The Cleveland Browns finished the first half of the season with a 2-6-1 record. Here’s a look at how they have fared and what’s ahead:
First-half rewind: Perhaps expectations were too high for a team coming off a winless season, but when the Browns got to .500 after an overtime victory over Baltimore, excitement was on a rampage. Three games later, the Browns were 2-5-1 and had an interim head coach and new offensive coordinator. This is a new level of dysfunction for a team that regularly sets standards for dysfunction. Rebuilding is tough. The Browns proved it. Again. Grade: Bring on 2019
What is the Browns’ biggest hole to fill? For the fifth time since 2010, the Browns need a head coach. The most important move they make will be to find a coach who can last, who can win, and who can develop a young quarterback in Baker Mayfield. Team Upheaval starts over again. The NFL trend is toward offensive coaches, and the trend is to young coaches who are up to date on what elements of the college game can be transferred to the NFL. Think the next Sean McVay. This is general manager John Dorsey’s chance to put his stamp on the team for years to come.
MVP: If this isn’t Mayfield, there’s a problem. This season is totally about developing the draft’s first overall pick, to the point that the moves with Hue Jackson and Todd Haley were made with Mayfield’s growth in mind. Jimmy Haslam blamed “internal discord” for the need to get rid of the head coach and offensive coordinator, and that discord was getting in the way of Mayfield’s growth. A quarterback caught between opposing factions cannot stand. If Mayfield can get his legs back under him and emerge with a positive second half, the Browns and the QB alike will benefit.
Biggest surprise: The sudden fall from favor of Haley. He arrived with a résumé and credentials after six successful seasons with the Steelers. He had managed the egos and abilities of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell. He quickly became the star of "Hard Knocks." But Haley and Jackson did not see eye to eye, and Haslam got rid of both.
Hurdle to overcome: Keeping the prevailing negativity that seems to seep into the Browns' psyche from taking over after Jackson and Haley were sent packing. The Browns have an interim coach in Gregg Williams and, in Freddie Kitchens, an offensive coordinator hired by the front office and not by the interim coach. The team is on a slide, the final seven-game schedule is brutal, and injuries have chipped away at depth. Mayfield needs to come out of this season feeling good about himself and the team. He does not need to be dragged down by negativity that has infected past Browns teams.