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Previewing the Browns 'make or break' season for coach Kevin Stefanski

Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski points left as Browns players talk in the background before the start of an NFL preseason football game between the Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo.
Ed Zurga
/
AP
Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski on the field before an NFL preseason football game between the Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo.

The Browns open the season on Sunday against Cincinnati with a revamped roster led by quarterback Deshaun Watson. Ideastream Public Media's sports commentator Terry Pluto said Head Coach Kevin Stefanski also revamped his coaching staff, and in his fourth year at the helm, Stefanski faces pressure to deliver a winning season.

“They brought in Jim Schwartz to be the defensive coordinator and then Bubba Ventrone to be the special teams coach. Now, Kevin Stefanski, himself, with a guy named Alex Van Pelt, they're in charge of the offense. This is like, ‘We’ll change some coordinators, see how it goes, and then frankly, if it doesn't go very well, you're next,’ in terms of the head coach. You're out. So, this is a make or break year, I think, for Stefanski in Cleveland,” Pluto said.

Pluto said it’s a talented team.

“It's a playoff caliber roster, not just because of Deshaun Watson, but, you know, Nick Chubb, Myles Garrett. They brought in a guy, Za'Darius Smith, who's a very good pass rusher. They did play more the defensive guys than the offensive guys (in the preseason). And that, to me, was very impressive. They changed a lot of their strategy around they're looking more aggressive, so that's something to watch,” Pluto said.

But Pluto believes Deshaun Watson made a mistake on Aug. 26 when he said to expect “fireworks” in Cleveland’s opener vs. Cincinnati.

“That was a bad idea to say that because it's the first game of the season. In fact, those of you who like to wager on these things, I can tell you a lot of — I don't bet — but I've talked to some folks that this is what they do. They say the first week is a very dangerous time to bet on games because you don't know what you're going to get,” Pluto said.

Pluto said what’s most important is that Watson improves throughout the season.

“My sense is that he could be pretty good early on and then we'll see what happens after that. What I want to see is how is he playing in week number eight, week number 12, you know, up to game 17. Will he be improving? Will the offense be growing with him?” Pluto said.

The Browns went a surprising 11-5 during Stefanski’s first season in 2020, then went 8-9 and last year the team went 7-10. Pluto said the Browns must win 10 games this season for Stefanski to keep his job. He thinks they can get there.

I keep going between 9-8 and 10-7. If it's 9-8, that might get a bunch of people fired. I would love to see them go a minimum, I'll go with10-7 and, whether they make the playoffs or not, I don't know if that's good enough. To me, that would be a good season, especially if you see Watson growing in that. So that they can come back with kind of your same coaching staff next year and continue to grow from there,” Pluto said.

Amanda Rabinowitz is the host of “All Things Considered” on Ideastream Public Media.