: It doesn’t look like there is any organized program to speed-test players after the combine. I’m sure that players are clocked during training camp, but those numbers don’t seem to get published. And sprinting is like anything else, if you practice, you get better, and players certainly do train for the combine. So, while the times listed above may have been accurate at one point in time, they may not be quite so accurate now.

With Beckham Out, the Browns Need a New Scheme

As I discussed in my previous post, the Baker/Beckham duo stank up the NFL so bad last year, Coach Stefanski had to develop a special “Baker & Beckham are Bums” scheme to reduce their roles. Instead of throwing incompletion after incompletion to Odell, Baker Mayfield’s new job was to hand the ball to Nick Chubb & Kareem Hunt, and throw short passes to his tight-ends, while Beckham’s new role was to get in the way of his cornerback as Nick Chubb steamed by.

It worked pretty well, and I congratulate Coach Stefanski on being able to work around such rotten players. But now that the OBJ “reality distortion field” is no longer warping Baker’s mind, he is free to go back to his 2018 self. We saw proof of this in the Cincinnati and Oakland games, so now it’s time for a new scheme where Baker gets to air it out a bit more. He’s earned it.

Also, now that Nick Chubb is back, I, and plenty of other fans, would love to see him and Kareem Hunt on the field at the same time. That’s just crazy exciting for fans. Commentators are raving about how wonderful it is to have Kareem “spelling” Chubb, but does Nick really get tired? Somehow, I doubt it. In fact, if you needed 25 carries a game, both Chubb & Kareem would be more than happy, and capable, of giving them to you. I don’t want to see either player doing the punishing work of a fullback, so why not have Kareem as your slot receiver?

No receiver on the Browns has more touchdown catches than Hunt (4) and he is way more reliable than OBJ ever was. Hunt has caught 72% of his targets compared to OBJ’s 53.5%. Defenses should be more afraid of Hunt than they were of OBJ. Throwing the ball to Hunt in the defensive backfield should keep defensive coordinators up at night. Hell, linebackers have trouble bringing down Hunt, let alone DBs.

One of the most eagerly anticipated developments of the preseason was how the new coach would use Chubb & Hunt. Then, when Stefanski announced that Hunt would be spelling Chubb, fans felt let down. They wanted both guns blazing, but instead were told that Chubb needs to nap between possessions. It came across as a terrible lack of creativity.

So, here’s a play: Landry is wide-out left, Higgins is wide-out right. There is one tight-end on the left. Chubb is in the backfield, Kareem is in the slot on the right. Chubb goes left, Baker fakes it to him, bootlegs right and throws a short pass to Hunt. Next play, same thing only Baker pump fakes to Kareem, and throws downfield to Landry or Higgins. Next play, same thing, only now the defense has gone to sleep on Chubb, and Baker hands it off to him. Next play, same thing only Baker stops short on his bootleg, and throws it back to the tight-end. Depending on the defense, Baker could choose any of these options.

So, there’s some ideas about how to use the team’s two super-star running backs simultaneously.

In case you were wondering, Rashard Higgins is the team’s most-reliable receiver, with OBJ being the worst. This is: “percent of targets caught”:

80.0% – Rashard Higgins
72.0% – Kareem Hunt
71.4% – Harrison Bryant
66.7% – Austin Hooper
66.0% – Jarvis Landry
61.5% – David Njoku
53.5% – Odell Beckham, Jr.

Honorable mentions:
Chubb only has 3 targets but he caught all of them.
DPJ is off to a good start, catching 3 of his 4 targets for 75%.

Who is Responsible for the Baker/Beckham Boondoggle?

Back in September, I wrote: “the way to fix Baker is to ditch Odell.” And now, thanks to ESPN Stats & Info, we have the statistical evidence to verify my prophetic statement. From this ESPN story:

“Mayfield’s completion percentage targeting other receivers this season is 78.6%…Mayfield’s completion rate to Beckham, meanwhile, was just 59.9%.”

…and…

“Over the last two seasons, Mayfield and Beckham have the worst completion success rate (55.6%) of any duo in the NFL (with at least 100 attempts).”

And, of course, the very moment Beckham was knocked out of the game against Cincinnati, Baker started balling out of control, completing a franchise record 22 passes in a row and five touchdowns. At the time, people mocked Baker’s achievement by saying it was against the lowly Bengals. But the very next week those same Bengals beat the playoff-caliber Tennessee Titans 31-20. So, maybe Baker’s achievement can’t be discounted after all, right?

After the Bengals, Baker threw very well against the Raiders, but was plagued by dropped balls. But, make no mistake; Baker is back, baby!

What I want to know now is how this debacle was allowed to continue for so long. You could blame Baker for not running the plays as-designed, and caving-in to OBJ’s demands for the ball. You could also blame the quarterback coaches for not putting a stop to something that was blatantly not working. Personally, I blame Odell Beckham, Jr. and his celebrity “reality distortion field” for blinding Baker and the coaching staff.

