The facts are very simple for the Cleveland Browns as the first quarter of the NFL season comes to a close:
- The record is 2-2.
- They blew a game to the New York Jets.
- They should have beaten the Atlanta Falcons.
- They barely beat the Carolina Panthers.
- They were an onside kick away from possibly losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
- None of those teams are very good.
Putting that all together and it is easy to summarize the first quarter of the 2022 Browns season simply: “The Cleveland Browns were not good.”
The blame game can be very easy for fans and media. Four blown coverages, including one against Atlanta this week, could have Cleveland 4-0. A few different decisions or better play calls on fourth down by Kevin Stefanski could have the Browns 4-0. A healthy Myles Garrett this week may have led the team to a 3-1 record.
A variety of special teams gaffes, defensive mistakes and offensive penalties has Cleveland reeling going into what is expected to be a tougher stretch of games. Stefanski took responsibility for the most recent loss:
Stefanski: "Frustrated that I didn’t put our guys in position to succeed..." Added that this game was nobody's fault "but my own" and that he has to own what happened and learn from it #Browns— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) October 2, 2022
The words are a great starting point but they must lead to action. While some fans want DC Joe Woods fired, that seems unlikely. Same thing with special teams coordinator Mike Priefer. On top of that, Stefanski has shown little indication that giving up play calling is something he has considered.
Instead, changes must come within the team and within the game. If Stefanski can’t call better plays in crucial situations, kicking the ball has to become an acceptable outcome. If Woods can’t trust his secondary to stay disciplined in their zone coverage, more man, simplified coverages or more blitzes to speed up the QB’s decision must happen.
Improvements on special teams can happen from different decisions by Priefer but some of that responsibility falls on GM Andrew Berry as well. Berry is well known for liking to “churn the bottom of the roster” but, in doing so, creates a lot of turnover on the special teams units.
The Browns have felt like they were in control of all four games this season but have won just two. While injuries and some poor play by the players can be a part of the problem (especially some untimely penalties), losing multiple close games to inferior teams falls on coaching.
Stefanski has taken the blame now we must see, likely smaller, changes that show that accountability in action. Otherwise, “my own” fault doesn’t mean much more than a light gust of air in the middle of an open field.