The Cleveland Browns will try to re-group on their home field Thursday, as they host the Bengals less than a week after an embarrassing season-opening loss in Baltimore. And they'll have 6,000 fans in the stands cheering for a win. WKSU’s sports commentator Terry Pluto said the team has some work to do.
Pluto said the Browns looked ill-prepared and sloppy in their season opener, which was expected to a degree. The new staff under first-time head coach Kevin Stefanski had little time to prepare amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pluto said the Browns will face a Bengals team with rookie quarterback Joe Burrow at the helm, who had a solid debut in a last-second loss to the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday.
“First of all, the Bengals aren’t that good. What I want to see now is: Will Baker Mayfield look more comfortable? Will they look more like a team?” he said.
Pluto noted that Stefanski, former offensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings, looked very much like a rookie head coach.
“These coaches say, ‘I’m going to go into the game. I’m going to run the ball. We’re going to try and control the tempo a little bit.' They actually ran the ball some early, and they had a little success," Pluto said. "But they got behind 24-6 at the half because their defense is so terrible. In the second half, they come out throwing the ball all over the place, and it's a disaster.”
Mayfield and the coaching carousel
A lot of what the Browns can do will hinge on quarterback Mayfield’s ability to re-capture some of his rookie year form. Mayfield, who was the 2018 No. 1 overall pick and Heisman Trophy winner, was one of the worst quarterbacks in the league last season.
His performance Sunday had many fans on social media questioning whether he had the ability to lead the team.
“To be fair to Mayfield, this is his fourth head coach. He had Hue Jackson, then he had Gregg Williams, then he had Freddie Kitchens, and now he’s got Kevin Stefanski. I would not have wanted to keep learning four different systems in two-plus years," Pluto said.
Banged up for prime time
The Browns and Bengals come into Thursday's game with little time to recover physically.
“They had no preseason games, and they had very limited regular season practices in terms of hitting. They are going to be so sore after that first game in Baltimore,” Pluto said.
“Usually, you need two to three days after an NFL game if you played a lot to kind of get your body back together."
Pluto also said it shows how little the NFL regards Ohio's teams.
"They knew this Thursday's game was going to be awful on whatever teams they throw in there,” he said.
A hot ticket
Pluto attended Sunday's game in Balitmore that was played without fans.
"It was almost like watching this science project going on. It was all quiet in the press box, and we're looking through the glass and seeing the game," he said.
The Jacksonville Jaguars were the only NFL team to allow fans the first week of the season.
As for the Browns and Bengals, Gov. Mike DeWine granted a variance that allows them to have 6,000 fans at their first two home games.
Last week, the team began contacting season ticketholders in groups based on seniority. Each was given a timeslot to buy seats on a first-come, first-serve basis. Social distancing measures at the stadium include no more than 1,500 seated along the two sidelines and at both endzones.
“I talked to the Browns, and they said the 6,000 [tickets] sold out quick," Pluto said. He said he got curious about who bought tickets, so he asked for responses on his Facebook page. Fans said they paid a minimum of $100 a ticket. A couple people replied that they declined the ticket opportunity, saying they weren't comfortable being around crowds.