Ultimatelly though, the coaching staff is responsible. Freddie Kitchens’ pal, Ryan Lindley, was the QB coach for last season, and didn’t have much coaching experience, though he did play the position in the NFL. Coach Stefanski replaced Lindley with the much-more-qualified Alex Van Pelt. But Van Pelt, either didn’t try, or was not able to reign in the Baker/Beckham Axis of Evil Football-Playing.

So! Let the record show that the coaching staff didn’t have a fucking thing to do with Baker’s revival. Baker doesn’t get credit either. It’s pretty amazing that he couldn’t figure out the problem. I mean, he was a stellar QB all his life, and then he hits this brick wall and didn’t even notice! How does that even happen?

Nobody gets credit! Baker’s revival was just plain, dumb, and I mean very dumb, luck!

It will be virtually impossible for the Browns to not play better over the rest of the season. But the big question is, will these idiots bring Odell back next season and let him ruin Baker again? Is that level of buffoonery even possible? Yes; yes it is. So, Browns fans, enjoy the old Baker while you have him, because 2021 just might be another year in Odell Hell.

Also, let the record show that Browns’ analytics “whiz” Paul DePodesta didn’t figure out what was wrong with Baker. How could he have missed the fact that Baker is half the player he normally is when throwing to Odell? I mean, the stats cited in the ESPN article (linked above) are mind-boggling, and DePodesta couldn’t see that gigantic statistical anomaly? What the fuck? When you combine this debacle with his persecution of Rashard Higgins and David Njoku, it’s obvious the DePodesta needs to be ousted. Without his idiotic calls, and the OBJ trade, the Browns would probably be a Super Bowl contender now.

No, No, No! Odell Beckham Jr. is NOT a Big YAC Guy

Since OBJ’s injury, a lot of Browns commentators have been saying something along these lines: now that the Browns no longer have a big yards-after-catch (YAC) guy to strike fear in the hearts of opponents, defensive-coordinators can focus on thwarting the Browns’ rushing attack. But if we look at the stats, we see that OBJ was nearly the worst pass-catcher in the league when ranked by YAC. You have to scroll all the way to the bottom of this chart to find him:

That’s right; OBJ ran for an average 2 yards after catching the ball. People probably have in mind OBJ’s 50-yard touchdown run against Dallas, but that was a rushing attempt, not a pass-reception. And that was a fluke. First, OBJ did his “running backwards” thing and was almost tackled for a big loss. Now, you might think that I’m being uncharitable by saying that, but the fact is that OBJ has never had a big running play like that. His previous best was a 13-yard run back in 2014. How many times could he have taken an end-around like that before defenses caught on? Probably not many.

Odell did better in 2019 with a 4.47 YAC, but that is still about half of what the elite guys do.

A couple of things to consider about YAC: if you catch a ball in the end-zone, your YAC is zero for the catch because there are no more yards to be gained. If you catch a toe-tapper at the sideline, your YAC will also be zero. If you have to dive, jump, twist around, etc. to catch the ball, then your YAC suffers as DBs are able to close on you. The ideal scenario is to catch the ball on the run with some separation on the DB. And that’s why YAC is computed for quarterbacks too.

In 2019, Baker Mayfield ranked at a stellar #8 in the league with an Average YAC of 5.7. See this page. However, here in 2020, with Coach Stefanski’s new “short ball” offensive scheme in place, Baker ranks near the bottom with an Average YAC of 4.0. So, OBJ is affected by that also. You could argue that this new scheme was a punishment for Baker and OBJ because they did poorly in 2019. Consequently, they were subsumed in a run-oriented scheme where Baker would be limited to short passes, and OBJ would be regulated to blocking for Nick Chub and Kereem Hunt.

Nevertheless, OBJ’s YAC for 2020 was still the worst on the team except for that of Rashard Higgins who only has one-third of OBJ’s targets. Hig also has a high proportion of TDs and toe-tappers.

YAC – Player
5.94 – Kareem Hunt
4.73 – Austin Hooper
4.42 – Jarvis Landry
4.38 – David Njoku
2.04 – OBJ
1.33 – Rashard Higgins

So, if YAC is what you want, Kareem Hunt is your man. I’m sure Chubb would do well too if he got more targets.

Methodology: I compiled this data on November 3, 2020, which was the Tuesday after NFL Week 8. OBJ played weeks 1-6 before he was injured right at the beginning of Week 7’s game versus the Bengals on October 25, 2020. In the table above, I selected the top 100 receivers by total yards. Then I sorted them by Average YAC.

Browns’ Higgins & Njoku Burst Free of Analytics Nerd DePodesta

During Baker Mayfield’s shootout with Joe Burrow during the Brown’s victory over the Bengals on Sunday, WR Rashard Higgins dazzled fans with his ball-catching prowess, grabbing all six balls thrown to him by Mayfield. Higgins filled the void left by the injured Odell Beckham with ease & style, and TE David Njoku made a superb diving touchdown catch.

