This Browns season has been a roller coaster, and it's only been six weeks.
The Browns have wins against the hated Steelers and Carolina Panthers and their QB who used to play for the Browns (no need to say his name. He doesn't wear Brown and Orange, so he doesn't matter).
Heartbreaking losses have occurred to the New York Jets, Los Angeles Chargers, and Atlanta Falcons, all games in which the Browns had a lead and lost in miraculous fashion.
Then, Sunday vs the New England Patriots happened.
The Browns were mollywhopped 38-15 in a game reminiscent of what Browns fans were used to from 1999-2017. The offense was lethargic, the defense was almost nonexistent, and the special teams were anything but special.
The Browns have fallen to 2-4 and on the brink of the season falling completely apart, so who is to blame for what has been a poor start so far? In this writers opinion, there are three main culprits in the Browns season that have put them in this spot:
1. The Defense/Joe Woods
In the beginning of the 2021 season, the Browns secondary, was getting torched left and right. Wide open receivers were the norm in the first half of the season, but it looked to be fixed, as the defense carried the team through the second half of the season while the offense never got on track. Fast forward to this season, and the defense looks worse than the first half of last year, as not only has the secondary fallen off and has allowed open recievers at an alarming rate, but the front seven has allowed teams to gash them in the run game, allowing over 200 yards rushing to Atlanta and to the worst rushing team in the league at the time, the LA Chargers.
It's easy to blame defensive coordinator Joe Woods for the shortcomings, but when you consistently allow open WR's and let teams crush you with their running game, there is no way it can be on the coordinator alone. It's 50/50. Woods appears to need better schemes, but the players have to make plays, communicate, and execute, none of which seems to be happening. The Browns are 30th in the NFL in opponents points per game at 27.2, and weekly corrections don't seem to be happening.
2. The Front Office
When looking at the roster at the start of the season, you could see the star power on the Browns. Players such as Myles Garrett and Jadaveon Clowney manned the ends while All-Pro cornerback Denzel Ward and rising defensive back Greg Newsome had the corners on lock, and along with John Johnson III, Grant Delpit, and Greedy Williams, among others, the secondary looked tough. The Browns even doubled down on the defensive backfield by using their first 2022 draft pick on corner Martin Emerson out of Mississippi State in the third round.
However, there were glaring holes elsewhere. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was coming off a solid rookie season, and Anthony Walker was a solid player, but the lack of experience behind them, as well as at the defensive tackle position, was alarming. JOK and Walker are light, fast linebackers but not thumpers. At the defensive tackle spot, players such as Tommy Togiai and Taven Bryant are unproven, if not below average commodities.
It didn't look to be a big problem in the first three games but against Atlanta and the Chargers, they were exposed. In the first three games, Carolina, the Jets and Pittsburgh ran the ball a combined 61 times. Atlanta and the Chargers ran the ball 35 and 34 times respectively, to the tune of 440 total yards. The Browns failed the test as to if the unproven players in the front seven could stand up and make a jump against the run. You just have to wonder what the Browns record would be if the first three opponents had committed to shoving the ball down the Browns throat via the running game.
Why didn't the front office shore up the middle of the line and the linebacker spots with veterans, so the inexperinced players on the defensive line could be brought along at a slower pace? As far as the linebackers, the injury to Walker was key, but outside of him and JOK, there was no veteran help there. That falls squarely on the front office. It appears they have overrated their own talent, expecting young/inexperinced players to take a massive jump that has clearly not happned
There's no quality depth at linebacker or the DL, as behind the stars at defensive end, there is no one with any kind of experience on the defensive line, and the depth in the secondary is apparently in the wrong scheme, not who we thought they were or both.
Also, was the front office correct in believing Brissett is the answer to hold down the QB position until Watson was eligible to play? While he likely played above his head the first few games, the Patriots game was a rude awakening to what the floor of Jacoby Brissett is, and it wasn't pretty. Andrew Berry and the front office was placed in a difficult spot, as they were tasked with finding a guy who would know he's an 11-game replacement but would retaining Case Keenum or maybe going after somebody like Teddy Bridgewater been a better gap filler?
Also, the draft sucess of the front office can be questioned, but that is a whole column in itself.
3. Head Coach Kevin Stefanski
There have been a lot of stats that support Kevin Stefanski being a good offensive coach, due to what the offense was able to do with a backup QB, but no matter what the stats say, there have been some disturbing trends on offense, and ultimately, the team is 2-4.
Coach Stefanski seems to make a few playcalls each game that have people scratcing their heads. Here's a few for instance:
Going for it on fourth down- While the numbers say they have been pretty good at converting when they have to (60% conversion rate on fourth down), the situations where the conversions are not successful are more impactful on the game, such as not taking chip shot field goals and then losing by 2 points. Not saying the Browns would've won these games, but three points are better than no points.
Throws inside the five yardline- The Browns bread and butter is the run game, so why throw inside the five unless absolutely necessary?
Keeping Chubb on the sidelines during important drives- The common retort is, "Hunt is the passing down back, and that's why Chubb isn't in the field during the two-minute offense." In my opinion, if you don't have a two- minute offense that includes your best player, that's a problem.
These are just some of the decisions by Stefanski that have directly affected the Browns possibly winning games. I want to be clear: I'm not calling for him to be fired, but if you call a great game, and two to three calls per game are awful and appear to directly cost the team points and possibly wins, it something that needs to be addressed.
There are other factors contributing to the Browns 2-4 record, primarily the fact the QB they guaranteed $230-plus million to is unavailable, but the other moves (or lack of moves) made by the organization might have the Browns in a position that when he returns in Week 13, the playoffs may be out reach, and the season may be lost.
The defense is something they may be able to correct, as we saw them switch up and become stout in the second half of last year, but do they have the personnel necessary to correct these issues and are the players bought in enough to what the coaches are giving them? The decision making by the head coach can also be something that is corrected, as there should be a good blend of analytics and gut feeling, but it appears analytics is winning in most of these situations.
The front office is also still able to make some moves, as they signed Deion Jones and Tyeler Davison to give the linebacker and defensive tackle positions some depth, but these aren't game-changing signings, and the Browns may have to look for a team like a Carolina or others who may be having a fire sale to significantly upgrade the defense.
The season is not over, but it's teetering. The Browns likely have to be 5-6 or 6-5 to have a shot at the playoffs when Watson returns but sitting at 2-4 with the next five games being against Baltimore, Cincinnati, Miami, Buffalo, and Tampa Bay, it seems to be a rough ask of them to go 4-1 or 3-2 in that span.
There is not one thing you can blame this season on, as it seems to be a failure from top to bottom, but time is running out on this team being able to correct mistakes and get as owner Jimmy Haslam likes to say, "Directionally correct".
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