The Browns spent the week dealing with turmoil, turbulence and transition.
They would seem fortunate to avoid trauma, terror and a trouncing today in a visit from the AFC-leading Kansas City Chiefs, but defensive back Damarious Randall has a much higher goal.
“I feel like we’re going to go out there and shock the world,” he said Friday. “I feel like there are a lot of guys excited and guys are just looking to keep moving forward with the season.”
A shakeup seemed inevitable given coach Hue Jackson’s 3-36-1 record, but the timing — two weeks before the bye — of his firing Monday morning and the ensuing dismissal of offensive coordinator Todd Haley stunned staff and players. Owner Jimmy Haslam cited “internal discord” between them and scrambled to shuffle the staff.
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was promoted to interim coach and Freddie Kitchens switched from associate head coach/running backs coach to offensive coordinator and play caller for the first time in his career.
The midseason moves sent a jolt through the locker room, but that’s not necessarily a negative after a three-game losing streak stopped all the momentum from a 2-2-1 start. Williams kept the energy surging through the week with his unique personality.
“I was like, man, this guy here is crazy,” receiver Rashard Higgins said. “Throughout my whole life I’ve always had those hard coaches that harp on little things and that’s always yelling and always mean, and those are the coaches that get the job done.
“And when I heard Gregg’s getting the head coaching job, I was just like, he’s the right man for it.”
Defensive end Myles Garrett, who’s spent two years listening to Williams scream, had no problem with Higgins calling him “crazy.”
“Probably been an apt description for the last 40 years,” he said.
Williams was 17-31 as coach of the Bills from 2001-03, so he knows how to cover the field during practice and stand in front of the entire team in a meeting. He certainly brings a louder, more profane voice than Jackson, and the hope is the results improve with a sharper focus from the players.
“He can fire anyone up, honestly,” cornerback E.J. Gaines said. “Gregg can get anyone to run through a brick wall. I think he’ll get the offense going. They’re talented over there. They’ve just got to get things going and get things rolling and be consistent.”
Haslam charged Williams with improving the environment that had grown toxic under Jackson. Williams said he’s done so with a day-by-day approach to make the players feel good about the meetings, practices and corrections.
“Really no different than I do every day as a defensive coordinator,” he said. “Now just being able to help in every area.
“Can’t wait to play.”
He said that knowing full well the challenges the Chiefs present his defense, which has allowed an average of 32.3 points during the skid. Kansas City (7-1) tops the NFL with 36.2 points a game and has only one game under 30, a 27-23 win over Denver.
The Chiefs have weapons everywhere, starting with rocket-armed quarterback Patrick Mahomes, an MVP candidate in his second season. Receiver Tyreek Hill is considered the fastest player in the league, running back Kareem Hunt is as tough and productive as they come at running back and Travis Kelce might be the gold standard at tight end.
Coach Andy Reid takes full advantage of their talents with a scheme that stresses every part of the defense with misdirection, imagination and variety. The Chiefs are second in the league with 6.9 yards per play.
Cornerback TJ Carrie said the Chiefs are too good in too many areas to stop everything, so the key will be eliminating a couple of things they do best.
“When you take away a comfort level, it makes them uncomfortable, so they have to search for something else on how they can be effective,” he said.
Gaines was eager, not anxious.
“I think it’s going to be more fun as far as the defense goes,” Gaines said. “We’re a good defense and we’re excited to play against good offenses any week. This is one of the best offenses in the NFL this week, so it’ll be a good, good matchup.
“They’re talented, but they also make mistakes like anyone else. We just have to capitalize on them.”
The defense has 22 takeaways but the offense has turned them into only 34 points. The Chiefs have turned it over just seven times — six interceptions and a fumble — but Garrett believes they’re vulnerable.
“Everybody has a weakness,” he said. “We feel like we found theirs and just have to exploit it.”
Kitchens is tasked with trying to keep up in his first real action as a play caller. He’ll have Higgins back at receiver and will try to get quarterback Baker Mayfield back to the form of his first couple of games.
“He trusts us, and we are going to trust him,” receiver Jarvis Landry said of Kitchens. “We are all in this together. You will see how it goes.”
After a week of upheaval, the Browns believe they’re ready to get back down to business.
“The guys, we came back and we showed no difficulty,” Higgins said. “We bounced back.”
And have eight games left to rebound and prove significant progress was made in a pivotal season.
“You’ve just got to bring the team closer when something like this happens, and I think that’s what Gregg is doing, bringing the team closer and allowing us to try to get wins for the rest of the season,” Gaines said.