Andrew Berry admitted within the first few seconds of his bye week press conference Wednesday that the Browns aren't where they expected to be at this point of the season.
Berry, the Executive Vice President of Football Ops and General Manager, isn't content with the Browns' 6-6 record as they begin their Week 13 bye week. No one on the Browns feels differently, and Berry echoed the rest of the team's mindset as they take advantage of a week off to recharge and piece together a plan to finish strong — with the end goal still being to crack a playoff berth.
"We enter the bye week at 6-6, and that doesn't reflect the aspirations we had at the beginning of the season," Berry said. "With that being said, I think the bye comes at a really good time for us. The next five games will provide us with a really valuable opportunity. (They will) provide us with an opportunity to grow and work through what will be a really difficult stretch."
Berry is right: None of the next five games are against easy opponents. Three of them will be against divisional opponents, and all of them will be against teams with a record at or above .500, meaning every game is set to carry playoff ramifications for both teams.
Berry knows the Browns have several areas to address to come out of the bye as a better team, one that needs to build an extended win streak to have a shot at the playoffs. The margin for error couldn't be much smaller for Cleveland, which currently sits 12th in the AFC and five spots behind the cut for the playoffs.
The playoff chase, however, is a close one — the Chargers, who own the seventh seed and would be the last AFC team to make the playoffs, have the same number of wins and one fewer loss than the Browns. Plenty of shuffling in the playoff picture appears ahead, and Berry knows the Browns are hard at work ensuring they have a plan to come out in a good spot.
"The reality is, entering the season and entering December, you hoped for the opportunity to play meaningful football late in the year," he said. "That's something that is still right in front of us. We're going to play five teams that I think are playoff-caliber, and I'm excited about that opportunity. I'm excited to learn about how our team deals with adversity."
Check out the best photos from the Browns game against the Ravens yesterday by the Browns photo team
The adversity the Browns face stems from inconsistencies and a lack of complementary football. Cleveland ranks 17th in the league with 354 yards per game, while its defense has largely improved as the season has progressed and ranks third with 315.6 yards allowed per game. The Browns haven't allowed opponents to score 17 or more points in five of the last six games, but they also haven't scored more than 17 points in five of the last seven games.
That's largely why the results haven't been where the Browns hoped at the beginning of the season, and Berry believes the reasons for the underperformance stretch to multiple areas of the team — not to any individual player or group.
"At times during the season, the different phases of our team have kind of been on or off throughout the first 12 weeks," he said. "I know that's something that we're hard at work analyzing with our coaching staff so that we can ultimately play our best ball in December. I think different stretches in the season have had different challenges or different issues."
Berry commended Stefanski for staying true as a leader and being accountable for the Browns' highs and lows. He trusts Stefanski to spend time during the bye week to correct mistakes, particularly those that pertain to the offense and lack of explosive plays.
Those plays were a staple of Stefanski's offense last season, when he was named NFL Coach of the Year. A chunk of them came after a Week 8 bye, which gave the Browns all the time they needed to digest what worked best and outline how they could expand on it in the final eight games. The Browns went 6-2 in that stretch, one of the best periods the team has ever had in the expansion era of the franchise.
This year, they have five games to turn things around. The offense averaged only 297 yards per game in November and knows it must improve in all areas for the Browns to finish well. QB Baker Mayfield, who's 21st in the league with 2,413 passing yards, has thrown five touchdowns and three interceptions in the last five weeks and must elevate his game for the rest of the unit to grow. So, too, do all the pieces that surround him in Cleveland's passing attack.
The Browns have evidence of finding those solutions after a bye from last season, and Berry believes Stefanski can once again generate the spark they need.
"He has all of the virtues and characteristics that are important for the leader of our organization," Berry said. "I think it starts with his self-awareness and accountability. It goes to his level of introspection in terms of the team and the job that our group is doing, and it also goes to his open-mindedness and his ability to adjust."
Adjustments are a necessity for the Browns to finish the year where they want: in the playoffs. Several of them will be made this week as coaches and players take a step back to recharge for their most pivotal period of the season.
The climb to still attain the goals they had at the beginning of the year will be steep, but it's a challenge the Browns are welcoming.
"I'm excited to learn about how our team deals with adversity and the resolve," Berry said, "and that's something that we're looking forward to seeing how our group responds out of the bye."