It was not too long ago that the Cleveland Browns had just defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers before suffering a one-score loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round. Since then, the Browns have finished with a losing record, missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. Entering the 2023 season, the ownership, front office, and coaching staff have questions to answer to get back into postseason contention.
There is talent on the roster, the Browns are trying this continuity thing for the first time, and the Browns have a fourth-place schedule in 2023. Regardless, there are questions to answer. Here are four.
Is the right regime in place?
Browns HC Kevin Stefanski. (AP Photo/David Richard)
A first for owner Jimmy Haslam, the Browns are choosing continuity. They have not fired their general manager, they have not fired their head coach, and the majority of assistants are expected to keep their jobs. However, if the Browns miss the playoffs again in 2023, it would more than likely be the end of this current regime.
Head coach Kevin Stefanski operated a top-five offense for most of the season with backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett and is bringing back all of his top playmakers. He no longer has a defensive coordinator he has to babysit as he can ask Schwartz to be the CEO of his defense. The excuses are exhausted and results are now needed in Cleveland.
Can Nick Chubb handle another season of 300+ carries?
Browns RB Nick Chubb. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports
For starters, there are plenty of reasons to believe that the Browns will not ask Chubb to take on another season of 300 carries (as his play dropped down the stretch as well). However, when starting a backup quarterback, the Browns needed to emphasize their offense on the back of Chubb.
The worry, however? They are an injury to their starting quarterback away from being right back in the same position. This was only the second time in his career that Chubb handled over 230 carries. His carries will probably bottom back down toward the 250 range, and thankfully so as Chubb enters his sixth season manning the position with the shortest shelf life.
300 carries is not a sustainable model for running backs, nor an offense.
Will Deshaun Watson look like the Deshaun Watson of old?
Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports
The success of Stefanski and the carry numbers of Chubb depend heavily on the play of their $230 million quarterback Deshaun Watson. After coming back for the final six games of the season after a suspension due to extensive off-the-field malfeasances, the play of Watson was much flatter than expected.
The Browns are hamstrung to him through at least 2026, so the need for him to get back to his 2020 self after over a year away from football is a necessity for this franchise. If he does not, then the trade of three first rounders and the new contract will sink this franchise to a depth they have never seen before. Which is saying a ton for this particular franchise. Perhaps the trade already has.
Regardless, on the field, the Browns need much more out of Watson than what he gave them in the last six games of the 2022 season.
Will Jim Schwartz fix all of the problems defensively?
Browns DC Jim Schwartz. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
The Browns have talent on the defensive side of the football. The secondary is loaded (and played like it down the stretch), Myles Garrett is a premier pass rusher in the league, and the linebackers at least have sustainable depth. While John Johnson III is likely to get his exit papers, the emergence of Grant Delpit over the back half of the season gives that third-level hope.
Yes, the defensive tackle position needs completely revamped, but this unit is not a weak one. This unit needs a strong communicator and someone who is going to confuse opposing quarterbacks with his pre-snap disguises. The scheme will not be drastically different, but the leadership on that side of the ball will be.
With the majority of the unit set in stone, can Schwartz transform the defense with the current talent?