BEREA, Ohio — Say the word "analytics" to many Browns fans and you're sure to start a heated debate on how their football team operates. Maybe it's because many separate the game into two factions: the "nerds" and the "jocks," deeming individuals involved in football data to be the nerds and those who are the muscle and grit of the technique to be the jocks.
But in Cleveland, there is undoubtedly a mix of people who fit both descriptions, and that is often overlooked. General Manager Andrew Berry and Head Coach Kevin Stefanski both fall into the nerd category because they value data and attended Ivy League universities, but both also played football through college, Berry at Harvard and Stefanski at Penn.
The word "analytics" might also be polarizing because it's associated with Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta. DePodesta's role is one of mystery for many fans. The Browns describe the role as "implementing systems and processes to strengthen the Browns organization" and notes that "he works closely with Berry, Stefanski and members of the player development and research departments to optimize all organizational decision-making efforts."
DePodesta is in Berea around once a month, joining Monday meetings to help break down what they've seen from opponents and the success of their game plans from previous games and using that data to help adjust their approach. The data he collects, provides and analyzes is certainly a part of the game plan, but it's not the entire operation.
Still, the use of analytics has drawn the ire of some. Berry believes it's because it's talked about as if it's a negative thing by some—and that the word carries a lot of unnecessary weight for the simplicity of its mission.
Watch Andrew Berry talk about analytics:
“I think it is probably because of how analytics or how data are talked about, particularly in this market, it is a tool. It is an area of your operation, and it is something you can help to use to inform decision-making in a number of different areas. It is not the end all, be all. It is not a silver bullet. It is a tool, no different than areas we have in the support staff, scouting, a consultant or anything along those lines," Berry said.
A tool. Data to help inform decisions on the football field. Information all teams use and rely on to improve.
Now, of course, data can drive anyone in the wrong direction. For the Browns, the use of analytics is a balance and something they aim to use in a way that doesn't impede on the instinctive nature of football but rather help to guide it.
"It's no different with us internally where you want to make sure you put your finger on every area where you can have improvement or push to make sure that we ultimately get the results that are desired," Berry said. "This league is so competitive, and the margins are so small. If there was just one simple fix, if it was like, ‘Okay, well just do this or don’t do that,’ our jobs would be a lot easier – that I can assure you. Data is something that is helpful, but ultimately, we have to apply it correctly and make the right decisions in a number of different areas."
The Browns use many different tools to analyze and drive the team. A disappointing season with a 7-10 record may want fans to drive in a totally new direction to see real change, but pointing at analytics as the focus of that change is misplacing the blame.
Coaching, game planning, execution, talent—they are all things the Browns will look to improve heading into 2023. They'll do that by taking lessons from the season and, yes, using data from the year as well.
"It's a tool that we will continue to use. It's a tool that obviously many of the top organizations use in the league and really is used across every industry. We obviously feel good about that group. They will continue to be a resource for the team across all areas of football operations," Berry said.
Analytics are not going anywhere—but they're also not the thing standing in the way of success. That's something that's more than just one singular reason and the Browns will need to pick apart this offseason.
In the meantime, don't let data drive you crazy.
Camryn Justice is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.
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