Cleveland Browns: 5 worst decisions from Kevin Stefanski

Aug 29, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski reacts to a call during their game against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 29, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski reacts to a call during their game against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Dawg Pound loves Cleveland Browns coach Kevin Stefanski, but we love to criticize also. Here are five things he might have done differently.

This article describes five of the worst decisions in Cleveland Browns coach Kevin Stefanski’s head coaching career. It is a follow-on to a previous article describing his five best decisions. It just wasn’t in our nature to say nice things about our coach and leave it there.

After all, in the world of sports, we love to criticize. Let’s be clear though. This writer believes in the Browns young coach, and he will be fine ultimately, although he is stuck on a team with no first-round draft pick until 2025, and an enormous investment in a quarterback with certain alleged eccentricities that include an unusual affinity for massages.

Still, the Deshaun Watson deal doesn’t make the list on the grounds that the deal was masterminded by Andrew Berry and Jimmy Haslam III, everyone’s favorite hands-on owner. How much input the coach had into the deal is unclear. Certainly, if the coach was merely asked whether Watson represented an upgrade over Baker Mayfield or not, his answer to that question was probably an emphatic “yes.”

Without further ado, let’s move on to decisions that the coach actually had control over, and probably wishes that he had back, starting with the non-decision of not playing Case Keenum.

5 worst decisions from Cleveland Browns HC Kevin Stefanski

Cleveland Browns
Aug 22, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Case Keenum (5) throws the ball during the first quarter against the New York Giants at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports /

5. Not playing Case Keenum over Baker Mayfield

By now it should be clear to virtually everyone that Baker Mayfield was not the same quarterback in 2021 that he was in 2020. There are a few angry fans who believe he has no talent at all, but probably has more to do with unfilled expectations than an objective look at his career.

Nevertheless, the Browns had a second quarterback on the roster who went 11-3 plus a playoff win with Stefanski as his quarterback coach in Minnesota. That, of course, would be Case Keenum.

Keenum, of course, has many faults. He’s almost exactly the same size as Mayfield, at 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds. He looks a bit slower than Mayfield, although his combine time was actually a tick faster, 4.72 seconds to 4.84 seconds. However, at age 34, it’s possible that the eyeball test might be right.

The main problem, however, is that Keenum doesn’t have a magic potion to go 11-3 every year, and if you put him on a bad team like Washington, he could go 1-7, which is what happened in 2019. With great apologies to the cult of quarterback worshipers around the NFL, the horrible reality is that the quarterback’s won-loss record is more about the other 52 players on the roster, not just one person.

With the Browns, Keenum would have had the supporting cast to win. He went 2-0 in 2021, compared to Mayfield’s 5-7 after getting injured.

Mayfield obviously had the physical problem with the shoulder and the associated restrictive brace that came with it. That’s essentially a fact by now. Also, it’s been written essentially an infinite number of times ad nauseum that Mayfield felt comfortable with certain receivers and other receivers, not so much, to the point where it got dysfunctional.

Odell Beckham, Jr., left and other players, player’s dads, sportswriters and fans have weighed in on the issues. Mayfield may do better in Carolina, but in 2021 he was a head case, at least in this fan’s opinion. There was no sane option other than starting Keenum, and yet Stefanski chose insanity rather than doing the sane thing.

On the one hand, it’s disappointing that the Browns were not willing to work with Mayfield and help him get out of the rut he was in, but certainly by the second half of the 2021 season, the team needed him to be second string.

Winning cures everything, and if Keenum had gone off and won some games, it might have cured Mayfield’s mental eccentricities.

Playing Keenum was a tough decision, but it should also have been obvious. Baker Mayfield was in no shape physically or psychologically to be the quarterback of the Cleveland Browns and he should have been demoted.