Browns players are officially on their bye week after two days' worth of meetings at the CrossCountry Mortgage Campus.
The work, though, very much continues behind the scenes as the Browns look to play their best football of the season in their final five games all of which come against teams with significant playoff aspirations — as they mount a push toward the postseason.
Browns Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager Andrew Berry met with local reporters for 30 minutes to discuss a number of topics about the Browns' present and future.
Here were five of the highlights.
1. Browns' 6-6 record 'does not reflect the aspirations we had'
Berry made it clear in his opening statement that neither he nor anyone else is satisfied with the team's 6-6 record heading into the bye. The Browns believed they would be in a much better position to make the playoffs at this point of the season, but it's the hand they've been dealt as they look to make a run over the next five weeks and return to the postseason for a second straight year.
"Obviously," Berry said, "that does not reflect the aspirations that we had at this point in the season."
Berry, though, is optimistic about the possibilities that remain over the next month-plus. He expects the coaching staff to make the "necessary adjustments" on offense, defense and special teams to best position the team for success in games against the Ravens, Raiders, Packers, Steelers and Bengals — none of whom carry a losing record entering Week 13.
"I think oftentimes people talk about adversity or challenges really when it is convenient, but the reality is it is really important to us as a team and organization because No. 1, you learn a lot about people, whether it is on the field, publicly or privately, but also, adversity is universally important for growth," Berry said. "I think that is something that we need as a team and we need as an organization, and I think the next five games provide us with a valuable opportunity to grow and work through what will be a very difficult stretch. The reality of it is entering the season and entering December, you hope for the opportunity to play meaningful football late in the year, and that is something that is still right in front of us.
"We are going to play five teams that I think are playoff caliber – four in the AFC and three in our division. I am excited about that opportunity. I am excited to learn about how our team deals with adversity and the resolve, and that is something that we are looking forward to seeing how our group responds out of the bye.
2. Berry expects Mayfield's "best football" down the stretch
Berry lauded Browns QB Baker Mayfield for being "incredibly, physically tough" during a season in which he's suffered injuries to four different body parts. Mayfield, though, is as healthy as he's been since Week 2, and Berry is confident Mayfield will "play his best football down the stretch" starting Week 14 against the Ravens.
"I think he has told you guys he has felt healthier week to week. At the same time, I expect and I am looking forward to seeing our guys work through this tough stretch, and that is not just Baker; that is our entire team," Berry said. "At the end of the day, we want to be playing our best football in December, and that is really our mission. That is our charge."
Check out the best photos from the Browns game against the Ravens yesterday by the Browns photo team
3. No one reason for Browns' inconsistency
Berry said the Browns' different phases of the team have been "on or off" throughout the first 12 weeks of the season, leading him to conclude there hasn't been one singular issue at play.
Early in the season, Cleveland's offense played its best football but the defense struggled, particularly in high-scoring losses at Kansas City and against the Los Angeles Chargers. Over the past six games, which featured the Browns rotating each week between wins and losses, the offense has scored more than 20 points on just one occasion while the defense has kept opponents under 20 all but once.
"I know that is something that obviously we are hard at work analyzing with our coaching staff so that we can ultimately play our best ball in December," Berry said. "I think, just quite honestly, different stretches in the season have had different challenges or different issues so I do not think there is necessarily a one-size-fits-all answer to that."
The passing game, in particular, has struggled since Week 5. And while Mayfield has played through a number of injuries during the stretch, Berry said the burden goes beyond the quarterback.
"It starts from the play call from the sideline that hopefully has the right solutions for whatever the defensive strategy is. Then it goes to the protection for your offensive line, your running backs and your tight ends at times. It goes to your receivers being in the right place at the right time and winning their matchups. Then it goes to your quarterback getting the ball to the right location at the right time accurately," Berry said. "Quite frankly, there have been different pieces within the passing offense that maybe have functioned at a very efficient and high level at times during the season and other pieces have not necessarily been there. I think it has not been any one of those components, but it is something that obviously we are hard at work to make sure everything can be on the same page and coordinated as we enter the stretch run here."
4. Stefanski's "accountability exactly what you want' for adverse stretches
Berry said Kevin Stefanski, the reigning NFL Coach of the Year, is exactly the kind of leader he likes to have for the situation the Browns currently face.
"He has all of the virtues and characteristics that are important for the leader of our organization," Berry said. "I think it starts with his self-awareness and accountability. It goes to his level of introspection in terms of the team and the job that our group is doing, and it also goes to his open-mindedness and his ability to adjust. I think he has been very transparent with you guys in terms of the areas where he has felt like our team can perform at a higher level.
"I talk about adversity. I think Kevin's level of accountability is exactly what you want in tough stretches, and I think our guys take their cue from him."
5. Praise for DPJ
Berry had high praise for WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, who has emerged as a key playmaker in Cleveland's offense less than two years since the Browns plucked him from the sixth round.
Despite a groin injury that's kept him out of multiple games, Peoples-Jones has 18 catches for 340 yards and three touchdowns. He's among the team's best deep threats and has been lauded by Stefanski and others for his reliability.
"I will be honest, with Donovan, he has probably come along more quickly than I would have anticipated when we drafted him, and that is a credit to him," Berry said. "In terms of his next steps, obviously, he has a really great opportunity in front of him. I think part of it is he has probably been a little bit of stop and start this year from the injury side of things, but he obviously has and will continue to play a major role in the passing game for us this year. It is an incredible opportunity for him to continue to make plays and ultimately help us win games."