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5 Observations: Browns thriving on 3rd down - no matter the distance

Thursday's media availability -- all four press conferences and 45 minutes of locker room access of it -- is in the books.

Here's what the Browns are saying about Sunday's showdown with the Broncos.

1) Browns thriving on 3rd down - no matter the distance

Lost amid a number of franchise highs and personal records set last week at Baltimore was the 12 third downs Cleveland converted against the Ravens. That was good for a tie for the franchise record.

That type of success has been a constant through five games this season. The 12-of-19 performance vaulted the Browns to second in the AFC and third in the NFL in third-down efficiency (36-of-75).

When last season came to a close, Cleveland was last in the NFL in third-down efficiency.

"It's just the scheme," wide receiver Taylor Gabriel said. "(Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo) is doing a good job of putting guys in a position to make a play."

The Browns have picked up their fair share of third-and-shorts, but there have been plenty of other third-and-longs that have been overcome, too. Four of last week's 12 conversions were on third-and-8 or longer. The Browns converted three third downs on their only possession of overtime to set up a game-winning field goal.

Browns quarterback Josh McCown is second in the league with a 123.2 rating on third down.

"The first thing he does is stand in the pocket. On third-and-long, you know you're probably going to get hit," DeFilippo said. "It is probably going to be a second or third hitch throw to get to the sticks. You know you are going to get hit, so to me No. 1, toughness and staying in the pocket is one reason why he is very good on third-and-long. No. 2, I think he has a great understanding of what we are trying to do offensively and what the defense is giving him. He has not been afraid to check the ball down."

Browns coach Mike Pettine was quick to praise DeFilippo's play-calling and the preparation that's put into converting such pivotal plays. Gabriel said practice includes repetition of plays for third-and-2, third-and-4, third-and-8 and even more.

"It's all little things," Pettine said. "Gotten open, ran good routes, caught the ball. We've been accurate with the football. You want to talk about success offensively, the ability to steal a couple third downs, especially the longer ones, I think is a key part of it."

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2) The latest on injuries

Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden remained in concussion protocol and safety Tashaun Gipson (ankle) did not practice Thursday.

Inside linebacker Craig Robertson (ankle), who has missed the past two games and did not practice Thursday, is close to resuming running, Pettine said.

Running back Robert Turbin, who has yet to play since he joined the Browns in Week 1 because of an ankle injury, "looks good" and was "close" to playing in last week's game at Baltimore.

"I think in a pinch he could have gone but we wanted to get him 100 percent and I think he's right close to that now, this week," Pettine said. "Today will be a big day for him being in pads. We'll see how it goes and then at some point tomorrow we'll just determine what does he know, what's his comfort zone."

Though McCown was listed as limited at Wednesday's practice because of a sore ankle, Pettine said the veteran took all of the repetitions the team asked of him and is confident he'll be "good to go" Sunday.

3) Coaches hurt for Scott Solomon

What had the chance to be a breakout season for linebacker Scott Solomon officially came to an end Wednesday when the outside linebacker was placed on injured reserve.

Solomon missed all but a few snaps of the first four games because of an ankle injury. He severely injured his knee in last week's first half and gutted through the pain the rest of the way.

"It's unfortunate for Scott because of how much he invested in this offseason and then to get hurt in the first game the way he did, to work his way back and then to have another injury. You feel for the kid," Pettine said. "He came and talked to me yesterday and it's tough for a guy like that who's put so much into it and just have to the season go the direct opposite way that you thought it would go."

Pettine said it would be determined in the near future whether Solomon needed surgery.

"I'd be lying to you If I didn't say I was excited about Scott Solomon going into the year," defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil said. "I feel horrible for the kid because I know how hard he's worked and just given his past, cut here, cut there, cut here and then he gets a chance here. It's just tough but that's the game."

4) Browns know opportunities could be limited on punt returns

It's safe to say Travis Benjamin has the NFL's attention, particularly when he trots out to return punts.

Benjamin was able to return just two of six last week, as Baltimore's Sam Koch effectively angled his punts deep and toward the sidelines. Some went completely out of bounds while others forced Benjamin to drift and ultimately have his momentum take him out of bounds. He picked up 1 yard on his two returns.

"If we get limited opportunities, we just keep preaching we have to take advantage," Browns special teams coordinator Chris Tabor said. "If we only get one opportunity, we have to take advantage of it."

It won't get any easier against Denver's Britton Colquitt, who has been one of the league's most consistent punters since he joined the Broncos in 2009. Even with the limited opportunities last week, Benjamin continues to lead the NFL in total punt return yards (216) and is fourth in average per return (15.4).

5) Does anything faze Travis Coons?

As the Browns marched down the field during overtime last week in Baltimore, Tabor approached Travis Coons with a question that's customary between a coordinator and his kicker before a potential game-winning field goal attempt.

Tabor received a unique answer when he asked which hash mark Coons, who is 11-for-11 on the season and equally perfect on extra points, preferred for what would be a 32-yard kick.

"He just kind of looked at me and said 'I don't care, whichever one you would like Tabes,' so that made me feel good," Tabor said. ""I would say that's him in a nutshell right there."

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