“Before I get started, I just want to take the opportunity on Veterans Day to honor, to thank and to salute all the men and women who have served our country. Honoring veterans is very important to the Cleveland Browns organization. At practice today, we will host about 90 guests from all five branches [of the military and] USO of Northern Ohio. It is always a real good experience for the coaches and for the players, as well. We look forward to meeting them and thanking them.
“As far as the game, back in the division for the second of four division games in a row. The Steelers, as always, post a big challenge for us, especially playing down there. Offensively, a lot of weapons. Obviously, there is uncertainty about the quarterback. With (Steelers RB Le’Veon) Bell being out, (Steelers RB) DeAngelo Williams has filled in and done an outstanding job. I think the receiving group is special – you start with (WR) Antonio Brown, but then it is big weapons across the board. They have guys who have all demonstrated they can take a short throw and turn it into a big one. We have to make sure we are preaching running to the ball, getting in good angles, tackling well, never assuming a guy is down. We have to be extremely on point with that defensively this week.
“Defensively, very similar scheme wise to what they were in the past under (former Steelers defensive coordinator and Titans associate head coach) Dick LeBeau. (Steelers defensive coordinator) Keith Butler stepped in. A lot of the pressure stuff is still there. It causes a lot of stress on your blitz pickup. They force you to get the ball out fast. They speed up your clock. You feel it sometimes even when it is not there just because of the threat of it.
“It is a big challenge for us on the special teams front, as well. Looking forward to going down there and competing. It is a great environment to go down there and play. I have been a part of some wins there. There is nothing like it. It will be a great football atmosphere for us, and we look to give us some momentum heading into the bye.
“On the injury front, we already know (OL Joel) Bitonio is going to be out. (QB) Josh (McCown) is progressing. He threw some yesterday. He will practice some in a limited fashion today. (DBs) Joe Haden and Whit (Donte Whitner) are still in the concussion protocol. Everybody else on the injury report should be good to practice in at least a limited fashion.”
On assessments that QB Johnny Manziel doesn’t fit the offensive system and balancing the two to fit a round peg into a square hole:
“I don’t know if I necessarily see it as that extreme. There are a lot of elements of this offense, a lot. (QB) Josh (McCown) is mobile, throws the ball well on the run. That is very suited to Johnny, as well. If you would ask Flip (offensive coordinator John DeFilippo), he would always want to have a guy that has some mobility to him, whether to extend plays or whether it is by design. I don’t necessarily see this offense as not necessarily being conducive to his skillset. If he was the starter, would we highlight more of the package that best suits him? Sure, we would do that with any player that we have out there. I think a bigger deal is being made of it than is necessarily the case.”
On comparing Manziel’s performance in the first and second half as Cincinnati kept him in the pocket in the second half:
“They did a good job. Unfortunately, for us, there just weren’t that many opportunities to get going in the second half. Some of that was as a result of them playing well defensively. Some of that was us not playing well offensively. When you are not generating first downs and you can’t get drives sustained and get going, then that is tough. That is really why the second half – I know it was a seven-point game going into the fourth quarter – it was really starting to roll strongly the other way just for that reason. The defense had been out there most of the third quarter, and offensively, we hadn’t generated a first down.”
On if the Browns were unable to generate first downs because Manziel couldn’t escape the pocket:
“I don’t know. Like I said, the sample size wasn’t that big. We missed some throws. We dropped some balls, but I don’t think it is as general or easy to say that they adjusted and kept him in the pocket and that made the world of a difference. I think every play tells its own story.”
On if QB Austin Davis is pushing Manziel to become the backup QB:
“Austin is doing a nice job for us and he is a competitive guy. We are glad that he is here. I think that room generates a lot of competition. There aren’t many jobs on this team that are etched in stone, if that answers your question. Johnny will be the first to tell you that he missed some opportunities, missed some throws and we didn’t play well enough around him, whether he was getting flushed too soon or he was getting pressured or we weren’t able to come down with a ball that was catchable.”
On if McCown will play Sunday, given that he is practicing on a limited basis today:
“We will see how he responds to it. Just going through the treatment and some throwing yesterday, it is a progression. That is why we use day-to-day. We will know a lot more after today and see how he responds to the day of work.”
On if it is tough to tell how McCown will play until he takes a shot to his ribs, which he obviously would not occur in practice:
“Yes he won’t take one in practice. Any type of injury like that, I think that is fair to say.”