It was especially joyous for long-sufferring Browns fans because it rekindled the “Golden Age” of late 2018 when Higgins & Njoku caught pass after pass from Baker. But Hig and Njoku were pretty much benched for all of 2019 and most of 2020. Not only that, but the Browns actually let Higgins go back in March. That’s how he lost his number 81, and why he is 82 now. While Higgins was in the wind, the Browns signed Austin Hooper, and gave him Hig’s old number.

Before Baker, Hig, and Njoku go on to light-up the back half of the schedule, I want to make it clear exactly what happened here. Because I believe that this episode is a textbook example of chemistry defeating analytics, and should be taught to all aspiring coaches, GMs, and analytics nerds.

So, here is my version of events in a nutshell: after playing superbly in 2018, Higgins & Njoku were benched in 2019 by Browns analytics chief, Paul DePodesta because “numbers.” Freddie Kitchens was made the fall-guy for the infamous “no reason” benchings that infuriated Browns fans. In 2020, coach Stefanski was given the same orders, and also made to take the fall. Then, a series of injuries forced Higgins & Njoku into the Cincinnati game where they proceeded to make DePodesta look like a fucking fool.

Talented players, who displayed a palpable chemistry with their quarterback were benched on orders from an analytics nerd. Don’t forget, I am a nerd myself, and I can see analytics being very valuable when, for example, scouts are sorting through hundreds of players. But to actually call the shots on the field? That’s just plain crazy. Chemistry is so much more important in football that coaches need to think long and hard before breaking up established player relationships. Football is the ultimate team sport. Baseball, on the other hand, is actually closer to single-combat where you have one pitcher facing off against one hitter, and analytics can readily be used to make substitutions.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that the reason why the Browns’ infamously talented roster has yet to pay off is because it is being deployed with analytics.

When it comes to DePodesta, mum is the word for Browns employees. In fact, I would bet that all Browns employee contracts for coaches, players, and staff, have a no-DePo clause forbidding anybody to talk about him. I think it is also obvious that DePodesta has veto power over coaches. Exactly how much power he has is unclear, and I regard this lack of transparency as a black mark for ownership.

Browns fans should pressure the Haslams to reign in their power-mad nerd.

Note: further evidence happened during training camp when Higgins’ position coach, Chad O’Shea announced that Higgins had won the #3 receiver job. But then coach Stefanski barked back, and overruled O’Shea, saying the decision had not yet been made. Then Hig went on to be the infamous “healthy scratch” and forbidden to even wear the uniform. I think that was an obvious case of DePodesta speaking through Stefanski, the kinda-sorta head coach.

Note: Many OBJ supporters are denigrating Baker’s performance in Cincinnati saying: “that was the Bengals sucking, not Baker being good.” Then they go on to cite how great OBJ was during the Dallas game. But Dallas has a terrible defense too, so wasn’t that just “Dallas sucking instead of OBJ being great?” Anybody who doesn’t think that something profound happened to Baker after OBJ left the Cincinnati game is just plain blind, deaf, and dumb.

The Second Coming of Baker Mayfield

Note: I have been criticizing Odell Beckham, Jr. long before his tragic injury on Sunday. (See what I wrote about him back in April). And at the risk of appearing insensitive, I need to continue campaigning against OBJ because I think the Browns are better without him, and should trade him as soon as another team will have him.

At the end of the 2018 season, Baker Mayfield was Football Jesus in Cleveland. Then the Browns traded for Odell Beckham, Jr. who we later discovered to be Football Poison, and Baker was cast into Football Hell where he languished as the very worst quarterback in the NFL in 2019.

Baker wasn’t doing much better in 2020, until OBJ was removed from the scene. Then Baker completed a franchise record 22 passes in a row.

Do you think that was a coincidence? I don’t.

My theory all along has been that OBJ’s celebrity created a Steve Job’s style “reality distortion field” that clouded Baker’s mind. Just as soon as that field was switched off, his mind cleared, and Baker went back to being his true self: a Heisman Trophy caliber quarterback.

Most of Baker’s 22 passes went to 2018-vintage Bake-Packers: Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, and David Njoku, all of which Baker has good chemistry with. Baker also hit rookies Harrison Bryant and Donovan Peoples-Jones. Does that mean that Baker has good chemistry with them too? Yes; yes it does.

Here’s the thing: chemistry is the rule, not the exception.

The exception is narcissistic personalities like OBJ, who regardless of talent, simply cannot gel with a team. Normal athletes will play better-and-better with each other as time goes on, more-or-less automatically.

Even worse was the fact that Baker was a young man when OBJ arrived. If he were more seasoned he might not have been as affected by OBJ’s demands for the ball, and the sports media’s amplification of those demands.

In any case, Baker is now free to re-ascend into Football Heaven where he had previously spent his entire life before OBJ came to town.

Note: There are people saying that nobody can fill Beckham’s shoes because of his crazy skills. Did these people not see the Cincinnati game? OBJ’s shoes were filled immediately. We saw spectacular catches from Njoku, Higgins, and DPJ, a great throw by Landry, and two TDs by Bryant. A few games ago, we saw Kareem Hunt make an acrobatic, one-handed catch. During the last game against the Bengals last year, we saw Nick Chubb make an unbelievable TD catch.

