Browns’ issues, NFL power rankings, Mitchell Trubisky and more


The Cleveland Browns were supposed to be a contender this season. At 2-5, they are on life support with coaching issues and poor quarterback play.

Thirteen penalties. Three first-quarter turnovers. Ballgame.

All spring and summer, the stories, soundbites and tweets were aplenty. The Browns were going to be the NFL’s darling this season. Freddie Kitchens was endearing. Baker Mayfield felt dangerous. Odell Beckham Jr. was on the cover of Sports Illustrated‘s NFL preview issue.

Cleveland was no longer a punchline. It was going to be a powerhouse.

Then the season started.

The Browns are 2-5. They trail the Baltimore Ravens by three games in the AFC North. As the old saying goes, it’s getting early late.

Kitchens has proven disastrous thus far in his first season at the helm. Cleveland has consistently missed blocking assignments, call odds plays in big moments, and take penalties at a break-neck pace. In Week 1, the Browns came out and drew 18 flags in a 43-13 loss to the Tennessee Titans. Coming out of their bye, 13 more in a comical showing against the New England Patriots in a 27-13 defeat.

The losses are mounting. So are the doubts surrounding whether this team can pull out of the muck.

A major concern entering the season is now presenting itself. If the Browns fall in the standings, who has the leadership qualities to pull rally the locker room? Kitchens is a first-year head coach. Mayfield, Beckham and every other star on the team is without a single postseason victory. Who has the gravitas to talk candidly to the room? So far, the void has been felt.

Cleveland has an opportunity to turn its season around. Even at 2-5, the schedule moving forward is easy, with games against the Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers, Miami Dolphins, Denver Broncos, New York Jets and others. It’s not absurd to think the Browns can rally and perhaps reach nine wins.

Still, even that modest achievement faces long odds if things don’t change. Mayfield needs to execute. Throwing 12 interceptions in seven games is appalling. Kitchens has to change what he’s doing. He needs to move the pocket, feed Nick Chubb and give Beckham more chances to run after the catch. General manager John Dorsey must remain active on the phones until the trade deadline. Keep calling the Washington Redskins about left tackle Trent Williams until they relent.

It’s a fool’s errand to expect change without changing. Cleveland has to figure out a new course of action and implement it immediately. One would think those changes would have been made during the bye, but here we are.

The Browns still have hope, but hope is useless without a sound strategy.

Power rankings

Top 10 storylines to watch in the season’s second half

1. The New England Patriots and their quest for perfection
2. Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers battle for MVP honors
3. Cowboys, Eagles fight for NFC East title
4. The Dolphins, Bengals roll towards winless campaigns
5. How healthy are the Kansas City Chiefs come January?
6. Race for the NFC’s top seed between 49ers, Packers and Saints
7. Can Kirk Cousins keep playing like a top-tier QB for Vikings
8. When will people starting giving the 49ers the proper credit?
9. Are the Buffalo Bills a legit contender in the AFC?
10. Does Adam Gase last a day past the season in New York?


"“I mean, come on. I just look at it like, we’re now a 2-6 football team and we’re like afraid to go for it in a two-minute drill. You know? Like, who cares if you give the ball back to those guys with 1:40 left? They obviously got the field goal anyway. Once again, we’re a 2-6 football team and it just feels like we’re kind of afraid to lose the game.“It’s third and five at the end of the game, who cares if they have a timeout there at the end or not? Getting into field goal range isn’t that tough. You’re just putting your defense in these bad situations and I just felt like ‘What do we have to lose, why can’t we be aggressive in some of these situations?’ That’s kind of how I feel about a lot of the game today.”"

– Denver Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco on his team’s inability to finish in a 15-13 loss

Flacco is right. The Broncos were leading 13-12 coming out of the two-minute warning and ran a dive on 3rd and 5. The result was predictable, and the ensuing loss was as well. The Broncos have to throw there, but offensive coordinator Rich Scangerello stayed conservative.

For the sake of fairness, the passing game is also why Denver plays safe. The offensive line stinks, Flacco has no mobility and is susceptible to the interception. It’s understandable why Scangerello typically


Random stat

New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold threw seven interceptions last week.

Info learned this week

1. 49ers proving they need to be taken very seriously

The 49ers whipped the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. Time for many to realize how good San Francisco is.

After playing the weakest slate in football, the Niners finally faced a good team in Carolina. At half-time, the game was essentially over. San Francisco was winning 27-3. Nick Bosa had three sacks of Kyle Allen. The team had six. All told, the 49ers are 7-0 and leading the tough NFC West over two perennial contenders in the Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams.

Jimmy Garoppolo is still concerning because his play has merely been average. The rest of the team, though, is anything but. Head coach Kyle Shanahan has showcased his creative genius. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has completely transformed the defense and will be a hot name for head coaching vacancies this offseason. The talent is everywhere, and so are the wins.

If you aren’t taking the 49ers seriously, you aren’t paying attention.

