Blame Game: Defense hangs tough, offense sputters in 20-13 loss to Rams

Baker Mayfield fails to deliver in closing seconds, Freddie Kitchens takes blame for L

Daryl Ruiter
September 22, 2019 - 11:36 pm

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Kirk Irwin/Jason Miller/Getty Images)

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Cleveland, Ohio (92.3 The Fan) – Battered and bruised, the Browns defense hung in there Sunday night against the Rams, but the offense continues to be, well, a work in progress.

Quarterback Baker Mayfield struggled, and failed to save the day in the closing seconds of Sunday night’s 20-13 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

The offense three games in resembles what we saw the first eight weeks a year ago, not the final eight that saw the Browns win five of seven down the stretch ad Mayfield finish with 27 touchdowns.

“I would not say anything is missing. It takes time to develop offensively,” head coach Freddie Kitchens said. “We kind of hit the ground running last year because we had been through eight games already so we know what we were doing.”

Kitchens then threw himself on the mercy of the court in an attempt to stave off criticism directed at anyone but him.

“If you are looking to blame somebody, blame me,” Kitchens said. “Do not blame any of our players. Do not blame any of our other coaches. Just blame me because I can take it. Just blame me. Go write your article and say that I messed the game up. Go write your article and say that it is my fault that things are not looking like it did last year because it is.”

Mayfield must do his part too.

He was a pedestrian 18 of 36 for 195 yards with a touchdown and an interception as the Browns fell to 1-2 but the numbers don’t fully tell the story.

Minus four starters in the secondary, it was the defense that gave Mayfield one last shot to pull it out or at least extend to overtime.

Linebacker Joe Schobert deflected a Jarred Goff pass that safety Juston Burris plucked out of the air and appeared destined for a pick 6, or at least a massive return, before colliding with Schobert dropping him at their own 46 with 2:46 left on the clock.

The Browns walked away with no points and a loss.  

The final series inside the 10 that saw Kitchens go five-wide with an empty backfield four straight times without running and all three timeouts in his back pocket will be hotly debated for a few days.

“I should have run it one time,” Kitchens said.  

So will having receivers run deep when backed up on their own goal line.

And then there was a delayed draw on fourth and nine from the Rams 40 that was basically a two-yard punt.

“Bad call,” Kitchens said.

Running back Nick Chubb did his part, running 23 times for 96 yards while adding four catches for 35 more, yet he didn’t touch the ball once with the game on the line in the final minute.

“Nick played great,” Mayfield said. “If he plays like that every week, we have a great chance to be a great team.”

Maybe getting Chubb the ball in critical situations could be helpful.

“No matter what he calls, we need to execute, run our paths and find a way into the end zone,” Chubb said in defense of Kitchens.

Instead Mayfield, in desperation mode on fourth down, rolled to his right and deeper before heaving the ball in Damion Ratley’s direction on the far side of the end zone. It was picked off by Rams safety John Johnson to seal the win for L.A.

“I have a shot at everything that’s in the air,” Ratley lamented. “That’s why I’m heartbroken because, man, that’s the difference between players like Odell [who] just makes those plays when they need to be made. That’s the difference between having $18 million a year, $22 million a year and f***ing what I make. I [gotta] make those plays no matter what.”   

Mayfield targeted Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. nine times each. Landry caught three balls for 62 yards and Beckham six for 56 in the loss.

“We’re going against the team that was just in the Super Bowl last year so we’re going against a team that is very experienced and knows how to play this game,” Beckham said. “Not to say we don’t, but it’s a grit-game early in the season. You never want to have any loss and you never accept any loss, but that’s a good, hard lesson to learn early in the season that will help up later in the season when we have tougher games like that.” 

But it was the third down throw to Harris with 33 seconds left that had Mayfield frustrated the most.

“I think I am going to have recurring nightmares over the throw to Demetrius up top,” Mayfield said. “I think I will be able to look at the film and know I have Jarvis underneath.”

Although a 13-pay, 70-yard drive that bridged the first and second quarters didn’t result in a touchdown, it was a productive march as Mayfield hit Beckham on a couple quick hitters off RPOs and heavy dose of Chubb carried Cleveland into a 3-3 tie after Seibert hit a 23-yard field goal. More importantly it chewed up 7:25 off the clock.

Myles Garrett stripped Goff from behind allowing Schobert to scoop up the loose ball and return it 21 yards down to the 17 with 18 seconds left in the half. It was the sixth sack for Garrett this season, but the Browns only got three from it. Mayfield threw it away on first down, misfired to Landry on a dangerous throw on second down and on third down got hit and threw it in the dirt to Chubb forcing Seibert to boot a 35-yard field goal for a 6-3 halftime lead.

Goff, who threw for 269 yards and a pair of TDs in the win, and the Rams marched down the field to begin the second half – 10 plays and 75 yards capped by an 11-yard TD toss to receiver Cooper Kupp for a 10-6 advantage that did not last long.

Kupp finished with a career-high 11 catches for 102 yards and the two touchdowns.

Mayfield and the offense responded with an 11-play 75-yard march of their own.

Chubb rumbled 30 yards on a screen to the L.A. 16. Landry drew a defensive pass interference in the end zone to move the ball to the 1, but an illegal shift on Beckham took Chubb’s 1-yard TD run off the board. On third down, Mayfield rifled a pass tight end Demetrius Harris in the back of the end zone for a 2-yard score and a 13-10 lead.

Cornerback T.J. Carrie, starting in place of Denzel Ward, who was inactive due to a hamstring injury, made an incredible diving interception on the near sideline on a throw intended for receiver Brandin Cooks at the Cleveland 49 at the 3:31 mark of the third quarter.

Unfortunately, more offensive misfires led to a quick 3-and-out. Mayfield and Chubb miscommunicated on a first down RPO that led to Mayfield being sacked and almost fumbling. Then Mayfield threw behind Landry on third down after a 3-yard Chubb run.

“There were times where we were rolling and everything looked great, and then we would find a way to not do as well and mess it up,” Chubb said. “We kept hurting ourselves a little bit, but I felt that the potential of this offense can be great.”

A 17-yard reverse to Robert Woods set the Rams up at the 3 before Kupp caught his second touchdown of the evening from Goff, six yards for a 17-13 lead with 12:48 remaining.

Jermaine Whitehead extended a Rams drive when he was flagged for unnecessary roughness on Goff that came on third-and-10. There was also a defensive holding called on the play. Cleveland held and forced a third Zeurlein field goal – 37 yards – to extend to a 20-13 advantage that held up.