The Browns are just oozing with talent. With OBJ exorcised from the team other players are free to dazzle.

Note: Let the record show that the Browns passing-game worsened substantially after OBJ joined the team. In 2018, the Browns had the #13 passing offense in the league. After OBJ joined the team in 2019, the Browns dropped to #21. You can blame that on Freddie Kitchens if you want, but how does that explain that the Browns are only #18 here in 2020 after a major coaching upgrade?

Note: I wish OBJ a speedy, and full recovery, and that he gets many targets on his next team after he is hopefully traded. I think the Browns will finish strong, just like in 2018, and management will feel, at a minimum, reluctant to repeat the OBJ debacle.

Breaking-Up the Bake-Pack

Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield holds the NFL record for the most passing touchdowns (27) by a rookie quarterback. That was during the 2018 season when Baker only played in 14 of the Browns 16 games. By contrast, Kyler Murray started all 16 games in his rookie season of 2019, and only threw 20 TDs. Not even close to Baker’s record.

During the final 7 games of the 2018 season, the once-lowly Browns finished with a 5-2 record. It was the Golden Age for long-suffering Browns fans. Euphoria broke out at the plausible notion that the team had found its franchise quarterback.

And then…Freddie Kitchens destroyed the team. Or did he?

But first, let’s talk about what I call the “Bake-Pack.” Exactly who did Baker throw all of those touchdowns to in 2018?

Jarvis Landry was the workhorse of the season with 81 receptions and 4 touchdowns.

David Njoku was second with 56 receptions and 4 touchdowns.

Duke Johnson was third with 47 receptions and 3 touchdowns.

Antonio Callaway was fourth with 43 receptions and 5 touchdowns.

Rashard Higgins was fifth with 39 receptions and 4 touchdowns. Hig had as many touchdowns as Landry with only half the receptions.

In 2019, Callaway self-destructed and only had 8 receptions before being released. And Duke Johnson requested a trade after the Browns signed Kareem Hunt. So, the Bake-Pack was reduced to three players. And then, unbelievably, Njoku and Higgins were benched, and the Bake-Pack was no more. Deprived of his favorite targets, Baker went from being a record-breaking phenom to one of the worst quarterbacks in the league.

Kitchens was blamed. Higgins and Njoku were said to be in Kitchens’ dog house, but nobody knew why. It was a huge mystery that fans lamented, loudly, throughout the entire 2019 season. Indeed, this issue generated a huge chunk of the hatred directed toward Kitchens.

When Kevin Stefanski was named head coach for the 2020 season, Browns fans were elated at the prospect of the Bake-Pack riding again. But, unaccountably, Stefanski continued the Kitchens policy of benching Higgins and Njoku. This made it obvious that the shots were not being called by the coaches, but rather by Coach Spreadsheet, Paul DePodesta.

And so the Golden Age Bake-Pack was put to death by a calculator-wielding analytics nerd. And the Browns regressed from going 7-8-1 in 2018 to 6-10 in 2019. Oddly, DePo gets very little criticism, or even mention, by the Browns media, like he is Voldemort or something.

After Browns “blocking receiver” (whatever the fuck that is) KhaDarel Hodge was put on the injured-reserve list on October 6, 2020, Higgins was actually permitted to put on his uniform. He then promptly caught two touchdown passes against the Colts and Steelers while Landry and Beckham caught zero.

Higgins likes to be called “Hollywood” or “Wood” but I call him “The Touchdown Man” because he has the uncanny ability to get open in the end zone, and to catch Baker’s eye. It’s almost like he lives under the end zone, and when the Browns enter the red zone, he pops up unseen like a Disney character going on duty at Disney World, and catches the TD.

During the Browns’ only two losses this year, the savage beat-downs administered by the Ravens and Steelers, the team was only able to score two touchdowns. The TD against the Ravens was caught by Njoku. The TD against the Steelers was caught by Higgins. If it weren’t for the Bake-Pack, those games might have been shutouts.

But Higgins will probably be benched when Hodge comes back, because analytics. (The Browns need Hodge on special teams, but not at receiver.)

Was the Golden Age of 2018 the apogee of Baker’s life-long quarterbacking career? It’s starting to look that way. Would Baker do better if Higgins were his #1 or #2 receiver? I think so.

Trying to shoehorn OBJ into the Browns offense hasn’t produced the hoped-for results. OBJ has put up mediocre stats this year. For example, on “big” pass-plays of 20+ yards, OBJ ranks at #54 with 3. CeeDee Lamb has 10.

Note: when Baker walked out onto the field before the Steelers game, he strutted along like he was god’s gift to football. He was comically overconfident, and a few minutes later, he hit Minkah Fitzpatrick for a touchdown. (In case you don’t know, Minkah is not on the Browns.) After being humbled, I expect Baker to play much better during the next few games. Being overconfident clouds your judgement; though it is hard to remain humble after a four game winning streak in the NFL.

