Learning about Football: A Glimpse Of Stefanski’s Offense 

Kevin Stefanski
CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 09: Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski on the sideline during the second quarter of the National Football League game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns on January 9, 2022, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, OH. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

Fans and media that cover and consume the NFL love to focus on personnel. It’s easy.  We know players around the league, we can list coaches and GMs, hell, most of us can remember scores and atrocious officiating from years past.  But that doesn’t mean we know football.  These bits of knowledge are sexy, they make the game accessible, they attract new consumers, and build league revenue by giving the game personality.  I understand why the Xs and Os are largely avoided.  But, what about the actual game?

I watch every Cleveland Browns game from start to finish.  I know the personnel.  I could even tell you that a homeless guy convinced Jimmy Haslam to draft Johnny Manziel in 2014 (  Although all of that amazing information is living in my head, I know little about the philosophy and strategy behind the curtain.  I, like many other fans, never played organized football.  My school didn’t have a program so I played soccer.  I know, soccer, ew gross.  So, I decided a great place for us to start learning is with that favorite team of ours, The Cleveland Browns.

Think of each team as an orchestra, players making up the musicians and the coach acting as the conductor.  Each orchestra may have the same instruments represented, but each has its own unique sound depending on the conductor’s vision.  That vision is exactly what we want to illuminate.  

Let’s focus on Kevin Stefanski, the head coach, and conductor of the Cleveland Browns, and try to answer some basic questions like; What is an example of our conductor’s offensive strategy? Where/who did this strategy come from?  If we can learn just a little bit about Stefanski’s philosophy and scheme, we can begin to see the game like a Cleveland Brown.

Simply put, Kevin Stefanski loves the run game.  He loves it so much that one of his first coaching hires in 2020 was the sought-after offensive line coach Bill Callahan.  Stefanski views the run as an avenue to pass, rather than the pass as an avenue to run.  He makes his opponent respect the run first, which allows for big chunk plays in the passing game.  It doesn’t hurt having Nick Chubb and company either.   

An Xs and Os example of this strategy is the wide zone or outside zone run scheme.  This scheme is gaining popularity around the league, probably because versions of it are wielded by golden boys Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay.   According to The Weekly Spiral, this approach “attacks space instead of players,” maybe that’s why they call it ‘outside zone’.  It doesn’t attack players because there are no man-blocking assignments.  The scheme is all about placement, timing, and getting to the outside.

Through the use of double team blocks that create an initial push at the line, zone blocking permits a “wait-and-see approach” where blockers executing the double teams can analyze defensive positioning and move from there (  If a play is able to develop, oftentimes the right defenders get blocked by the right offensive players, allowing the offense to get to the second level.  Ipso facto we move the ball.

The outside zone is just one example of a scheme that the Browns employ under Stefanski.  By no means did Stefanski invent this scheme.  Football philosophy and strategy are passed down and then evolved.  Meaning we have to focus on who taught our conductor music?  Who taught our conductor’s teacher music?  Who inspired our conductor?   Around the league, this inheritance and sharing of philosophies and styles are referred to as a ‘coaching tree’.  

The current Browns’ offense was born when Mike Shanahan and Gary Kubiak took the lead of the Denver Broncos in 1995.  They married Bill Walsh’s West Coast Offense with a zone-blocking scheme that was formulated by offensive line guru Alex Gibbs (The Ringer), and the scheme has been evolving ever since.  Some simple evolutions or wrinkles added to the zone scheme include pre-snap motion, play-action, and the run-pass option among many others.   

Though we love to focus on personnel, it is more important to understand how that personnel is being used.  Great coaches evolve schemes to enable players to execute at their strengths.  

The Cleveland Browns have been retooled to run this offense.  We have put importance on developing smart and athletic offensive linemen who are great run blockers.  We love using multiple tight ends that simultaneously add strength to the line and add the threat of a pass play.  All while employing the best running backs’ room in the league. 

By no means is this an all-inclusive guide to Stefanski’s Browns offense.  As I mentioned, I don’t have the football IQ to pull that off.  My goal is to make the point that knowing the characters doesn’t mean we know football.  But, if we slowly chip away at the mystery of the game we can find a new appreciation for it and begin thinking like a Cleveland Brown. 

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Will Rhodes

Written by Will Rhodes

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