The Cleveland Browns begin the NFL season Sunday. The team has had little time to get adjusted under new coach Kevin Stefanski because of the pandemic. WKSU’s sports commentator Terry Pluto said the Browns face a tough opening game against the defending AFC North Champion Baltimore Ravens on the road.
Two teams, two different levels of consistency
With the lack of a traditional offseason and no preseason games, Pluto said the Ravens come into Sunday’s matchup with an advantage: consistency.
“John Harbaugh has been the coach forever. They have Lamar Jackson, one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. They’re not having to learn a whole new offense [or a] whole new defense. They’re just doing the regular changes that you do from year to year,” Pluto said.
Enter the Browns, the antithesis of the Ravens. While Harbaugh enters his 13th year as the Ravens head coach with the same offensive and defensive scheme as last year, first-time head coach Kevin Stefanski hasn't had the time to see his team in action in the preseason.
“In the past, the starters play limited preseason games. But usually if you add it up over the course of four preseason games, the starters have at least played a total of four quarters against another team with officials throwing flags and all of that. [The Browns] have had none of that,” Pluto said.
A brand new Baker Mayfield
Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield recently admitted he lost his self-described confidence in the quagmire of dysfunction last year, and he couldn’t move around as fast as he needed to in and out of the pocket compared to his rookie year. He said he made some changes heading into a crucial third season.
“He lost at least 10 pounds, and he does seem to be quicker. Secondly, I heard he has a couple of commercials coming out, but it wasn’t the whole summer of doing magazine interviews with GQ. They think he has studied more. He's certainly been humbled," Pluto said.
“But I think the way we judge the Browns and Baker Mayfield is not on game one [this] Sunday. I think it’s almost like you divide the season up into quarters. To me, I think we’ll get a better handle on the Browns the last eight games of the season,” he said.
“These early games are almost like practice, serious practice and preparation. Some element of patience is really needed.”
Pluto said what the Browns do have is talent, from wide receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. to running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Hunt on Tuesday signed an extension through 2022.
"The offensive line has been upgraded. I have to admit I'm very worried about defense. They have Myles Garrett and a couple of other good players. But they've had a lot of injuries, and they’re changing around everything they do, too,” Pluto said.
Pluto predicts the team will go 8-8.
“Fans will want better, but my reservation was the lack of preparation for them and for other teams. As one coach said to me, ‘A lot of football is muscle memory.’ And my guess is the young coaching staff, they’re going to look like rookies at times, too. But there is talent, and there is reason for hope,” he said.