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Kevin Stefanski's Perplexing Second Half Play-Calling Costs Browns

The Browns head coach has been brilliant this season at manufacturing wins despite the team dealing with an excessive number of injuries, but struggled to oversee offense in loss to Broncos

Don't get it twisted, Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski has done a magnificent job this season orchestrating wins for his injury plagued team. He deserves a ton of credit for that, all of it warranted.

Praise and handwringing are fleeting things in this week-to-week sport we love though, and just a week removed from pulling off a gritty 13-10 win over the Steelers, Stefanski's magic fairy dust seemed to lose some of its juice in a 29-12 loss to the Broncos.

It was a matchup tailor–made for running backs Jerome Ford and Kareem Hunt to feast, facing a Denver defense that yielded 5.5 yards per carry on the season. Meanwhile, with rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson starting at quarterback for a second consecutive week, utilizing the run game to get him comfortable seemed like a no-brainer.

When that was the plan, it was working, to the beat of 9.3 yards per carry for Ford in the first half. Hunt was averaging over four per carry. And yet, as the pressure ramped up in the second half, Stefanski ran the offense as if Deshaun Watson was still under center. The results were disastrous.

The first drive out of the break, was fairly balanced for what it's worth. Six runs, seven passes including a two-yard touchdown pass from DTR to tight end Harrison Bryant that brought the Browns within two points of Denver at the time, 14-12. That play in particular was Stefanski's brilliance on display.

From there, however, Stefanski seemed to get greedy. Whether it was the poise that Thompson-Robinson showed on that 13-play, 79-yard drive or just straight up hubris, he opened up the next series with three consecutive passes. The third one of those ended with the fifth-round pick writhing in pain after taking a brutal upper body hit that left him spitting up blood. He'd enter the concussion protocol and never returned to the game.

Two plays later Stefanski did actually dial up a a run play, digging into the bag of tricks to land on a double reverse that Elijah Moore couldn't handle and fumbled away to Denver.

A Broncos touchdown ensued, and after starting the next drive with a four-yard run two more P.J. Walker passes followed with a sack and an incompletion that left Cleveland going three-and-out. At that point 11:57 remained in the fourth quarter, there was still plenty of time to get back into the game.

It only got worse. After a Broncos three-and-out Stefanski started the next drive with not one, not two, not three, not four but five consecutive passes. The sixth one that followed ended in a strip sack. The game completely unraveled from there.

Just a mind-numbing sequence of offensive series when the game was still very much within reach.

"We're always looking at ways to move the ball any which way you can," Stefanski said of his curious play-calling. "A lot of it is predicated on what the defense is giving you from a personnel standpoint, from a front standpoint. Those are all things we're always talking about."

The Browns attempted 20 passes on first down for the entirety of the game, they ran it just nine times in those instances. Together, Thompson-Robinson and Walker attempted 42 total passes, nearly doubling the number of rushing attempts Cleveland had for the entire game of 24, including just 16 combined from Ford and Hunt.

How does that happen against the 32nd ranked run defense in football?

One game doesn't just erase the good will built up from Stefanski in the previous 11 weeks. He still deserves plenty of credit for having his team well positioned in the AFC Playoff picture at 7-4 with six games to go, and a laundry list of injuries attempting to derail their season.

None of that makes him beyond reproach though. His play-calling in this one was perplexing and egregious. There's just not much room for Stefanski to be a hindrance to the Browns offense given his current quarterback situation. If this season is going anywhere come January, he simply needs to be better.