In the long forgotten Cleveland Reboot days, I ran a column detailing the major structural changes the Browns continually needed to make. These pieces had a distinct “December in Berea” feel to them and often were wish lists for whatever new coaching and/or management regime was about to collide with the Browns’ unique dysfunction.
While I don’t sense wholesale changes are imminent in Berea, we should at least recognize the possibility exists - at least based on Jimmy Haslam’s history. The 2022 Browns have seemingly hit rock bottom; however, the current media narrative suggests that Kevin Stefanski will soon get a chance to preview an offense led by DeShaun Watson.
This brings us to our first truth.
1. Week 13 Will be the Biggest Game of the Berry-Stefanski Era
I truly don’t think we understand the expectations the Browns will face in what would otherwise be a nondescript matchup between two bad AFC teams. Regardless of how the Browns perform against the Bills and Bucs, the Texans matchup could shape the futures of Andrew Berry and Stefanski - along with a host of current players.
Watson’s debut could either justify the current regime’s vision or provide the spark that eventually burns it to the ground.
2. Watson is Facing an Impossible Task
For a seemingly smart management and coaching group that spends hundreds of hours digging into analytical data, the Browns are gambling on a quarterback who hasn’t played in nearly two years.
Further, Watson’s practice reps will be limited over the next two weeks, as Jacoby Brissett remains the team’s starting quarterback. Watson is essentially learning a new offensive system and new players - all in a compressed amount of time.
To suggest that Watson will be rusty is a massive understatement. The Texans game should ideally serve as a preseason warmup for Watson, but instead will be the most analyzed Browns’ performance in years.
3. Personality Goes a Long Way
Jules Winnfield was onto something.
We all know the Browns’ defense is a disaster. Fixing the multiple problems - at least with the current players and staff - is essentially a lost cause. One of the conditions for Stefanski’s 2023 return will have to be Joe Woods’ dismissal. Berry’s task will find him rebuilding a defense for the second time during his GM tenure.
Berry’s drafting guardrails have reflected the league’s shift towards developing younger players. After three Berry drafts, the Browns are the league’s youngest team - which has presented both possibilities and concerns in 2022.
The Browns boast several young, talented defenders but have become deficient in either football intelligence or emotional maturity. This defense badly needs veteran leadership, as evidenced by Anthony Walker’s injury absence. The team’s defacto defensive leader, Myles Garrett, is fortunate to be walking after his dangerous car accident several weeks ago.
Garrett serves more of a commentary role, as opposed to being a true leader. It’s telling when one of most undisciplined players on the field, John Johnson III, serves as the defensive spokesperson.
4. Stuck in Your Call Sheet
Certainly, there’s still room for Stefanski to evolve as a head coach. Personally, I feel he is a very talented offensive schemer and deserves a run with a top flight quarterback. However, after two and a half seasons, we pretty much know what type of coach he is.
Stefanski - like many other talented head coaches around the league - runs the offense and delegates defense and special teams. This model has proven successful - Arthur Smith and Mike McDaniel are two recent examples Browns fans have witnessed.
However, when the defense and special teams have cost your team wins, then a different approach is needed. If Stefanski is to continue operating in this manner, the Browns need to invest in a veteran defensive coordinator who can competently handle the operation. Additionally, hiring a name such as Vic Fangio or Wade Phillips also enriches the defensive coaching staff with proven assistants from top to bottom.
5. Heads or Tails
Regardless of any quarterback miracles or forthcoming changes, I’ve noticed a troubling but incidental trend in 2022. The Browns simply cannot win when they receive the opening kickoff. The Browns’ few successes this season have come when they can control the ball late in the first half, then receive to begin the third quarter. Stefanski rode this trend to the playoffs in 2020 but unfortunately have not been lucky with coin tosses this year.
The irony of a 50/50 coin flip proving so monumental to an analytical-based organization is too rich.
Dave Kolonich has written for Fox Sports Ohio, The Orange and Brown Report and created Cleveland Reboot.