Note: after the Steelers game, OBJ threw his helmet down in anger. He probably thinks that if he had gotten more targets, the Browns could have won. Not the case. Not even close. The Steelers mauled the Browns in the trenches. It had nothing to do with Odell. (Note to Odell: it’s not always about you.)

Note: Podcaster John Middlekauff has been watching the Browns more closely lately. He thinks that Baker should become a strict pocket-passer like Drew Brees because Baker is not fast & athletic enough to outrun defenders. I must say that I react the same way when Baker is scrambling: I cringe and brace for a sack or interception. On the other hand, there are people who laud Baker for his elusiveness. And indeed, Baker does seem to weasel out of a lot of precarious situations. I guess it’s a matter of taste. On Sunday, the Steelers’ plan was to keep Baker penned-up in the pocket where he can’t see downfield as well as he can while rolling out. It worked. In any case, Baker’s “Total QBR” is up nicely on the year so far:

Year – QBR – Rank
2018 – 51.2 – 25th
2019 – 52.4 – 19th
2020 – 67.9 – 18th

Even though Baker isn’t fast, he has a very graceful gait. He reminds me of Cuban sprinter Alberto Juantorena, who was a star of the 1976 Olympics. But of course, the NFL is not a beauty contest. I also think that Baker really wants to be a running quarterback. He wants to be Lamar Jackson or Kyler Murray, as unrealistic as that is.

Note: Patrick Mahomes probably would have beaten Baker’s record, but he was only allowed to play one game in his rookie year. On the other hand, Mahomes was playing with a first-class team, while Baker inherited the very worst team in the league, yet still managed to make it fly.

Rashard Higgins Should Ditch the Ungrateful Browns

In Sunday’s hard-fought battle with the Indianapolis Colts, Rashard Higgins caught more touchdown passes (1) than Browns superstar receivers Odell Beckham Jr. (0) and Jarvis Landry (0) combined.

Hig fans were not surprised. This is what he does.

But if it weren’t for injuries to WR KhaDarel Hodge and WR Jojo Natson, Hig may not have played, or even been active. With Hig being a “healthy scratch” for the previous two games, I was terrified that the Browns would promote somebody from the practice squad instead of starting Hig.

And that could have happened. Because both Hig and David Njoku are being persecuted by the Browns again, just like last year. We all thought that it was that knucklehead Freddie Kitchens who benched Hig and Njoku last year with no reason given. And it seemed that the new head coach wouldn’t be so ridiculous. But he is. How is that possible?

Answer: because coach Stefanski is not calling the shots. Coach Spreadsheet is.

Why do I say that? Because of something that Stefanski said during the post-game love-fest about Hig:

“He was inactive there for a couple games through no fault of his own – that is just how the numbers went…”

Numbers? What numbers? Clearly, Hig should be, at least, the #3 receiver and active for every game. KhaDarel Hodge is a great special-teams player, but what kind of maniac would promote him over Rashard fucking Higgins? Stefanski isn’t that dumb, so when he said “numbers” he must have been referring to the dreaded “analytics.”

So, that explains why both Kitchens and Stefanski have appeared to persecute Hig (and Njoku). It wasn’t their call; it was the doing of Coach Spreadsheet, who also ordered the head-coaches to not reveal their subservience.

But if you were to go through that analytics spreadsheet with a fine-toothed comb, I bet you would find a cell with a buggy formula deep in the bowels that no human has looked at for years. Because even a broken robot could figure out that Hig and Njoku should be playing. For example, both Hig and Njoku have caught all of their targets this season. Both are 4 for 4 with 1 touchdown. Hodge is 3 for 6 with zero TDs. Hell, OBJ barely catches half of his targets.

And we know what Hig & Njoku can do when they do start. They were a big part of Baker smashing all of those records in 2018. We have the film for fuck’s sake.

Unfortunately, Njoku had the right idea when he demanded a trade in the pre-season. Fans were surprised that he did so, but it was the right call, and Hig should exit the Browns too. He’s wasting away under the thumb of a fucking spreadsheet when he could be a starting player at just about any other team. As much as I would hate to see these guys go, I would get to watch them play more if they did.

Browns ownership has recieved kudos this season for hiring Andrew Barry and Kevin Stefanski. Now they have an opportunity to reign in this maniac Coach Spreadsheet, Paul DePodesta. DePo did a good job campaigning for Stefanski, but now he needs to let Stefanski coach the team.

My degree is in computer science, and I am a life-long software developer. So, it’s not like I am anti-technology in football. But what DePo is doing here is infuriating. Rather, it was infuriating, because once fans realize what’s really happening, there are going to be calls for DePo’s head.

At a minimum, DePo should fess up and give reasons why players are benched. Especially fan-favorites.

But I don’t think that is likely to happen. So, enjoy watching Hig & Njoku while you can, because this may be their last season with the ungrateful Browns.

Clash of Titans: Browns vs. Colts

The Browns? Titans? You probably think that I’ve lost my mind. But when it comes to running the ball, the Browns are indeed elite; the very best in the NFL.

