On a conference call Tuesday and at his press conference Wednesday, Freddie Kitchens took question after question about the Browns’ inconsistency on offense, particularly the passing game. Each time, no matter the phrasing, Kitchens put the onus on himself, saying he needs to put quarterback Baker Mayfield in better position to make quicker, sharper throws while finding a rhythm.
After Wednesday’s practice, Mayfield took ownership of it. He heard what Kitchens had to say but, ultimately, the ball is in his hands.
“He is going to try and take care of me, but I have to do my job when it all comes down to it,” Mayfield said. “He is our head coach and he is going to say that, but I have to play better.”
Mayfield has been matter of fact about the issues Cleveland’s offense has encountered through the first two games. There’ve been a handful of explosive plays, including his 89-yard touchdown pass to Odell Beckham Jr. in Monday’s third quarter, but not enough consistency in establishing drives. On Monday’s first drive, Cleveland stalled out inside the 5-yard line and was forced to settle for a field goal -- something that rarely happened during the second half of last season after Kitchens took over the play-calling.
Mayfield finished with 325 yards on 19-of-35 passing -- a solid night on the surface, but one that, in his eyes, featured too many missed opportunities. With a matchup looming against the defending NFC champion Rams, Mayfield knows those kinds of chances can’t go unfulfilled against an unforgiving, Aaron Donald-led defense.
“I think it falls back on me just playing better, getting the ball out and getting completions like I keep harping on. Just trusting the system,” Mayfield said. “Everybody is going to do their job. We know what everybody is going to do. That is why we practiced in camp. That is why did everything like that. Just trust and do my job.”
Player after player who talked with reporters Wednesday did the same thing Mayfield did when discussing Kitchens’ answers. It’s not just on the quarterback, they said. It’s an 11-man operation, and the confidence in Mayfield is universally unwavering.
“I know we are not where we want to be, but the good thing is we have more games, more opportunities and more practices to come together and prove ourselves,” Beckham said. “Just like anything else, it is really not where you start; it is where you finish. We did not get off to the best start. We managed the game and got out of there with a win. We just need to improve this week facing a very, very, very good team coming in Sunday night.”
Mayfield’s faced this kind of adversity before. After a hot start last year, the Browns offense took a bit of a dip Weeks 5-7 against the Ravens, Buccaneers and Steelers. Even during the second half of the season, when the Browns offense mostly produced at a high level, there was adversity to overcome in games against the Texans, Broncos and Ravens again.
Some of those games were won, others lost, and some of Mayfield’s best work came in losses. The statistics just didn’t give him any satisfaction.
Ideally, the potent offense and wins come at the same time, but Mayfield is just fine with winning the way Cleveland did Monday while his group works out the kinks.
“I have to be better within the week of giving Freddie confidence in what we are calling and what we are doing to where we can just line up there and he can trust us to go do the job, and no matter what he calls I am going to get it done,” Mayfield said.
“I don’t feel any pressure about that. We are going to figure it out. Everybody is acting like the world is falling down. We can play better, but a win is a win. We are never going to take that for granted.”