When Kevin Stefanski arrived in Cleveland with a new playbook for the Browns, he envisioned a specific level of production from each strength of the offense.
The Browns, he believed, were capable of totaling more than 400 yards per game. The heart of the offense would come through RBs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. The rushing duo would be near impossible to stop for four quarters, and their dominance could kickstart big plays for QB Baker Mayfield to connect with WRs Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and a talented crop of TEs.
Stefanski saw that plan come together Thursday night at FirstEnergy Stadium, where the Browns won 35-30 over the Cincinnati Bengals for their first win of 2020. Cleveland totaled 434 yards of offense and scored five touchdowns against their AFC North rival, and all corners of the offense clicked to deliver Stefanski his first win as a coach in Cleveland.
"It was a good team win," Stefanski said in a postgame Zoom call. "We were productive tonight after a very short week of practice. We know what our system is and we know what we want it to look like. I was proud of the guys."
Check out photos of the Browns against the Bengals on Thursday Night Football
The Browns bet on themselves to come back for their 2020 home opener and deliver a big Week 2 win after falling well short of expectations Sunday in a season-opening loss in Baltimore. That performance, which featured 306 yards of offense and only 168 passing yards, strayed away from the principles the Browns touted in an abbreviated training camp.
Chubb and Hunt were kept out of the end zone. The wide receivers struggled to corral substantial catches. The Browns were held to six points.
All of that could be forgotten Thursday after the first 20 minutes, though, when the Browns possessed the ball twice and plowed through the Bengals defense for two touchdowns.
Chubb notched the first score after he steamrolled through nearly half of the Bengals defense for an 11-yard touchdown. Beckham took his scoring turn on the next drive by catching a 43-yard deep strike from Mayfield, who couldn't have placed the ball more perfectly into Beckham's hands before he fell into the end zone.
"It felt great," Mayfield said. "We were able to establish the run game. We were able to get completions. (I wanted to) get the ball in their hands and let them do the work. I'm surrounded by talent, so I'm making sure we're taking care of that."
The Browns slowly added more weight on the run game in the second half to drain the clock, but the touchdowns didn't stop. Both Chubb and Hunt converted on goal-line runs to maintain Cleveland's lead, and the touchdowns highlighted perhaps the best performance the duo has had since their creation last season — 210 rushing yards, three touchdowns and a plethora of broken tackles and painful bruises delivered to the opposing defense.
One of Stefanski's biggest challenges discussed in the offseason was his usage of the two Pro Bowl backs. Not many coaches have the luxury of deploying two guys capable of winning the league's rushing title because it's difficult to provide adequate opportunities to such a loaded backfield.
Stefanski might've put that notion to rest Thursday. Chubb and Hunt both contributed equally in the win, and the Bengals could rarely bring either of the rushers down without the help of multiple defenders.
"Those are two talented backs," Stefanski said. "They complement each other and push each other. We're always looking for unique ways to get them the rock. They did a very nice job tonight."
The passing game showed tremendous improvement, too. Mayfield wasn't sacked, and his patience in the pocket was palpable as he delivered an array of perfect spirals to open receivers at all depths of the field.
His one blemish came in the fourth quarter, when William Jackson III stepped in front of a potential touchdown pass to TE Harrison Bryant. The Bengals made use of the turnover with a touchdown, but then Cleveland stormed downfield again and took back a two-possession lead on Hunt's rushing touchdown.
The offense didn't falter after Mayfield's error. That's what a well-rounded unit is supposed to do.
"I thought we made the most out of the strengths of our players," Mayfield said. "We were physical up front, took our 1-on-1 shots and found completions and just kept the chains moving. We did a good job of not falling behind. Keeping the chains moving is what this offense is all about."
Stefanski had that mantra in mind in the offseason when he began scripting plays. The Browns have talented players all across the offense, and his task was to turn them into a winning football team.
Now, he can check off that first win. The journey, however, has just begun, and the Browns are counting down the days until they can prove their offensive potency again.
"It's not a marathon. It's 16 sprints," Stefanski said. "We had our second sprint tonight. We needed everything we got from those guys for a week. We don't 'ride the wave.' We just show up and play."