The Cleveland Browns are 6-6 at the bye and there are a lot of things to consider in regards to how their disappointing season has unfolded so far.
There was always a possibility that the Cleveland Browns would regress this season and that is exactly what is happening. Teams that have employed an offensive scheme like Kevin Stefanski typically take a step back in year two as opposing defenses adjust to their game plan. That is exactly what has happened in Cleveland as the offense is not playing up to expectations and the defense has been a massive disappointment.
Kevin Stefanski and play calling
Last season Kevin Stefanski was as close to perfect as a coach can get in the play calling department. Problem is that expecting that year in and year out is not realistic. Being perfect is not sustainable and the reality is that is playing out in real time. The Browns offense has not lived up to the lofty expectations that were put upon them and it really is not all that surprising. This team was due to take a step back and they have, a big reason is that the play from the quarterback position has been pitiful.
While there are some calling for Alex Van Pelt to call plays, that is a foolish endeavor. The reason the Browns hired Stefanski in the first place was for his offense and his play calling ability. If Cleveland is going to turn over play calling to Van Pelt they might as well fire Stefanski on the spot. If that sounds ridiculous that is because it is and it should be not under serious consideration.
Baker Mayfield has flopped in a prove it year
After showing that he is an avenge quarterback in his first year in the Stefanksi system, Baker Mayfield set himself up to take the next step and prove he is a franchise quarterback. Mayfield has largely been a liability and is costing himself more and more money as each week progresses. The Browns passing game is not a threat to anyone and the way that opposing defenses have lined up have proven that. Cleveland routinely faces stacked boxes forcing the offense to beat them with the arm of Mayfield, something that has not happened often enough.
A lot of this falls back on what was mentioned above, Stefanski being perfect. Stefanski put Mayfield in the right spot and designed plays with easy throwing decisions resulting in a productive, but not flashy passing attack. A major part of that was designed rollouts for Mayfield, something that has been taken away by virtually every defense this season. The book has been out on how to make Mayfield ineffective for quite some time, keep him in the pocket and make him try and see over players taller than him. Mayfield is too short to be a pocket passer which is why the rollouts are so essential to him being an adequate quarterback. Without the rollouts Mayfield is almost unplayable and that has limited what the Browns can do through the air.
At the end of the day the only way Mayfield is able to be average is when everything is just right and when it is not he is one of the worst quarterbacks in the league. Currently the latter is the one currently making weekly appearances for Cleveland.
Browns need receiving help badly
What once appeared to be a strength for the Browns is a glaring weakness. Cleveland does not have a good enough group of pass catchers to make things work with Baker Mayfield. Even when Odell Beckham Jr. was on the team the group was still lacking. Beckham was the only receiver who could consistently create the separation required for Mayfield to even attempt a throw, but for some bizarre reason he never looked in his direction.
The best receiver on the Browns at this time is Jarvis Landry by a large margin. While Landry is a good receiver, he is more of a possession/slot type and not the X that the team used to have in Beckham. Donovan Peoples-Jones has been inconsistent, Anthony Schwartz is a work in progress, and Rashard Higgins is a complete non-factor.
As far as the tight ends go, this is not a great group. Austin Hooper is the most consistent of the group, but is not player that was promised when signed prior to 2020. Harrison Bryant has a bright future and has shown some flashes, but is a probably a year away from getting a prominent role. As far as David Njoku is concerned, he is the same guy he has always been. In year five Njoku is still an incredibly raw player who has not been able to put it all together to become a reliable target in the passing game. This season should be his last in a Browns uniform.
With all of that said this team needs to overhaul this group this offseason in addition to making a change at quarterback.
Myles Garrett is fantastic
Now for something positive, Myles Garrett has been excellent this season. The current league leader in sacks with 14, Garrett has been the only player on the Browns defense that has been reliable week in and week out. The only reason this defense really has a chance at doing anything positive at any point comes back to Garrett.
Team is undisciplined and that’s a massive problem
The Cleveland Browns are one of the most penalized teams in the NFL. With 85 penalties, only the Cowboys , Panthers, and Raiders have seen more flags. The -199 net penalty yards is the second worst differential in the league, only behind Tampa Bay. Cleveland’s 34 pre-snap penalties is the most in the NFL and their 100 total flags are third-most. Committing penalties is the easiest way to lose a game and that is what has happened plenty of times this season. As long as Cleveland continues to be undisciplined they will continue to be fighting an uphill battle that is impossible to win.
Rest of season outlook
The Browns have five games left this season and while there is still technically a chance they can make the postseason, it is not realistic. Cleveland faces Baltimore, Las Vegas, Green Bay, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati after they come back after the bye. This is not an ideal schedule for an incredibly inconsistent team attempting to navigate this gauntlet of a schedule to make the postseason. The remainder of the season is going to be more about player evaluation moving forward than playoff aspirations and should be treated as such.