2. Patriots still have significant work to do offensively

The Patriots are 8-0. They’re going to be the AFC’s top seed. They also have issues.

New England scored 27 points in its win over Cleveland, but only 10 of those points came without asterisks. The Patriots scored one touchdown defensively, notched another off an interception deep in Browns’ territory, and then kicked a field goal after Denzel Ward dropped an easy pick in the end zone.

With half the season to go, smart money says Bill Belichick and Co. figure it out. Eventually, the Patriots will get receiver N’Keal Harry back and should have left tackle Isaiah Wynn at some juncture. The Mohamed Sanu addition could prove important as well.

Still, turning away from the issues would be a mistake. The Patriots have a great defense, but they also have benefitted from playing just one team with a winning record or a quarterback who could challenge them.

We know everything about New England’s strengths, but its weakness is worth monitoring.

3. Texans win at a steep price with Watt hurt

Houston beat the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, but they lost in the process.

Defensive end J.J. Watt left the contest early and is believed to have a torn pectoral. Afterwards, Watt confirmed on Twitter he’s out for the season, leaving the Texans without their stud pass-rusher. Whitney Mercilus is the last remaining threat on the edge, but it becomes much easier to execute a double-team on him.

With the trade deadline looming and the Texans being loaded up with cap space, Bill O’Brien should consider making a move. Who might be available? Atlanta’s Vic Beasley is a reclamation project, and wouldn’t cost much. The Arizona Cardinals also have Terrell Suggs, who remains productive and cheap. Either would be worthy of a phone call.

For now, the Texans are 5-3 and in the hunt, but losing Watt is a pivotal blow.

4. Lions shouldn’t be sellers at Tuesday’s deadline

The Detroit Lions are 3-3-1 after beating the New York Giants. They’re average with upside. Selling on upside when the fanbase is so beaten down is a poor move.

Detroit already traded safety Quandre Diggs, infuriating corner and fellow trade target Darius Slay. It should do an about-face behind general manager Bob Quinn and look to add to the roster. The Lions should consider bringing in a difference-maker off the edge and perhaps a running back as well. Make some calls and see what comes up.

Detroit has to factor in a few notions. For starters, the fans don’t want to see a white flag. When the team hasn’t won a playoff game since 1991, you aren’t getting patience. Second, the Lions have shown real progress. Head coach Matt Patricia has the team buying in. Matthew Stafford is playing terrific ball. Robby Anderson would sure look nice in Honolulu Blue.

Detroit isn’t a threat to win the Super Bowl, but it could be playing meaningful December football. In Motown, that would represent an enormous step.

5. Falcons need to make change with Quinn

The Atlanta Falcons need to move on from Dan Quinn now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Now.

No, nothing is going to save his season. Atlanta is 1-7 and has a horrific defense. Matt Ryan is dealing with an ankle injury and even with him, winning four games seems like a stretch. Still, the empty seats at Mercedes-Benz Stadium are outnumbering the fans in the building. For owner Arthur Blank, that’s both depressing and unacceptable.

The Falcons need to emphasize competency to the fanbase. They need to remove the leader of this mess and acknowledge the road ahead. Quinn was once minutes away from a Super Bowl title. Now he’s overseeing one of the worst outfits in football.

With the bye week for Atlanta upon us, it’s time for Blank to make the move.

History lesson

The St. Louis Rams won the Super Bowl in 1999. They’re remembered for Kurt Warner’s storybook MVP campaign, the Greatest Show on Turf and The Tackle. They’re an iconic team.

What’s forgotten that year?

The Jacksonville Jaguars had the league’s best record, but were denied at destiny’s doorstep.

Jacksonville went 14-2 in the regular season with both losses coming to the Tennessee Titans. In the Divisional round, the Jaguars beat the Dolphins 61-7, ushering Dan Marino and Jimmy Johnson into retirement. Then, the AFC Championship Game. The Titans again. Another loss. Destiny denied.

If not for Tennessee beating the Bills on the Music City Miracle, perhaps Jacksonville reaches the Super Bowl. Maybe the Jaguars win a Lombardi Trophy, something the franchise is still searching for.

Parting shot

Eddy Pineiro missed two short field goals. He deserves the goat horns.

Mitchell Trubisky was a mess for much of the Chicago Bears loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. He should get the second set.

It’s easy to blame Pineiro for the season-altering loss, but Trubisky is the bigger issue by a wide margin. Forget the stats. Look at the film. Trubisky surrendered two fourth-quarter turnovers in his own territory, leading to the game-winning touchdown. Both were wholly avoidable and yet happened with ease.

The answer isn’t to bench Trubisky. Chase Daniel isn’t saving this campaign. Trubisky should play the season out and then be released barring a miraculous turnaround, with general manager Ryan Pace admitting the error and moving on.

The first step is admitting the problem. It’s Trubisky. The second step is eradicating it and figuring out the best way forward.