Browns offense has cratered, as playoff hopes slip away

BEREA, Ohio -- Despite another inept performance, the Cleveland Browns offense still had one final chance to defeat the Baltimore Ravens.

Except anybody who’d actually watched Browns offense Sunday night -- or for that matter, the past two months -- couldn’t have had much confidence in a game-winning drive. Sure enough, Cleveland summarily went four-and-out, with three Baker Mayfield incompletions, followed by a pass to David Njoku well short of the first down marker.

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 in Baltimore that officially put Cleveland’s playoff hopes on life support.

Last year, Cleveland’s overpowering offense surged into the postseason, propelling the Browns to their first playoff appearance since 2002.

This season, the offense has completely flatlined.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Kevin Stefanski, who just one year ago was named the NFL's Coach of the Year while calling plays for the Browns' vaunted attack. “To not score enough, it’s always a combination of things -- staying on the field on third down, trying to run the ball effectively and getting in the red zone. ... But we’re just not doing a good enough job, and that starts with me.”

Stefanski said Monday that the Browns will spend the upcoming bye week self-scouting, trying to uncover the cures for what ails the offense. But he also said the Browns won’t be making any drastic moves. Stefanski will remain the play-caller. Mayfield will stay the starting quarterback.

“There are a bunch of different things that we can do better,” Stefanski said. “When we spend some time looking at it and pulling it apart, the first thing we are going to say is, ‘All right, what are we good at? Can we do that more? How can we add nuance to it? How can we add wrinkles to it? Then what are we not so good at and can we get better at that? Can we do that play type or whatever it may be?’

“That’s just where this bye week can be a deep dive into really who we are.”

Problem is, at such a late juncture in the season, it’s difficult to envision the offense being much different or much better than what it’s been.

Dating back to Week 5, Cleveland ranks 24th in offensive efficiency, 25th in offensive expected points added, 19th in yards per play, 24th in third-down conversion rate and 26th first downs per game.

In other words, the Browns inexplicably own one of the NFL’s worst offenses, by almost any measure. And the sample size isn’t so small anymore.

“Just frustrating,” said guard Joel Bitonio. “We understand that there are points to be scored. ... It has been [like that for] a few weeks.”

Defenses have caught on.

They are stacking the box to stop the run and daring the Browns to throw. And Mayfield and his pass-catchers have been unable to capitalize.

“We just need to make more plays,” said Mayfield, whose lone touchdown pass to Njoku on Sunday could have been overturned, considering it appeared to bounce off the turf first. “As simple as that sounds, that’s really the way it is. There are plays there to be made, and we need to make them.”

Stefanski keeps trying to dial up those plays. But in facing those loaded boxes, he has, at times, gotten away from what the Browns do best.

At halftime Sunday, Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb had only four carries, his fewest in a first half since 2019, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Combined, Chubb and Kareem Hunt finished with just 15 carries for only 36 yards, as the running game became a non-factor against the Ravens.

“Ultimately, we did not have enough opportunities to let our run game come through for us,” Stefanski said. “When it was not coming through, we pivoted at times to the pass game.”

Despite the various injuries to Mayfield and the line, which have had their effect, it’s still hard to believe the offense has regressed to this point from just last season, when it finished sixth in the league in efficiency.

With all 11 starters, plus every key backup, returning, this offense was primed to take another big step forward. Instead, it’s taken several back.

Now, a season that began with so much promise is slipping way.

With offensive issues a bye week alone likely can’t solve.