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Lack of direction evident as Browns' season drifts away

By DAN LABBE • Nov 4, 2019 at 9:00 PM

DENVER — On its surface, the whole cleat thing with Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry is nothing. Both players changed their shoes at halftime. Both played pretty well in the second half. Turns out they were just shoes.

The way Beckham explained the whole thing is the shoes were planned and designed over the summer when the plan was to wear white for this game. The Browns decided at the last minute to wear brown. No adjustment was made.

If that’s not a symbolic disconnect, what is?

It’s the Browns’ first eight games summed up — the best-laid plans falling apart.

So Beckham and Landry had to change their shoes. Baker Mayfield wore three different facial hair styles on Sunday — a beard walking into the stadium, a Fu Manchu during the game and simply a straight mustache during his postgame press conference — and the Browns lost to fall to 2-6.

The receivers’ shoes and the quarterbacks facial hair aren’t reasons the Browns lost on Sunday to a quarterback who had never thrown a pass in a real NFL game.

It does make you wonder, at least a little, what this team is really focused on. The NFL’s antiquated cleat rules aside, it’s hard to not look at what we’ve seen this season, going all the way back to when the Browns had 18 penalties accepted against them during a 30-point loss to the Titans, and wonder what exactly the standard is for this Browns team.

The standard is the standard is a popular catchphrase among football coaches, made popular, at least recently, by Sean McVay in Los Angeles.

What’s the standard for this team? How do they go about winning? How do they approach every aspect of their week, of their game day? How do they avoid the silly distractions that add up and get magnified when things are rocky?

We usually play the result in the NFL and this is no different. It’s just the results have been overwhelmingly negative so far this season.

Maybe a standard is something only winning can create, but — and stop me if you’ve heard this before — another disjointed performance during Sunday’s loss makes it hard to figure out what this might look like if the Browns are able to win.

Right now, as currently constructed, they are a collection of talent with little direction.

“I just want to win a football game,” head coach Freddie Kitchens said when the cleats were brought up. “That’s all I want to do. I want to show up tomorrow and watch some film, grade the film and try to get better.”

The Browns welcome Buffalo to FirstEnergy Stadium on Sunday. The Bills are 6-2 and currently the top wild card team. The Browns are spiraling, sitting on four losses in a row.

The Ravens took control of the AFC North with a win over New England a few hours after the Browns lost. The Steelers needed a missed field goal by Indianapolis, but they’re two games up on the Browns for second in the division.

Something has to change and it has nothing to do with shoes. It has to be more than shuffling left tackles or right guards. Short of firing the coach, having someone else handle the play-calling would help. It’s time to take a long look at the defense, too, after a day of poor tackling and chunk plays.

The Browns had big plans over the summer. Those plans are flushing away quickly. The standard, whatever it is, is failing.

 

Browns waive Whitehead amid controversy

The Browns waived Jermaine Whitehead on Monday, according to a Browns spokesperson. The move comes less than 24 hours after the safety went on social media to tangle with critics following Sunday’s loss to the Broncos.

Whitehead’s social media posts Sunday night caught the attention of the Browns, and a spokesperson called them “highly unacceptable” and “inappropriate."

The Browns signed Whitehead last season after the Packers cut him. His exit from the Packers followed an ejection for slapping New England center David Andrews in a game against the Patriots.

He played in seven games for the Browns in 2018.

Whitehead’s role on the defense increased this year with the arrival of new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, whose 4-2-5 scheme uses an additional safety on the field. Whitehead’s on-field intelligence and versatility figured to be an important asset for the Browns this season.

Whitehead leaves the team ranked second in total defensive snaps (94.2 percent) and solo tackles (35) this season. But he also led the Browns in missed tackles (11) entering Sunday’s game, and was involved in some key misses against the Broncos.

Criticism of his tackling is what seemed to kickstart his posts on social media Sunday night.

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