Kevin Stefanski: 'I need to do a better job' of getting Odell Beckham involved in Browns' offense

It’s a tired storyline at this point of the Odell Beckham experiment in Cleveland, but the numbers (or lack thereof) do not lie: The Browns are not giving enough attention to OBJ.

We’re now in Year 3 of Beckham’s stint in Cleveland — one that could potentially end by Tuesday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline — and the Browns still don’t know how to properly use the star receiver. Sunday was a low point for the pairing, with Beckham seeing just one target in the entirety of a 15-10 loss to Pittsburgh.

Beckham caught the target (a first-quarter screen pass) and gained six yards. His only other target was a desperate throw down the middle of the field that was slightly errant and might have gotten Beckham walloped had he fully sold out to attempt the catch.

That was it. The Browns twice failed to erase Pittsburgh’s small lead, and Beckham was again a nonfactor.

“First and foremost, I need to do a better job,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said Monday, via Cleveland.com. “I really do. I need to make sure that I put him in position to make some plays and I didn’t do a good enough job, certainly yesterday. Having said that, he gets a lot of attention from the defense. There were a bunch of plays where the safety is cheating to him and that opens up opportunities for other guys.

“I think of an early third down that we had where the post safety stayed to the boundary side because he was cheating towards Odell and we hit a big play to Jarvis, so his effect on our offense is there. But I do need to do a better job of making sure the ball makes its way into his hands.”

This has been a common (and largely justified) theme with Beckham since he arrived in Cleveland. Fantasy football owners cry out in frustration as they watch the Browns throw to everyone not named Beckham, while Beckham’s presence makes it possible for others to thrive. Those watching at home wonder why No. 13 isn’t more involved, and when the losses start to mount as they have in recent weeks in Cleveland, their soft-spoken inquiries become enraged demands.

The Browns, in turn, respond with the same line: He attracts a lot more attention than you realize. It’s valid and often justified, but doesn’t quell the outrage from angry fans.

Sunday’s no-show from the Browns and Beckham couldn’t have come at a worse time. Since Beckham arrived via blockbuster trade in 2019, Cleveland has spent a year floundering under the direction of Freddie Kitchens, then lost Beckham to a season-ending ACL injury in Week 7 of the 2020 season. This year stood as his best chance to make an impact, yet he’s more irrelevant than ever — and the calls to trade him are building.

The problem for Cleveland is simple: The club won’t get much in return for Beckham at this point (and they might also upset their most important receiver, Jarvis Landry´╗┐). And pound for pound, the Browns will still struggle to find a more dynamic playmaker than Beckham. It’s just about figuring out a way to feature Beckham, even if it requires a bit of stubbornness on the part of Stefanski.

Of course, that all depends on whether Stefanski still sees Beckham as the game-breaker the football world has known him to be.

“I do, yeah,” Stefanski said. “Based off what I see from him each week, and again, I just think he can affect the game and that’s where I’m really making sure that myself and coaches, we have to put him in position to make some plays.”

There’s also the question of fit. Stefanski’s offense dials up screens with the best of them, and it isn’t exactly a deep-shot type of scheme. Of course, a simple rebuttal to this statement would be to feed Beckham the ball with short-yardage attempts. Run the bubble and tunnel screens coaches are so infatuated with, or get Beckham going on a jet sweep or reverse. It worked in Dallas last year, why not try it again?

Well, Stefanski hasn’t exactly gotten into a play-calling rhythm as of late. Cleveland’s offense has faltered and isn’t near the well-paced unit it was for much of 2020. Maybe it’s more about play-calling, execution (´╗┐Baker Mayfield is not free from critique here, and neither are Landry’s multiple drops in Sunday’s loss) and the absence of players like Kareem Hunt than it is about Beckham.

“No, I think, you’re not going to like to hear it, but I need to do a better job,” he said. “We scored 10 points, so I certainly have to do a better job there.”

It seems calling the offense as it’s designed won’t be enough to get Beckham the ball. Cleveland might need to force-feed the star to get him going, much like the Browns did with Landry in Week 7. It just sounds as if the Browns aren’t all that willing to do it.

“We have to find ways to format it and get the ball in his hands,” Mayfield said. “We’re not trying to force it to anybody. We have a talented skill group so I just have to continue to go through my reads and do that. We can do a better job of getting the ball in his hands, getting him going early and fixing that.”

We’ll see if Beckham is still around to get going early this weekend.

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