CLEVELAND, Ohio (92.3 The Fan) – Kevin Stefanski has no intention of giving up play calling the remainder of the season.
Executive vice president of football operations and general manager Andrew Berry agrees with his head coach.
“I have a ton of confidence in him as a play caller,” Berry said Wednesday.
Last season, having Stefanski carry both mantles worked like a charm. The offense, especially in the second half of the season, took off.
They won 11 games and made the playoffs.
This year the offense has sputtered and a return trip to the playoffs looks to be more wishful thinking than reality based on how the first 12 games of the season went.
Berry doesn’t feel turning over play calling to offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt will solve their problems.
“I do not think it is a function of that,” Berry said. “I think we have seen enough evidence over time that Kevin can manage everything on his plate. I think it really starts with accountability for every man that is on the team. Look, I have a ton of confidence that is something that we will get fixed moving forward.”
The Browns, who have scored 17 or fewer points in seven of their last nine games, are averaging 4.34 fewer points per game this season. As a team they scored 27 touchdowns through the air last year whereas in 2021 they only have 12.
“I want to be clear here, that is not necessarily a one-player or a one-person problem,” Berry said. “The passing game is all about coordination realistically. It starts from the play call from the sideline that hopefully has the right solutions for whatever the defensive strategy is. Then it goes to the protection for your offensive line, your running backs and your tight ends at times. It goes to your receivers being in the right place at the right time and winning their matchups. Then it goes to your quarterback getting the ball to the right location at the right time accurately.
“Quite frankly, there have been different pieces within the passing offense that maybe have functioned at a very efficient and high level at times during the season and other pieces have not necessarily been there. I think it has not been any one of those components, but it is something that obviously we are hard at work to make sure everything can be on the same page and coordinated as we enter the stretch run here.”
Injuries aside, considering that all 11 starters offensively returned, the lack of consistent production and explosiveness is mindboggling.
“We all think the offense can play at a higher level,” Berry said. “You are not entitled to top-level performance just because you return the same guys. You really do have to work at it every year on a week-to-week basis. This current bye week will hopefully be a big role in that in terms of getting us back on track where we need to be.”
Berry backed Stefanski in every way Wednesday and believes that things can still fall into place over the final five games.
“Kevin, he has all of the virtues and characteristics that are important for the leader of our organization,” Berry said. “I think it starts with his self-awareness and accountability. It goes to his level of introspection in terms of the team and the job that our group is doing, and it also goes to his open-mindedness and his ability to adjust. I think he has been very transparent with you guys in terms of the areas where he has felt like our team can perform at a higher level. Again, I talk about adversity. I think Kevin’s level of accountability is exactly what you want in tough stretches, and I think our guys take their cue from him.”
Messy divorce – While the offense continues to spin its wheels in the mud of mediocrity, fans were dismayed to watch Odell Beckham Jr. catch a 54-yard touchdown for the Rams last week – something he rarely got the opportunity to do with the Browns.
Sure, Beckham didn’t want to be here, but the Browns aren’t entirely blameless for the relationship imploding.
Berry had little to say about Beckham’s departure or how to prevent such an occurrence from happening again going forward.
“You never like to see a divorce, so to speak, of that nature, and you try your best as an organization to prevent that type of thing from occurring, but it does happen in the NFL,” Berry said. “It is unfortunate, but it is something that we are moving forward from. Our concern is really the games the next five weeks.”
Ahead of schedule – Berry complimented the development of second-year receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones.
“I will be honest, with Donovan, he has probably come along more quickly than I would have anticipated when we drafted him, and that is a credit to him. In terms of his next steps, obviously, he has a really great opportunity in front of him. I think part of it is he has probably been a little bit of stop and start this year from the injury side of things, but he obviously has and will continue to play major role in the passing game for us this year. It is an incredible opportunity for him to continue to make plays and ultimately help us win games.”
Peoples-Jones, a 2020 sixth-round pick, leads the Browns with three receiving touchdowns and a yards per reception average of 18.9.
One and done? – Jadeveon Clowney has played well in 11 games for the Browns raising the question about keeping the defensive end beyond the one-year, $8 million deal that included additional $2 million in incentives that he signed in the spring.
“I think JD has done a really nice job for us,” Berry said. “Run and pass game, he has been very disruptive, and he has had a handful of games where really he and Myles [Garrett] have really taken it over for us on the defensive side of the ball. I have been very pleased with the results that we have seen from him on the field.
“Again, in terms of the long-term stuff and contractual stuff, we will have plenty of time for that, but I think he has had a really nice season for us.”
Clowney has registered 3 ½ sacks to go with 13 QB hits, 8 tackles for loss and a pass deflection.
Lack of focus – The Browns are among the league leaders in pre-snap penalties on both sides of the ball this season.
Berry shares Stefanski’s frustration but offered little insight as to why the flags keep flying week in and week out.
“I know that is something that Kevin has talked about that he is disappointed and frustrated at,” Berry said. “It is something that he has really made several adjustments over the past couple of weeks and I know or would imagine that there will be continued adjustments there. Look, it is not something that we have been accustomed to typically at least relative to last year. I think we all know how disciplined and organized that Kevin is. It is obviously something that we have to minimize and get fixed moving forward.”
One of the things Stefanski has done in recent weeks is to restart portions of practice when penalties occur to encourage better focus from the team.