The Browns are averaging 204.5 rushing yards per game, which is 24.7 yards better than the second place Patriots. And they are doing it without a running quarterback. Baker Mayfield only has 15 rushing yards versus Cam Newton & Lamar Jackson contributing large chunks to the #2 & #3 ground games.

The Browns have lost the league’s #3 running back, Nick Chubb, for a few games, but since his understudy is also elite, the Browns should be fine. After all, when you pass the baton to Kareem Hunt, things don’t slow down – at all. We already have solid proof of this since Chubb limped off the field in the first quarter on Sunday, and coach Stump’s well-prepared running backs ran roughshod over the hapless Cowboys anyway.

But…the Colts have the NFL’s #1 defense, so Sunday’s game will be a true clash of Titans. If the Browns can run on the Colts, then the Steelers, with their #2 defense, need to start worrying about the Browns coming to town on the 18th. Not that we’re looking past the Colts!

On an unrelated subject…remember when I said that Odell Beckham Jr. was easy to tackle? Take a look at the 00:54 mark of this video where Cowboys linebacker Joe Thomas (#48) knocks OBJ over with one hand. Literally, a love-tap. And Thomas didn’t even bother to put his shoulder down. He was like: “it’s OBJ, where’s my feather?” Then he just knocks him over in the NFL’s most nonchalant tackle ever. OBJ catches with one hand, but also gets tackled with one hand. Kind of ironic, no? In any case, as I have said, OBJ fans should not be surprised if he is, one day, snapped in two. Nonetheless, congratulations to OBJ for his brilliant performance on Sunday – backwards running on that last end-around notwithstanding!

The Browns Are Giving Too Much Respect to the Cowboys

Browns fans seem to think that the game against Dallas on Sunday is one of Cleveland’s tougher match-ups of the season. This trepidation is undoubtedly driven by the looming shadow of the league’s leading passer, Dak Prescott, who has already thrown for 1,188 yards. That’s more than double Baker’s total of 564.

Scary, right? But what about the Cowboys’ defense? Turns out, they stink. The Cowboys have given up 277 passing yards per game, ranking at #28 in the 32-team league. Not only that, but the Browns didn’t have too much trouble defeating Cincinnati and Washington who inexplicably rank #5 & #6 in pass-defense.

Dallas isn’t so hot at ground defense either, ranking at #23. So, while Prescott will undoubtedly tear-up the Brown’s defensive backfield, Baker & Company should be able to answer each and every time.

Given the weakness of the Dallas pass defense, the Browns might want to take the opportunity to work on their passing attack. Here’s an interesting stat that I noticed today: neither of the Browns’ star receivers rank in the top 100 for “yards after catch.” The league leader is Saints running back Alvin Kamara with 283 yards. Jarvis Landry ranks at #100 with 41 yards, and Odell Beckham, Jr. is #106 with 39 yards.

This means that after they catch the ball, they are pretty much tackled immediately. TV announcers rave about OBJ’s “moves” but so far this year, you could knock him over with a feather. The rest of the Brown’s pass-catchers aren’t any better, so all of the team’s receivers, tight-ends, running backs, and full backs should use this opportunity to trample some flimsy Cowboys.

Odell Beckham Jr. Persecuted by NFL

In my previous post, I put forth a theory that the NFL was out to get Odell Beckham Jr. In the very next game, this happened:

So, we had a DB blatantly pulling on OBJ’s jersey, and a ref looking right at it, and he didn’t throw a flag.

I couldn’t ask for better evidence.

But, you might ask: OBJ scored a touchdown earlier in the game, right? Yes, he did, and he will score more. However, his job is much harder now. Not only does he need to achieve separation, but he has to achieve extra-special separation in order to stay out of grabbing range. OBJ’s touchdowns were cut in half during that game, and Baker Mayfield’s stats took a hit too.

Do all the DBs in the NFL know that they can grab OBJ at will? Maybe not. When word spreads, OBJ’s job will get even harder.

OBJ complained vociferously to the ref, to no avail. Note to Odell: there will be more frustration in your future unless you make peace with the league.

Note: Congratulations to Browns’ rookie HC Kevin Stefanski on his first victory as a head coach. True, it was against the worst team in the league, but Joe Burrow and the Bengals kept coming, and a lesser coach could have lost that game.

Note: the above incident took place during the Browns vs. Bengals Thursday Night Football game on September 17, 2002.

Why Odell Beckham Jr. is as Good as Done in the NFL

Odell Beckham Jr. has a history of butting heads with the NFL; maybe one too many times. For example, here is how OBJ responded when he was fined for wearing non-regulation pants during a game last year:

“They feel the need to fine me for some pants that cost probably six cents to make, and we’re getting fined $15,000. They’re just finding a way to pull the money back from the players.”

Everything OBJ said there was just plain stupid, but that last thing; that’s the problem. Does OBJ really think he can say things like that and not get any blow-back? Apparently, he does. But he is sadly mistaken. In fact, the NFL can easily damage his career because OBJ plays a vulnerable position.

