There were many things to dislike about the Cleveland Browns’ loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers this past weekend.
Cleveland’s genuine lack of focus, the unneeded pregame distraction created by coach Freddie Kitchens, watching the defense get picked apart by an undrafted third string quarterback. It was everything a team trying to salvage lofty playoff hopes could’ve done without.
That last one, Steelers QB Devlin Hodges having a better day than the Browns’ 2018 first overall draft pick, may have been avoided had starting safety Damarious Randall played Sunday. However, he was benched. In fact, he didn’t even make the trip.
The reported reason for this is yet another example of how Cleveland’s in-house culture is essentially in shambles.
While Kitchens is still refusing to comment on the matter, ESPN reported the reason for Randall’s benching was his decision to skip a practice last week.
— Jake Burns (@jake_burns18) December 1, 2019
Ahead of a crucial, must-win game against a hated rival, the team’s starting safety reportedly felt it was completely fine to just not show up one day. As a result, Kitchens made him stay home, where he likely watched rookie Sheldrick Redwine struggle in coverage while attempting to pick up the slack in his absence.
This alone is bad enough. The Browns were attempting to salvage their playoff hopes after a shaky start to the season. A win wouldn’t have clinched a postseason berth, but a loss all but destroyed their chances at getting one. The stakes were about as high as they could get.
Not high enough, apparently, to make skipping practice seem like a questionable decision from Randall’s perspective.
This entire team has struggled with the concept of accountability all season long. Instead of doing anything to fix it, Kitchens has instead created a culture where one of the Browns’ veteran players saw nothing wrong with putting himself in a position to get benched for a must-win game.
On top of this, Kitchens’ response to the whole ordeal has done nothing but ensure these problems won’t be going anywhere.
Asked after Sunday’s loss to elaborate on Randall’s absence, Kitchens said little beyond “That’s between Damarious and me.” Given a chance to provide more clarity yesterday, all Cleveland’s coach did was continue to muddy the waters.
ICYMI… Here's what Kitchens had to say about the Damarious Randall situation.
— Roberto Shenanigans (@Rob_Shenanigans) December 2, 2019
To summarize – a Browns player reportedly skipped practice and was punished for this. Instead of making an example out of him, or even slightly owning his decision to bench him, Kitchens both protected said player and then, when continually pressed on his decision, just deflected the problem by saying “you’ll have to ask him.”
I’m not here to say Kitchens should be airing this team’s dirty laundry. However, when he gets defensive about his own decision to punish someone for doing something he felt was disrespectful, it makes it seem as though he’s afraid to come down too hard on his players. He refused to own it, claimed Randall will be right back in the fold this week, and even said no work needs to be done to re-earn his trust.
How is this helpful? How does this resolve the broken culture this team has been displaying since training camp? How exactly is Randall going to learn from his reported mistake if his coach is bending over backwards to avoid making him accountable for it?
Throughout this season, we’ve seen players issue death threats and pick fights with the media. We’ve seen Cleveland’s head coach make light of an ugly incident which resulted in his best defensive player getting indefinitely suspended. The list of things this team has focused on besides fixing its many on-field issues seems endless.
Yet, when you’re seeing a player reportedly bail on his team, get nothing but a slap on the wrist for it, then watching his coach get defensive about the punishment he doled out while also insisting this player has done nothing to damage his trust, how are you to believe anything is going to change for the better?
What Randall reportedly did was beyond selfish. However, when you consider everything else we’ve seen from the Browns lately, it perfectly fits the narrative of this season. It’s yet another instance of this team catching headlines for off-field issues while failing to address its on-field failures.
The hope is Cleveland eventually realizes the numerous problems being caused by the glaring lack of accountability we’ve seen all season and does something to fix it. Considering the way Kitchens handled this latest incident, I’m not holding my breath.