Where do I even start? I’ve witnessed countless bad Browns games in my life, but last night’s 26-14 loss to the Steelers in Ben Roethlisberger’s final home game might’ve taken the cake for the most excruciatingly painful loss ever.
And it’s not even because we lost to the Steelers. Pittsburgh just played better than us. Plain and simple. I can man up and admit when we got beat by a better team. This loss cut at something deeper, or exposed something deeper. For starters it was an embarrasment to the city of Cleveland. It was an embarrassment to the legacy of the original, Championship-winning Cleveland Browns who are named after the greatest coach in NFL history, Paul Brown. And it was a slap in the face to every fan who has loved this team so passionately. Other fanbases make fun of the Browns and those of us who follow them. But they don’t understand our loyalty. It’s a Cleveland thing. They wouldn’t get it if they tried 😉
What they don’t understand is, we love hard. Harder than most fanbases, if not every fanbase in the league. Which is why it hurts us so much when we see what we saw last night. It’s why we get so angry when they screw up the way they have this season. When a fanbase like ours gives all of our passion, love, and hope to our football team, and then we’re not repaid with at least their best effort? Hell yeah we’re mad! But yet for some reason we stay. Hopeful that one day the misery finally ends for at least a good 5-10 years before we have to go through a normal rebuild like every NFL team eventually does.
But the Browns have some decisions to make in the offseason. Or they could be forced to blow everything up yet again. Thanks for reading my rant, and now let’s get down to some football analysis.
Attention Kevin Stefanski: USE YOUR HEAD!
How Browns coach Kevin Stefanski called this game was the first thing that annoyed me, though definitely not the most concerning thing. Why on earth he’s still calling the plays is beyond me. But being able to call plays is a perk that can either be a blessing or curse that comes with being an NFL head coach. Some coaches suceed with both the managerial aspect of the job (making sure everything is going smoothly between the ownership, coaching staff, and the guys in the locker room/on the field), and calling the plays. Those guys are a rare breed. But most coaches, especially young or inexperienced ones, as Kevin Stefanski is, struggle when they try to do both at once. This is where I believe Kevin Stefanski is right now. He’s trying to do too much when he doesn’t need to.
Teams have Offensive Coordinators for a reason. They’re the guys head coaches hire to implement whatever offensive system they want to run. Their area of expertise is figuring out how to create the most explosive offense possible, and then tailoring it to the guys on the team. Next, since they’ve built it, they often get to call the plays once it’s game day. The only problem with the Browns? The last two coaches haven’t let their OC’s do the most important part of their job. Freddie Kitchens and Kevin Stefanski both have kept an iron grip on the offensive reins, and it’s not working out for the good of the team. It already cost Freddie his job in Cleveland, and if Kevin doesn’t swallow his pride and hand things over to Alex Van Pelt, he could be next!
Baker Mayfield: Is he or is he not?
There’s a civil war going on within the Browns fanbase. There are two types of Browns fans in this situation: Those who have never liked Baker Mayfield ever since he was drafted in April 2018, and those who have been ride or die with him since Day 1. I’m in the latter category. I wasn’t initally thrilled with the pick back then, but I tried to take a wait and see approach. I support any Browns player until they give me a reason not to. As time has gone on, there’s been a lot I’ve liked about Baker Mayfield. He’s tough. He’s a gamer. He plays with a chip on his shoulder. He’s been an underdog his whole life. His personality fits Cleveland perfectly. And he has his great days where he’s accurate, and he’s not afraid to roll out and uncork a deep ball right on the money for a big play or touchdown!
But over this past season, I don’t know what to think of him. As of this article, he has 17 touchdowns on the year, but also 13 interceptions. Many of which come at the worst times. But I don’t know how much of that is from him, and how much of that is from his shoulder injury? He popped his shoulder out in Week 2 against the Texans and hasn’t been the same since.
I place the blame for mismanaging Baker’s injury squarely on Kevin Stefanski’s shoulders. If your franchise drafts a guy they think can be the stud quarterback to lead you to the Playoffs and win Super Bowls, you just don’t treat him like Baker has been treated. Period. You protect a franchise quarterback like he’s the crown jewel of your franchise. Because in a way, he is. Mismanaging franchise quarterbacks is a move that gets coaches and GMs fired! Early on, I was impressed with Baker’s toughness. But as the season has gone on, and the Browns have fallen off, I absolutely do not understand why he is still out there.
Here’s what I would do if I were in Stefanski’s shoes as the head coach: I would shut him down for the Bengals game. I would give him the chance to get an early jump on offseason work. That means shoulder surgery. And perhaps a visit to a sports psychologist. It’s clear to me there’s more at work here than just a physical injury. He doesn’t look mentally right to me, and hasn’t for a while. But I guess that’s expected to happen when you’re picking dirt out of your helmet, or you routinely have defensive linemen breathing down your neck while you run for your life!
Then once he comes back, I would make sure he’s 100 percent physically and mentally healthy before having the quarterbacks coach work with him on his throwing mechanics. I would also have Browns OC Alex Van Pelt work with him on reading defenses better. Normally quarterbacks in Year 5 have gotten that part of the game down. But perhaps he’s just not getting something? This is perhaps another mental thing that I think needs to be addressed. He has the tools to be a successful quarterback in this league. I’ve seen it. Elite? No. Solid? Yes.
If after all that offseason work and effort, Baker still struggles next fall? Then I completely agree with the part of the fanbase that thinks the team should move on from him. I’m not so keen on pulling the trigger yet on a new quarterback as a knee jerk reaction to this game, though.
Other moves I’d make
As for the rest of the team, I would take the best wide receiver available in the first round. The Browns are picking probably no lower than 15th. They’re currently at 13th, and Chris Olave out of Ohio State is expected to be somewhere in the low to mid-20s. After that, I’d go grab a defensive lineman. A great rookie pass rusher on the same line as Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney would be a good move. Then if the Browns haven’t filled it in free agency, I’d snag another offensive lineman. No matter who ends up being the quarterback here for the forseeable future, the offensive line needs bolstered. They’ve regressed just like Mayfield has. Beyond that? Who knows?
If Mayfield doesn’t pan out, I would sign current Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr once he becomes a free agent after 2022. In terms of quarterbacks in the same draft class, I actually wanted the Browns to take Carr in the 2014 draft over Johnny Manziel. But if this team has moved on from Baker and he’s willing to come here, I’d go get him. Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers would both have a steep asking price, and there’s no reason to sell the farm for one guy when you’ll need to eventually pay other people.
Kevin Stefanski, Baker Mayfield and Browns Defensive Coordinator Joe Woods will all find themselves with extremely short leashes in 2022. I think they’ll all be back. But this is where the rubber meets the road now. It’s crunch time. A successful season in 2022 in my opinion would be a return to the playoffs and an AFC North Championship. At the very least. This team is too talented for that to not be an achievable goal. And for as long as the fanbase has suffered, Browns fans deserve that
Stay tuned ladies and gentlemen. There’s bound to be some interesting offseason activity in up in Berea, Ohio.