Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanksi is trying to navigate the club back to the playoffs with a revolving door at the quarterback position.
A playoff berth seemed as close to a certainty after the Browns posted consecutive wins against the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers left Cleveland sitting pretty at 7-3 has become, while not hopeless, a bit less certain after consecutive losses to the Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Rams.
Entering this weekend’s slate of games the Browns are part of a jumble of nine AFC teams with between five and seven wins in the hunt for a Wild Card spot.
The Browns are back home on Sunday to face the Jacksonville Jaguars and Stefanski is once again faced with what to do at quarterback. He could turn back to Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who cleared the league-mandated concussion protocol on Friday or stick with Joe Flacco, who last week became the club’s fourth starting quarterback of the season.
Stefanski has played it coy all week but it seems likely that it will be Flacco again after he took all the starter’s reps in practice for a second consecutive week.
While that feels like the safe choice to keep Cleveland’s playoff hopes alive, the reality is that the Browns are going to need Flacco to play better starting on Sunday against the Jaguars than he did last week against the Rams.
Flacco only completed 52.3 percent of his passes, averaged just 5.8 yards per attempt, and threw a game-deciding interception when he tried to flex his big arm with the Browns down by just one point with 6:51 left in the game. Those numbers are not that dissimilar from what Thompson-Robinson, who showed some incremental improvement in his start against the Broncos, has put up this season, with the biggest difference being that DTR is only averaging 3.9 yards per attempt.
This is not to imply that Flacco was bad - outside of the interception he kept things tidy on offense - and it is important to remember that it was his first start after spending the first three months of the season sitting at home.
But the threat of the deep ball did not open up the running game as the Browns averaged just 3.8 yards per carry, and the offense also did not light up the scoreboard with just 19 points. (Although it should be noted that almost exceeded the total of the previous two games with DTR at quarterback.)
A win puts the Browns in prime position for the playoffs pic.twitter.com/uzU5vlxY9I— PFF CLE Browns (@PFF_Browns) December 8, 2023
Another week of practice should help Flacco and the offense get into a better rhythm, and while he is not the same player he was during his best years in Baltimore, Flacco remains the best option at the moment.
The Browns have five games remaining and if they can find three wins in there that should be good enough to earn a playoff spot.
And while it does not all fall on Flacco’s shoulders, the Browns are going to need him to be a calming influence and up his game starting this week as it appears he will have a major role in whether or not the Browns will be playing past the season finale on January 7.
How confident are you that Joe Flacco can play well enough to get the Browns into the playoffs?