The NFL passing game is one of precision and timing. If a defensive back can hold a receiver just a little bit, and delay his arrival at the spot where the ball is being thrown to, he can break up the play. It doesn’t take much, and if the referees, who, it turns out, work for the NFL, are instructed to give the DBs a little “latitude” to hold onto OBJ, then he is going to have a hard time running his routes with the necessary precision. I believe we saw a fresh example of this during the Browns’ game against the Ravens on Sunday (9/13/2020).

This has been going on for a while now, and was why Odell threw a punch at Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey during the game in Week 4 of 2019. Humphrey was cheating like crazy, and the refs were letting him. But this doesn’t just affect Odell’s stats, it also drags down Baker Mayfield’s numbers. In fact, the way to “fix” Baker is to ditch Odell.

Odell is damaged goods. The league has it in for him. He should be benched, traded, or cut unless he can mend fences with the NFL. What would that look like? Odell should ask for a meeting with the league, apologize for his past remarks, and pledge to be a model player going forward. He should even sip a glass of milk during the meeting to show how wholesome he will be.

What are the chances of the hyper narcissist Odell doing that?

Zero.

So, I think he is done in the NFL. He might try his luck with the CFL, get a fresh start, turn over a new leaf, etc.

Note: as I was writing this today, a burst of anti-Odell sentiment hit the Browns scene. It seems that the pass Odell dropped on third-and-two during Sunday’s game against the Ravens has infuriated many Browns fans who are now calling for his head. To that, I say: join the party. I turned against Odell back on April 28, 2020 when I published:

Rashard Higgins Mystery Solved

And in May, I wrote two more pieces:

How Beckham Broke the Browns

Odell Beckham Jr. is an Overrated Distraction

I predicted that Odell’s lack of chemistry with Baker would continue into the 2020 season, and I was proven right, emphatically, in the very first game.

Today, everybody knows that the grand Baker/Odell experiment has failed, and that change is needed. Coach Stefanski informed us last week that Kareem Hunt would be “spelling” Nick Chubb. Why not some spelling for Odell? Why not give half of his snaps to Rashard Higgins? Then Odell could indulge in a few extra IV’s. Speaking of which, nobody needs an IV. If a muscle cramps up, all you need is one of those little salt packets and your muscle will be fine in a couple of minutes.

And finally, during an interview today, Odell was asked what could be done to improve his chemistry with Baker, and he answered: more game reps. A couple minutes later he was complaining that he was being unfairly criticized for always wanting the ball – when he had just demanded more balls earlier in the same interview!

Odell isn’t a bad football player. We have seen him out in front, blocking for Chubb on many occasions, and even making the occasional catch. Even the dropped pass mentioned above was probably from Odell being too eager to make a big play, and turning his eyes up-field too early. But I just don’t think that Odell is a chemistry kind of guy. So, while all of this pressure being put on Odell & Baker this week might cause them to suddenly try harder and finally gel, I just don’t think it will happen. It would be amazing if it did, but I’m not holding my breath.

Stefanski Personality Flaws?

By all accounts, the Browns’ beefed-up management and coaching are far superior to what the organization had for the 2019 season. Browns fans should be stoked to have Andrew Berry at GM and Kevin Stefanski at head coach. I certainly am. But we also have to keep in mind that Stefanski is a rookie, just like Freddie Kitchens was last year.

Now, you are probably thinking that I am a maniac for even mentioning Kitchens in the same sentence as Stefanski, and you might be right, but hear me out.

Like Stefanski, Kitchens was seen as a rising-star when he was named head coach of the Browns. But once Kitchens had the reigns, a personality flaw reared its ugly head. Perhaps like me, you were baffled when Dontrell Hilliard scored the first touchdown of the season against the Titans:

Why didn’t Nick Chubb get the carry? Nothing against Hilliard, but Chubb is the man, no? This had me baffled for a long time – until later in the season when we saw Kitchens sidelining other fan-favorites like Rashard Higgins and David Njoku. Browns fans were also positively drooling to see Kareem Hunt in the same backfield with Chubb after Hunt came off of his suspension. But after the first few games with Hunt ready to play, fans were disappointment to see him standing on the sidelines for way too many plays.

And perhaps worst of all, when Chubb was battling with Derick Henry for the rushing title, Kitchens gave Chubb a season-low 13 carries in the final game against the Bengals allowing Henry to take the title. It’s hard to see that as anything but pure maliciousness. At the time, everybody knew Freddie was going to be fired, and none of players were sticking up for him – except Chubb. Chubb stated flat-out that he supported the coach: “I like Freddie, he’s my guy,” and that tells me that he really wanted that title, but Kitchens stabbed him, and his fans, in the back.

What was Kitchens’ thinking when he put Hilliard in for that first touchdown? Maybe something like this:

“I am the star of this team, and it makes no difference if it is Chubb or Hilliard carrying the ball. It is my genius play-calling that scores the touchdown, not a mere player.”

Who could have predicted that Kitchens would flat-out persecute the players who contributed to the magic of the second half of the 2018 season?

Nobody.

Because Kitchens was a rookie.

