BEREA — The Browns break the huddle, quarterback Baker Mayfield watches a receiver head in the wrong direction and redirects him physically or verbally to the proper spot.
The scene has played out time and again this season, including Sunday in the 38-24 loss to the Cardinals that dropped the Browns to 6-8. The wasted seconds can cause chaos in the rush to get the ball snapped.
They certainly cause frustration. Especially this late in the season.
“It is frustrating,” coordinator Todd Monken said Thursday. “Obviously it falls on us coaches, it falls on the players and falls on all of us to obviously get the play in and hear it clearly in the huddle.
“It all starts with the alignment and assignment because that gets you beat. Before any mismatches with whoever you play, if you are not getting lined up and you do not know what you are doing, it does not matter who you play — you will not be consistent, you will be choppy with what you do.”
Monken has pointed to choppy play throughout the season. Despite plenty of talent, the Browns rank 21st in scoring (21.2 points a game) and 17th in yardage (350.1).
Not doing something as seemingly simple as lining up properly has a domino effect.
“It is frustrating because then you put Baker up against it in terms of the clock and trying to get us in the right protection and those kind of things,” Monken said. “It has been frustrating and it lends yourself to be choppy, lends yourself into burning timeouts when you need them and taking penalties when you do not have to. It is something that has been an issue and something we have tried to correct.”
Coach Freddie Kitchens is the play caller and gives it to Mayfield over the headset. He was asked if communication has led to the alignment issues.
“It could be different reasons for different times, but we just need to continue to get better at that,” he said.
Center JC Tretter said the offense uses a lot of different personnel packages and runs similar plays with each, which can lead to “little mixups.”
“So there is going to be some of that stuff, but I think that comes with everything. That’s the quarterback’s job and making sure everyone is in the right spot and I think Baker’s fine with that,” he said. “We would love to be able to trot out and never really have kind of a little mind screw-up, but that’s going to happen.”
Coordinator Steve Wilks blamed himself for the defense coming out flat in the loss to the Cardinals. The defense allowed 445 yards, including 226 rushing.
“When you look at the opportunities that we have had the latter part of this season to try and stay in this (playoff) hunt, it is disappointing how we came out and responded,” Wilks said. “Just looked flat. I really put a lot of that back on me from the standpoint of getting these guys prepared and ready to play.”
He didn’t have an explanation for the uninspired performance but thought the effort was strong.
“Did we execute? No. But we did not quit,” he said. “We have to do a much better job of executing and doing the little things right as I have seen us doing before.”
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer was clear he loves his job. But he has a bigger career goal.
“I aspire to be a head coach. I would love to be a head coach,” he said. “I would love to be up in front of the team and be the leader of that team, but right now, my job is to be the best special teams coordinator that I can be for this football team and for this franchise. I relish that job. I tell our guys every day, I thank the good Lord every single day for the opportunity to coach these young men because I firmly believe that this is a privilege.
“It is not like I don’t want to be a head coach. That is just not my main focus. My main focus is to be a great special teams coordinator.”
Priefer is 0-1 as a head coach after filling in for Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, who missed a game in 2016 after eye surgery. Priefer said he’s had one head coaching interview, in 2013 with the Bears.
WORKING HIS WAY BACK
Tight end David Njoku is trying to get back in the rotation after being benched for the loss in Arizona.
“Every player wants to play and every player wants to showcase his skill set, but ultimately we are also in charge of in our minds putting the best players on the field to give us the best chance to win,” Monken said. “He has responded well and I thought he had a good practice yesterday.”
Kitchens didn’t commit to Njoku playing Sunday vs. the Ravens.
“David is working hard, trying to get better, continuing to try to put his best foot forward and see what he can do,” he said.
Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (back) and Tretter (knee) didn’t practice for the second straight day, but Kitchens said they’ll play Sunday.
Offensive lineman Kendall Lamm (knee) returned to practice and was limited.
** Monken explained a sack by Arizona’s Chandler Jones, who beat tight end Demetrius Harris one-on-one. Monken said matching a tight end with a great pass rusher isn’t ideal but can’t be avoided in certain circumstances.
“We were expecting the ball to get out and Jarvis (Landry) got held up and (Harris) did not hold up as long as we were hoping,” he said.
** Linebacker Jermaine Grace, who spent training camp with the Browns, was signed to the practice squad. He’s appeared in 24 NFL games in three seasons, including nine starts. He was waived by the Falcons on Nov. 29.
Quarterback Eric Dungey was released from the practiced squad after 10 weeks.