On being impressed with RB Duke Johnson Jr. and wanting to get him more involved in the running game:
“Yeah, Duke has done a good job for us. There have been some inconsistencies there, and some of it has been having the right [personnel]. From a personnel grouping standpoint, I know Flip has had some plays where he wanted to have him out there, and we felt after games that we needed to use him more. I think the more he touches the ball, the more comfortable he will come. He has certainly shown in his rookie year that it is not too big for him and he can be very productive. There are a lot of graduate level details that he needs to get cleaned up, but there is no substitute for going out there and playing and experiencing the live game reps. We are very pleased with where Duke is. I would agree he needs to be a big part of what we do, both run and pass.”
On if Johnson Jr. is the type pf player the Browns anticipated when drafting him:
“He is – a versatile guy that can make some runs. He has shown that he can put his foot in the ground and make some runs in this scheme. He is not one of those backs that is a perimeter back only and only going to head for the sidelines. He will run inside and gain some tough yards. In the pass game, he is everything we thought he would be, and I think the sky is the limit there. We feel that he is a tough draw for linebackers to cover. Teams, if they want to cover him successfully one-on-one, they will have to do it with a defensive back. He has a good feel for it, and I think he runs really good routes for being a running back. I think his hands are well above average for an NFL running back, as well.”
On if there is a timetable to name a starting QB for Sunday:
“I don’t have a drop-dead time. We’ll gather all the information tonight after practice, see where Josh is, probably revisit it in the morning and then go from there.”
On being concerned that Cincinnati’s success playing Cover 2 against the Browns gives the Steelers a roadmap to challenge Manziel:
“I’m not because there is no perfect defense. There’s no perfect coverage or else everyone would run it. It’s on us as an offensive staff to put our guys in the position to be successful, whether we have plays that are double-called based on coverage or if they want to lighten up and play two safeties deep, then we need to be able to run the football. I think that’s all a part of the NFL chess game. It’s just not as easy as ‘Hey, you’re playing a passing team. Let’s play Cover 2. That’s on us to get ourselves in the right play calls and get the ball to the right people.”
On if there are substantial differences between Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler and former Steelers defensive coordinator and Titans associate head coach Dick LeBeau:
“I wouldn’t say substantial. He’s putting his own stamp on it, but at the same it’s their core. They play a lot of zone, and when they pressure, it’s a lot of zone pressure. They can overload a side very easily. They still run where they cross the linebackers inside – they still do that. A lot of the staples of the LeBeau system. He’s doing a good job, and like I said, they put stress on your protection rules. They put stress on the running back recognizing blitz pick up and all that. It’s a good system.”
On if the Browns view Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger potentially being out due to injury as catching a break and evaluating Steelers QB Landry Jones:
“Would you view that as catching a break if Ben Roethlisberger were out (laughter)?
“Landry Jones has done a good job for them when he’s played. He’s not as mobile as Ben. I don’t think he fends off the rush as well as Ben, but then again, I don’t know if any quarterback in the league can do that. If you give him a clean pocket and you give him time, he can make the throws. They have playmakers, and a lot of his throws don’t have to be far down the field for them to be successful. To have the running game going, I think that would help him, as well. I’m sure their plan will be built around that, knowing what he is in comparison to Ben. He’s certainly capable if you allow him to be.”
On Steelers WR Antonio Brown and his impressive performance against the Raiders last Sunday:
“Hopefully, he’s a little worn out, a little dehydrated from last week (laughter). He’s a special player. It’s funny, you talk to Coach O’Neil (defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil) and he coached against him in the MAC when Jimmy was the secondary coach at Eastern Michigan. He remembers him back then that nobody could tackle him in the MAC. That has continued in the National Football League. The more you know about him and how he prepares and just the mindset he has and how competitive he is and passionate about football and then you take those intangibles and combine it with that skillset, it’s easy to see why he’s that successful. I also think (Steelers offensive coordinator) Todd Haley does an outstanding job. They don’t put him in one spot. They move him all over the place and they’re creative in how they get him the football. That’s frustrating because I know teams have had one or two guys free at the point of attack against him and he ends up making them miss and making a big play.”
On where he was in 2003 when the Browns most recently won at Pittsburgh:
“Where was I in 2003? I was in Baltimore. We might have won in Pittsburgh that year. I might have been enjoying a win there, I’m not sure. It’s a tough place to play, just like Baltimore is a tough place to play. I don’t think we can allow that – it is a coaching cliché – the games going to start 0-0. We understand it, but we also know that closing ground on the division is a big part of our future success here. We won at Cincinnati a year ago. We won at Baltimore this year. It would be huge for us to go down there and post a victory. Our guys are going to go down there with that mindset. Every game is different, and we’ll see how it plays out.”