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After yet another disappointing season, Browns have work to do this offseason

Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski walks the sideline during the first half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023.
Don Wright
Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski walks the sideline during the first half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023.

The Browns have a lot to address in the offseason after a disappointing 7-10 record, what sports commentator Terry Pluto referred to as a "bummer season."

The team has been sliding since head coach Kevin Stefanski lead them to an 11-5 record and playoff win in 2020. Last season they were 8-9.

The team was anticipating some hiccups with new star quarterback Deshaun Watson suspendedfor the first 11 games for alleged sexual misconduct. But sports commentator Terry Pluto says most of the problems were on the other side of the ball.

“They actually got pretty good quarterback play out of Jacoby Brissett for the first 11 games," Pluto said. "When he was playing, they ranked number 10 out of 32 teams in scoring. And the reason they were getting beat was their defense, which they thought was going to be good, had fallen apart.”

Following the team’s season-ending loss to Pittsburgh, Stefanski fired his defensive coordinator, Joe Woods. Woods was one of Stefanski’s first hires in 2020.

“Some people have said to me, ‘Well, they're just making [Woods] a scapegoat. You can't just blame Joe Woods' or whatever. But Joe was defensive coordinator for three years and the defense has not been very good in that time, overall,” Pluto said.

At one point in mid-October this season, Cleveland ranked 31st in defensive efficiency.

Pluto said it’s important to understand the team’s structure when looking at the season as a whole. It starts with Stefanski, who calls the offensive plays and spends most of his time working with the offense, in addition to his head coaching duties.

“The defensive coordinator is, in effect, almost like the head coach of the defense. He has a lot of autonomy and a lot of authority," said Pluto.

In addition to the on-field problems on defense, Pluto said, "There were four players that we know of who were disciplined for always this vague thing of breaking team rules. All four were on defense, and to me that showed a lack of leadership on the defensive side of the ball.”

The Browns have already requested to interview at least four coordinators from other NFL teams. Those include Steelers assistant Brian Flores, the former Miami Dolphins head coach, Patriots linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, Seahawks associate head coach and defensive assistant Sean Desai, and Titans senior defensive assistant Jim Schwartz.

Pluto wants the team to choose carefully.

“They need a, what I would call, a big-time coordinator coming in. In other words, a guy with a lot of experience. They're talking to a couple of guys who are younger and on their way up. But the way the Browns do it, where that defensive coordinator’s like a head coach of the defense, they need a strong personality who knows what he's doing,” Pluto said.

And Pluto said he’s glad the team didn’t fire Stefanski or General Manager Andrew Berry, but believes Stefanski’s job is on the line next season.

“I think Stefanski needs to become more of a, what I call, a CEO head coach, whether it means he has to give up some of his calling the plays during the game," he said. "But those problems with people on defense and the discipline problems, that required the head coach to step in there and clearly, he didn't.”

As for Deshaun Watson, the team needs to continue to build around him.

“They better take a holistic view of the team. They better get the offense fixed up so it works with Watson," Pluto said. "And then, secondly, you better make sure that you have your defense going. And, thirdly, the head coach has to just come across as more of a head coach.”

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Amanda Rabinowitz IPM