1. Pettine points to 2 areas he expects to blossom in 2016
With his eyes locked on Sunday's season finale against the Steelers, Browns coach Mike Pettine briefly allowed himself to peer toward the future as he examined which areas of his team he expects to grow and flourish between now and the start of the 2016 season.
Two things jumped out to him right away: the young group of players that has shown steady improvement throughout the 2015 season and offensive coordinator John DeFilippo's system.
The "on-the-job training" many of Cleveland's younger players have received this season, whether it be because they earned a prominent role or took one over because of circumstance, will only pay off as they head into the offseason.
"The obvious one is Johnny (Manziel) but then you go to Malcolm Johnson before he got hurt, Duke Johnson (Jr.)," Pettine said on a Monday conference call with reporters. "Defensively, (Nate) Orchard, Danny Shelton, Xavier Cooper, Ibraheim Campbell. Even the second-year guys, whether it was (Christian) Kirksey, (Joel) Bitonio before he got hurt, (Isaiah) Crowell. We have a lot of guys on this team that are first-, second-, third-year that are playing a lot for us. All of that experience can do nothing but help as we move forward."
Pettine said DeFilippo's recent adjustments to the Browns' running attack have been particularly encouraging.
The Browns went six consecutive games during the thick of the season without clearing 100 rushing yards before they erupted for 230 against the 49ers and a season-high 232 on Sunday against the Chiefs. It's been enough to vault the Browns from near the bottom in the NFL's rushing rankings to 18th with an average of 96.2 per game.
Pettine said the players have "really bought in" to DeFilippo's system.
"It's kind of a league-wide trend and we've joined it," Pettine said. "It's almost the college-type running game where you're working off a box count and reading the back tight end, versus a light box you're going to run it. Heavier box you're going to throw it out there or have the quarterback pull it.
"I think you see the rushing totals in the league going up as a result. You don't see a lot of teams having success running with two backs anymore. It's the spread attack and it's something that we've evolved to as the years gone on and in the last three weeks have had two of the highest rushing totals that the Browns have ever had."
2. Armonty Bryant update
Browns linebacker Armonty Bryant will not be active in Sunday's season finale against the Steelers, Pettine said.
Bryant, who was inactive against the Chiefs in the wake of an off-field incident, finishes his third season with 40 tackles and 5.5 sacks.
Pettine did not have injury updates for kick returner Raheem Mostert (ankle) and wide receiver Marlon Moore (concussion) but said Mostert's injury wasn't as severe as initially believed.
A close-up look at all of the action from Sunday's game.
3. Grading Manziel
Pettine said Manziel's run grade was "obviously" much higher than what he received in the assessment of his passing, but the struggles he faced in the latter were a function of other aspects of the offense.
Manziel finished with 111 rushing yards, the most ever by a Browns quarterback, on a day in which he completed just 13-of-32 passes for 136 yards and an interception. He completed just six passes to wide receivers.
"We had some miscommunication on some routes, we had some mental errors, we missed some blocks up front," Pettine said. "I thought Johnny did a good job avoiding the rush … Yeah, he had his share of mistakes, he missed some throws.
"If you were down on the field I think you'd get a sense that those were not easy conditions to throw the ball in. That was a pretty good cross wind, it actually blew the ball on the ground a couple of times where the officials had to reset it. Overall, I think it was a tough day for both teams to really get their pass game going but it was a good learning experience for him."
Pettine said Manziel may have taken a step backward when it pertained to his footwork, which grew in importance because of the adverse conditions. He joked he's only holding his breath on every other snap Manziel takes, which is an improvement.
"We want to take advantage of his skillset, but at the same time we don't want every play, as I have always said, to turn into a punt return," Pettine said.
4. Step in the right direction for Cameron Erving
After a review of the film, Cameron Erving's first NFL start at right guard went better than his previous starts on the other side of the offensive line, Pettine said.
Erving wasn't perfect by any means. He was "bailed out" by Manziel on a couple of quarterback pressures he surrendered and made some mistakes, but it was a "good experience" for the first-round rookie, Pettine said.
"I think overall it was a step forward for Cam," Pettine said. "He made mistakes, but I think some of the mistakes he had made in previous games you would have considered critical ones, where it was giving up a sack or a penalty at a bad time. Most of his mistakes were technical. They were small things. We grade our guys hard. I think Cam definitely took a step forward yesterday."
Erving will have one more opportunity at right guard Sunday against the Steelers, the opponent whom he faced in his first career start in November.
5. Explaining the block
Low kick trajectory was cited as the main reason for the previous three Travis Coons field goal attempts being blocked, but Sunday's was stopped for an entirely different reason.
Pettine said slow operation time allowed Kansas City's Daniel Sorensen to block Coons' 51-yard attempt at the end of the first half. All four of Coons' misses this season have come on blocks.
"It was above the timing, our average time to get it off," Pettine said. "It was probably more of a function of that than anything else."