The Browns are 7-3 and it's no accident. In total they've played great defense, won at home, and have handled themselves very differently than the past couple seasons. With winnable games up the road, we are poised to play in the playoffs or make a run at them. It's been a while since Sunday's have been this much fun in the fall.
I've been hard on Kevin Stefanski and it's been warranted. But because of recent circumstances he has been forced to handle himself differently on game day. I have no idea if he's happy about it, but it's sure working. He has surrounded himself with two of the best assistant coaches in the league. Defensive genius Jim Schwartz and Offensive Line guru, Bill Callahan. Both former head coaches and both held in the highest esteem around the NFL and they are as needed as any assistants in the league this year. As much as young head coaches around the NFL who are like Stefanski may not want to admit, these two elements are the backbone of any successful team. When you're strong on defense and the offensive line, you're competitive. That's just flat out reality in any era or level of football.
Strangely, the limitations Stefanski is dealing with have made him a far better head coach. He's finally learned that you just can't chuck the ball all over the yard to win games. You must do what it takes to win on the day in front of you, and that's finally hitting home. By being limited, it has made his decision making so much better, as he has finally humbled himself by not trying to reinvent the NFL. We don't go for every fourth down, or pass up field goals, do stupid razzle dazzle plays of his past, or put players and the team in avoidable situations. He's understanding the intangibles better too, like the stadium environment, and opponents strengths and ours. Having faith in your defense makes a lot of things easier. With our current situation, we must win by playing first class defense, and control the line of scrimmage on offense. Run the ball, and be choosy on the passing game., and not putting your young QB in a position to fail when there are options. When you do things right, the right thing generally happens.
I have always believed that building a great defense first - makes you competitive when building or rebuilding a team, plus it's easier to assemble. We didn't think that was important for a few years. We thought that scoring 100 points a game was the key, but this year around the NFL defense is ruling the day. I know Stefanski is a good offensive mind, and I'm sure it's been a hard pill to choke down having other coaches position players making all the difference, but winning is all that matters. Win ugly and that's what we are doing. His famous quote from last year, "No one plays smash mouth football anymore" is now his bread and butter because that's all we can really do right now. But give him credit, this season he's gotten himself off the hot seat and has guided his team to this place.
I've also seen more emotion from him this season, and he doesn't appear so aloof and solitary. I think Schwartz may have a lot to do with that. Now that there is a proven formula to win, it's up to Stefanski to remain patient and know that he has a path to victory. I think the Seattle loss made a huge impact on him. Because his decisions alone blew that game, and something tells me for the first time he may have admitted that to himself on a dark nighttime 5 hour flight home. Because things have been better on the sidelines ever since. I don't know how far we can go with our QB situation, but I know we can compete with anyone, and he plays a critical part in it.
Ironic isn't it? The limitations that Stefanski is currently being forced to deal with, have somehow made things for the Browns more limitless.