Hence my concern for Stefanski who has never served as a head coach – even for a Pop Warner team. Will some fatal personality flaw of Stefanski’s come into view once the season begins? I don’t think so, but head-coaching in the NFL is a rather challenging job. So, fans should be vigilant, watching the coach just as intently as Jedrick Wills trying to learn his new position. By all means, raise your voice if you see something that doesn’t seem quite right.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a minor-league system where NFL teams could train-up coaches? And a combine for coaches? And a draft?

Myles Garrett Promises More Mayhem

While talking to the press after signing his $125 million contract with the Browns, Myles Garrett said:

“I am just going to play the game how I have always played it, and that is not dirty.”

Sound familiar? That’s exactly what Garrett said after being fined $42,000 after the Jets game in Week 2 of the 2019 season:

“…just gonna play the game like it’s supposed to be played.”

And we all know what happened eight games later in the Browns’ first game against the Steelers: Garrett was suspended indefinitely. Garrett’s attitude translates into more penalties, fines, and suspensions. So, Brown’s fans, brace yourselves for another disappointing season.

Even after the second-longest suspension for on-field misconduct in NFL history, Garrett is still unrepentant. How is that even possible? I guess all the therapy and discussions with NFL officials didn’t take. And this all reflects badly on Browns’ new head-coach Kevin Stefanski, and owners, Dee & Jimmy Haslam who have failed to get Garrett to recognize the player-safety goals of the NFL.

Last week, former NFL scout, John Middlekauff said on his podcast that he would never bet on the Browns because of their bad ownership. Browns fans are ecstatic about the upgrades made to the Browns roster, coaching staff, and front office for the 2020 season. But you have to wonder; is there any amount of talent that can overcome bad ownership? Are the Browns doomed to being the most-talented mediocrity in the league?

In any case, the Browns should start thinking about using their #1 draft pick in 2021 for a defensive end; probably not what they are thinking right now. But with Garrett all but promising further suspensions, Browns management needs to be focused on a Plan B. Because last year’s Plan B was a disaster with the Browns going 2-4 in the last six games of the season, which were supposed to be the easy part of their schedule. The Browns defense just fell apart without Garrett.

Garrett is a great player. But depending upon him to be available to play is just bad management.

NFL Virus Strategy

Imagine two Super Bowl contenders: one team has all COVID-19 virgins on its roster; the other team has nothing but infected players. Which team would you bet on to win the Super Bowl? If you bet on the first team, may I suggest that you are an imbecile? Obviously, the second team has players with antibodies, while the first team’s players are sitting ducks, several of which will likely test positive during the season and have to quarantine for two weeks, at best.

So, antibodies are a hot commodity for the 2020 NFL season. And while it may one day be possible to suck antibodies out of a recovered person, and inject them into an uninfected person to convey immunity, that has yet to be accomplished. So, the only reliable way to get antibodies is to get them the old-fashioned way: by surviving an infection. So, fans should be rooting for their team to get mild infections now, in order to prevent infections during the season.

But, will NFL coaches leave this to chance? Might there be a coach out there who will deliberately infect his players? Let’s see…which coach can be relied upon to cheat at every turn? Hmm. I won’t mention any names, but I will give you a hint: the guy I have in mind is currently missing a third-round draft pick. Let’s keep an eye on him, shall we?

The NFL is striving to keep all things equal between teams when it comes to practicing. But is there anything they can do to make sure that all teams suffer the same from the coronavirus? I don’t think so. The only possible method would be to infect all players now, and that is simply not ethical.

If a coach did deliberately infect his players, he could be brought up on attempted-murder charges. But what if all the players secretly signed consent forms? Or decided amongst themselves to self-infect? If they wanted to recover before the season started, they would have to do it now. And then they would have to explain away the sudden “outbreak” on the team: “Gosh, somebody didn’t wash his hands, and now we’re a hot-spot. I hope we can all recover in time.”

While there is an opportunity to cheat here, the most-likely scenario will be that the coronavirus is simply treated like any other injury. You get it, you miss a few games, and then you come back.

And there are more virus-strategy issues. What if your team doctor, or local medical systems, refuse to treat players with hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) for political reasons? Or if they do give HCQ, do they first screen the patient for Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency (G6PD)? That might be a big factor considering how many African-American players there are in the NFL.

This all begs the question? Should the NFL regulate the treatment of COVID-19 infected players?

In case you think I’m crazy for considering these things, imagine the long-suffering Cleveland Browns making it to the AFC Championship game in January, and then Baker Mayfield tests positive, ending his season. Would this not induce a mass-suicide in the Dawg Pound? If Baker could foresee this future, would he self-infect? I don’t know, but I bet he would think about it considering how rabidly competitive he is. And Baker isn’t the only rabidly competitive player in the NFL. This isn’t the NBA after all.

With luck, this may all be moot by opening day. The CDC just reported:

“Mortality attributed to COVID-19 decreased compared to last week and is currently at the epidemic threshold but will likely increase as additional death certificates are processed.”

In other words, COVID-19 is a stone’s throw away from losing its status as an epidemic.

Note: the CDC link above is for the week ending June 27, 2020. It may change by time you read this.