From coaching to quarterback, the Browns have big issues to address to salvage the season
As the Cleveland Browns sit at 6-6 at their bye week, fan expectation has dwindled from hoping to win the Super Bowl to hoping to make the playoffs at all.
The team began the season with a 3-1 record and lost five of the next eight games. Terry Pluto says they've been near the bottom of the NFL in scoring (25th out of 32) in that stretch as well.
Baker Mayfield's injuries have stacked up over the season, hindering the Browns' ability to use their full offensive playbook.
Still, Pluto says something else is "off" about the Browns offense, specifically their play-caller and head coach, Kevin Stefanski.
Pluto says Stefanski is almost performing in reverse. His rookie head coaching last season was nearly flawless, leading the team to an 11-5 record and its first playoff win in decades.
But this year, Pluto says the Browns lead the NFL in pre-snap penalties.
"Are you lined up correctly? Are you jumping offsides? Do we have the right number of people on the field? That to me is coaching. Something's wrong," Pluto said.
So what's behind the change in Stefanski? Pluto thinks the responsibilities of calling the plays all while being the head coach may finally be proving too much for him to handle.
"[Stefanski called plays] last year. But ... his head is buried in the play chart [this year]."
Change in approach
Pluto says the team's offensive coordinator, Alex Van Pelt, can take the load off of Stefanski for the rest of the year.
"He has called plays in the past, so he could do it," Pluto said. "If I'm [general manager] Andrew Berry, I'm telling Kevin, 'Prepare the game plan during the week with Van Pelt, but Alex calls the plays. You to be the CEO,'" Pluto said.
However, during a press conference this week, Stefanski said he has no plans to turn over the play-calling.
“I’m comfortable with the communication that goes on throughout the week and on gameday. The offensive staff is outstanding, especially (offensive line coach) Bill (Callahan) and Alex throughout the game, so I’m comfortable with how we are doing it right now. We just have to be better. I have to be better. That’s the truth. We just have to find ways to stay on the field and get sevens when we are down there in the red zone," Stefanski said.
Stefanski also said he has no plans to bench banged-up quarterback Baker Mayfield for backup Case Keenum, something Pluto felt the team should have done when it played the winless Detroit Lions on Nov. 21 to give Mayfield a chance to heal.
Salvaging the season
Pluto says ESPN's analysis gives the Browns just a 5% chance of winning the division and 19% chance of making the playoffs.
The Browns would likely have to either win out, or go 4-1 their last five games in order to make the playoffs.
They face a tough rematch against the Baltimore Ravens (8-3) on Sunday, Dec. 12.