CLEVELAND, Ohio — Kevin Stefanski declined to give his embattled defense coordinator Joe Woods a vote of confidence Monday or put his feet in the fire.
Instead, he did what he always does: stay on the single track until the next game, which in this case is a visit from the 5-5 Bucs and Tom Brady.
“My focus is on us getting better,” Stefanski said in his video conference on Monday. “My focus is on us winning against Tampa and playing good offense, good defense and good special teams. That is my focus.”
After Sunday’s 31-23 loss to the Bills that dropped the Browns to 7-3, Woods has come under heavy fire again for his porous run-run defense en route to their sixth loss in seven games 171 yards surrendered. It was the fifth time in the last seven games that the Browns have rushed for 160 yards or more — all losses. It followed their 195-yard effort, or lack thereof, in last week’s 39-17 loss to the Dolphins.
The Browns are also 31st in the NFL with 26.9 points allowed per game and 31st in defensive DVOA, according to Football Outsiders. They’ve only forced eight turnovers for the third-least in the NFL.
But when he pressed why he might be reluctant to shake up the staff in the season, he stuck firmly to the party line.
“My focus is really this week and what we can do this week to get a win,” he said. “I understand frustration. I get it. i own it I own everything We have to share it as players, coaches and staff.”
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As for the support he’s receiving from Brown’s owners during the skid, he said he’s meeting with them every week.
“They’re here every day, so they have great conversations throughout the day,” Stefanski said. “We’re all frustrated – I get that part of it – but again the focus is on this week and what we can do this week to go 1-0.”
Stefanski was asked about the cryptic remarks made by two defensive starters after the loss, Myles Garrett and Grant Delpit. Garrett said “there’s not enough emphasis on takeaways in practice,” and Delpit said “you can’t trust your teammates if the guys don’t know what to do.” It was unclear if they were more about players or coaches spoke, but Garrett clarified that the players do not meet their own snack goals in practice.
“When you’re 3-7, there’s frustration,” Stefanski said. “That’s us today, 3-7. The bottom line is that every person in this building – players, coaching staff and you name it – needs to have this attitude of fixing anything that needs fixing. That is our focus today. I can’t speak to those specific things that these guys said, but those are conversations I’ll have with our guys.
Stefanski’s staff practice takeaways and ball protection more than most Browns staff in the past, which is why Garrett — who has two stripes this season and is slightly more average per season — may have been referring more to the players than the coaches.
“Again, Myles speaks for Myles,” said Stefanski. “I’ll talk to him about it. I know that, we put a lot of emphasis on takeaways in our building. We didn’t get them. That was our problem. In these games we need to take away the football and we will look for ways to do that.”
He also said he believes the players are well-prepared for the games despite the missed tackles and some failed markings.
“I do,” he said. “Mental mistakes and things like that happen in football. I am not naïve to say that we will play the perfect game. I think these guys work very, very hard during the week to make sure they know exactly what we’re doing.
“If the other team is making a game, they are making a game, but you have to reach out and get them down on the ground. Overall we understand what we are doing. I think the guys are putting in the work.”
He said run defensive is more a matter of execution than anything else.
“Basically, we have to make sure we’re playing fast, we can close our gaps and we’re solid in everything we do,” he said. “I didn’t do that enough yesterday. You have to tackle, you have to run to the ball and all that stuff. We will keep looking at this and find a way because teams will keep trying to run the football and we have to stop it.”
He acknowledged that they try to give their players good game plans that allow them to play fast.
“When you arrive on Sundays you don’t want to think; They want to react,” he said. “We look at all these things. We look at walkthroughs, how we do walkthroughs, and how often we do walkthroughs. All of these things are important for your preparation because it depends on your preparation.
“Nevertheless, it’s important for our players and for our coaches to create a plan for this week. We can control this week and we will.”
Execution and preparation go hand in hand, he said, which means players and coaches work together.
“We’re all part of that,” he said. “3-7, we all share it. That defines us today, but the focus now is what we’re going to do this week.”
The offense and special teams chimed in with their share of errors: Jacoby Brissett was credited with a fumble on a bad snap by backup center Hjalte Froholdt, and he was stopped in third and 1 and fourth and 1; Harrison Bryant and Pharaoh Brown dropped safe TD passes in the end zone; Cade York blocked a field goal and the Browns failed to recover an onside kick for the third time this season.
“Looking back on that game, of course there were just a few really missed chances,” said Stefanski. “You go and play against a good football team, you have to take chances when you get into the red zone and you have to get away with a seven. We just didn’t take chances. In the second half we need to find a way to stop and play complementary football.
“We just didn’t do that. That’s what [happens] when you get these results that we got yesterday. We must find a way. We have another good team coming to us this week and we need to find a way to go 1-0 this week.
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