Cleveland Browns Stud: Kevin Stefanski, Head Coach
Say what you will about Kevin Stefanski but his play-calling was significantly better, especially on the opening drive, as the Browns set up a very manageable third-and-three and then allowed DTR to run six yards for the first down. He then settled into a rhythm and completed a couple of quick passes to Elijah Moore and Amari Cooper to again move the sticks. Cleveland ended up having to punt following a couple of plays that didn't move the ball at all but even their first third-and-10 was a much better play than we saw in Thompson-Robinson's first start.
On this play, Stefanaski called a screen pass to Jerome Ford, who gained just three yards. Despite the short gain, it was a safe call that could have broken. Since it didn't, Cleveland was able to punt and that led to Pittsburgh being pinned inside their own five. The goal should be to end every drive with a kick and a punt that pins the opponent deep can be a win.
Cleveland forced a three-and-out and got the ball back at midfield but it should have been a 2-0 lead. Myles Garrett sacked Kenny Pickett for an eight-yard loss and was inexplicably said to be down just outside of the goal line. The same was said when Dalvin Tomlinson tackled Najee Harris but even the refs favoring the Steelers couldn't stop the quick three-and-out.
The Browns responded beautifully with a seven-play drive that went 50 yards and ended with Jerome Ford running it in for the first touchdown of the game. There were some questions about Stefanski not challenging the potential safety but this time, he did pull out the red flag when Ford was originally called short of the end zone. Stefanski's challenge this time made it a 7-0 lead for the home team.
Not only does the head coach deserve credit for tailoring this game plan around the rookie but he also threw other wrinkles into the offense. On their first scoring drive, we saw them use read-option plays, play-action passes, and even the Wild Cat formation. He was also getting the QB on the move, ensuring he was more comfortable.
In the second half, Stefanski continued to call great plays. After giving up a 74-yard touchdown to make it 10-7, Cleveland was in danger of a quick three-and-out. That didn't happen since he went for it on fourth-and-less than one, even calling a pitch from Harrison Bryant to Kareem Hunt which moved the sticks. Cleveland still had to punt but they moved it to midfield first and again pinned the Steelers deep.
Cleveland improved to 7-3 and a huge reason for that was the play-calling. They tailored this plan to the rookie and never panicked. They let the defense lead the way and in the end, that resulted in another win for the Browns, who remain a half-game behind Baltimore.