BEREA, Ohio – Despite another inept performance, the Cleveland Browns offense still had one last chance to defeat the Baltimore Ravens.
Except for anyone who had actually watched the Browns offense on Sunday night – or for that matter, the past two months – couldn’t have had much confidence in a winning practice. Sure enough, Cleveland summarily beat four goals, with three noncompletions from Baker Mayfield, followed by an assist to David Njoku well below the first scorer.
Once again – and for the sixth time in seven games – the Browns failed to score more than 17 points, this time resulting in a 16-10 loss to Baltimore that officially put Cleveland’s playoff hopes. .
Last year, Cleveland’s crushing offense surged into the playoffs, propelling the Browns to their first playoff appearance since 2002.
This season, the offense has completely stabilized.
“It’s very frustrating,” said Kevin Stefanski, who just over a year ago was named NFL Coach of the Year as he called coins for the much-vaunted Browns offense. “Not scoring enough is always a combination of things – staying on the pitch on the third down, trying to run the ball efficiently and going into the red zone. … But we’re just not doing a good enough job, and it starts with me.
Stefanski said on Monday that the Browns will spend the upcoming week off self-research, trying to find cures for what’s plaguing the offense. But he also said the Browns would not take drastic action. Stefanski will remain the playmaker. Mayfield will remain the starting quarterback.
“There are a bunch of different things we can do better,” Stefanski said. “When we spend time looking at it and taking it apart, the first thing we’re going to say is, ‘Okay, what are we good at? Can we do it more? How can we add nuance to it? How can you add wrinkles to it? So what are we not so good at and can we improve? Can we do that type of game or whatever? ‘
“This is where this week off can be a deep dive into who we really are.”
The problem is, at such a late stage in the season, it’s hard to imagine the offense being much different or much better than it has been.
As of Week 5, Cleveland ranks 24th for offensive efficiency, 25th for expected added offensive points, 19th for yards per game, 24th for third down conversion rate and 26th for first downs per game.
In other words, the Browns inexplicably own one of the worst offenses in the NFL, on almost every level. And the sample size is no longer that small.
“Just frustrating,” guard Joel Bitonio said. “We understand that there are points to be scored. … He was [like that for] a few weeks.”
The defenses took over.
They stack the box to stop the race and challenge the Browns to throw. And Mayfield and his smugglers couldn’t capitalize.
“We just need to make more plays,” said Mayfield, whose only touchdown pass to Njoku on Sunday could have been undone as it seemed to bounce off the turf first. “As simple as it sounds, it really is like that. There are pieces to be done and we have to do them. “
Stefanski continues to try to compose these pieces. But in the face of those loaded boxes, he has sometimes strayed from what the Browns do best.
At halftime on Sunday, Pro Bowl backer Nick Chubb had just four runs, his smallest number in the first half since 2019, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Together, Chubb and Kareem Hunt finished with just 15 carries for just 36 yards, as running play became a non-factor against the Ravens.
“At the end of the day, we didn’t have enough opportunities to let our racing game play out for us,” Stefanski said. “When it wasn’t going, we sometimes pivoted into the passing game.”
Despite Mayfield and the line’s various injuries, which had their effect, it’s still hard to believe the offense has regressed to this point from last season, when it finished sixth in the league in efficiency.
With the return of the 11 starters, plus every key save, this offense was poised to take another big step forward. Instead, he took several back.
Now a season that started with so much promise is slipping away.
With offensive issues, a week off alone probably can’t fix it.