No team or player has been more disappointing than the Browns this season. Their whole season has been a mess. To recap:
-- Cleveland entered the season tied for eighth in the Vegas odds to win it all. They are currently 6-8, and out of the playoffs.
-- Baker Mayfield, the should-be face-of-the-franchise has regressed into a middle-of-the-pack quarterback, unable and unwilling to pull the trigger and throw downfield.
-- An offense featuring Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, David Njoku, Nick Chubb, and Kareem Hunt has lacked rhythm and dynamism. The Browns currently sit 20th in the NFL in efficiency.
-- The team’s best player, Myles Garrett, was suspended indefinitely for hitting an opposing quarterback over the head with his own helmet.
-- Beckham told anyone and everyone who will listen that he wants out. Then he backtracked.
-- They will end 2019 with the worst record in the NFL over the past decade: 42-115-1 (.269 winning percentage). Even if the Browns win their final two games, they will remain the loseriest (if that’s not a word, it should be) of losers over the past 10 years.
This was supposed to be the year Cleveland put it all together. All the hurt and torment of the previous decade would be erased thanks to Baker and his band of merry men. Not so. This season probably hurts more than all the disasters that have come before. What’s a stinky season when it’s sandwiched between another pair of stinkers? But a season really hurts when you come in as a potential Super Bowl contender.
Cleveland’s unwillingness to admit they were wrong in promoting Freddie Kitchens to head coach has cost them a shot at salvaging the season. Kitchens has looked out of his depth throughout. Is it madness to think Hue Jackson would have done a better job if he was given this roster? Probably. But the fact it’s even a discussion point tells you everything.
The Browns should have axed Kitchens and promoted Todd Monken when there was still a chance to make the playoffs. Instead, Cleveland have sputtered to the end of the season in order for a dysfunctional franchise to save face. There’s nothing different about this front office or this team: it’s the same old Browns.
Remember when all of Green Bay’s problems were placed on Mike McCarthy? That was unfair. McCarthy and his offense had their flaws, but so did his quarterback. 2019 was expected to be the rebirth of Rodgers: he would challenge Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson as the most dynamic passer in the game.
Matt LeFleur was the new coach, and he was going to bring all the modern trappings – motions and all the pre-snap fun and games – that would scheme open receivers, taking some of the pressure off Rodgers to create all by himself.
It hasn’t quite come together, and there’s only so much a coaching change can do. Rodgers just isn’t vintage Rodgers anymore. Something in his game changed after 2012 when he was sacked 51 times. Rodgers has become so averse to risk that it’s paralyzing some of his brilliance.
Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL)
Seriously, go back and watch Rodgers throughout the Packers 2010 championship run. You will never, ever find a better season of quarterback play. He was quick to pull the trigger. Highlights came from the pocket – and they came fast. Tap dancing plays, with him clutching the ball and waiting for players to come open down-the-field, were sprinkled in here and there, but they were not the basis for the entire offense.
That style has vanished. Rodgers ranks 33rd in “aggressiveness” percentage this season, per NFL Next Gen Stats. His average number of air yards (5.5) puts him right alongside dink-and-dunk maestros Tom Brady (5.5) and Mitch Trubisky (5.4). And it’s not like Rodgers is not given time or receivers are unable to spring open. Rodgers has the fourth-best time to throw in the NFL, and Davante Adams is a special receiver. Rodgers has made a concerted effort to avoid throws downfield and to consistently throw the ball away if his primary option isn’t there, whether it’s in the flow of the offense or not. It’s worth noting that, at 36, he is closer to the end of his career than the start but his problems seem mental rather than physical, and with quarterbacks it is the body that goes before the mind.
The Packers are good, and Rodgers is still capable of great moments because he’s Aaron Rodgers. But the Rodgersnaissance never arrived: a year in which he turned back the clock and blitzed all before him. If Rodgers ends the season with another Super Bowl ring – which is far from impossible – he won’t care too much that he was below his best. But at the moment, the Packers are winning thanks to their defense, not their future Hall of Fame quarterback.
The New York Jets’ draft class
The Jets’ rookies have been a borderline catastrophe. They were supposed to reshape the franchise in Adam Gase’s image, provide support for Sam Darnold in his second year as quarterback, and add some quality to an already competent defense.
Whoops. None of the Jets’ six draft picks from 2019 have played more than 50% of snaps, and only three have played more than 40%. First-round selection Quinnen Williams, the No3 overall pick, was the most dominant defensive player in college football during his final season at Alabama. Now? Nothing. Williams has played just 44% of the Jets’ defensive snaps, racking up 13 total pressures: that ranks second to last among qualified 2019 first-round pass-rushers. As a comparison Nick Bosa, picked one place above Williams, has 47 pressures this season.
The rest of the class has been underwhelming. Their second choice (in the third round), pass-rusher Jachai Polite was cut before the start of the season. The Seahawks picked him up then released him within three weeks, and he’s now toiling away on the Rams practice squad.
Mike Maccagnan already took the fall for this mess: he was fired as the team’s GM in May, with the Jets luring Joe Douglas away from the Eagles as his replacement. As always with dysfunctional organizations, reports differ on the reasons why Maccagnan was let go so soon after the draft and splashing out over $200m in free agency. Gase reportedly disagreed with the free-agent shopping spree. Jets ownership backed their new coach, promoting Gase to acting general manager once they dismissed Maccagnan. There remains contention over how much input Gase had in the run-up to the draft.
The Raiders leaving Oakland
Vegas is an exciting new frontier for the NFL, but seeing the Raiders leave Oakland stings. The NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights have shown a team can be a success in the city, but few organizations in sport have a better symbiosis between the style of the team and the attitude of their fans as the Oakland Raiders.
The franchise will be better off commercially in Nevada, but that special something that made the Raiders, well, the Raiders will be missing away from Oakland (it’s also worth noting the city lost the NBA’s Warriors to San Francisco this year too). The Oakland Raiders’ awful stadium, baseball field and irrational fans will all make way for plush grass, fancy boxes, and vacationers in Vegas – and games won’t be as fun. “There’s just something different about Raiders fans,” former CEO Amy Trask said this week. Here’s hoping some semblance of that difference makes its way to the desert.
The Rams offense
What happened to last year’s offensive fireworks? They never got going in last year’s Super Bowl and the offense has been stuck in the mud ever since. There’s a lack of the rhythm and flow that was such a staple of the team’s identity a year ago. The offensive line is a shadow of its former self while Todd Gurley has become one of the least efficient backs in the league. Teams have started to tee-off on Sean McVay’s favored concepts, and though the coach has tried to change things up as of late, it hasn’t worked.
Quarterback Jared Goff has taken a step back too. He has sunk to 17th in DVOA, a year after a top-five performance. Things aren’t likely to get better any time soon: Goff’s cap hit spikes from $10m this year to $36m next season and the Rams cannot get out of his exorbitant deal until 2022 at the earliest.