In the face of a loss to the Seahawks, Browns coach Kevin Stefanski demonstrated his coaching expertise. While some may criticize his play-calling decisions and his trust in certain players, this week, Stefanski should receive some well-deserved credit. Despite playing against a top-10 EPA per play defense and contending with a noisy Seattle crowd, the Browns managed to score four times, secure 23 first downs, and gain 385 yards – the second-highest total this season – with a backup quarterback, P.J. Walker.
While Walker couldn’t lead the game-winning drive this time, Stefanski should be commended for giving him the opportunity. Stefanski’s cleverly designed screen plays to tight end David Njoku and Pierre Strong produced the Browns’ two longest plays from scrimmage. Nick Harris, who transitioned from center to guard to fullback for the Browns, created additional opportunities for Strong and Kareem Hunt. Stefanski also utilized Walker’s mobility with designed runs to keep the Seattle front seven honest.
As a result, the Browns’ offense performed well enough to alleviate the burden on their overworked defense. Before this game, the Browns had been averaging just 16.3 first downs in their previous three games since Deshaun Watson’s shoulder injury, a statistic that would rank 30th in the league over a full season. This had put a significant strain on the Browns’ defense.
However, in this game, the Browns maintained possession for 36 minutes and 40 seconds of the 60-minute contest against a formidable defense while playing on the road with a backup quarterback – a quarterback who, just last month, was on the practice squad. P.J. Walker certainly deserves credit for his role in the Browns’ success, but it’s essential to remember that the Chicago Bears, with a 2-5 record, did not consider him worth rostering at the beginning of the season.
Before this game, Walker had thrown only five career touchdowns compared to 14 interceptions, and he had recorded just one game with a passer rating above 100 out of 13 games with at least 10 pass attempts. He had thrown for 200 yards or more in only two games. However, in this game against Seattle, he threw for 248 yards and his first touchdown as a Brown but also had two interceptions, marking the fifth time in his career.
It’s understandable that in living rooms across Northeast Ohio, people might primarily remember these interceptions and question Stefanski’s decision to throw the ball. Such scrutiny comes with the territory of being a coach, as their decisions are easy to criticize. However, Stefanski made many good decisions on Sunday, despite the Browns losing on the road to a strong defense while starting a backup quarterback.
Critics wouldn’t be upset about losing under these circumstances if they considered the challenges Stefanski faced.