The bye week for the Browns has officially arrived.
It comes at a good time as they look to recharge and review what went wrong and what went right after their 3-5 start to the season, but the mood is still otherwise positive after a 32-13 win over the Bengals on Monday. The team believes the arrow is pointing up for the second half, a point that was evident in Executive Vice President and GM Andrew Berry's press conference Wednesday at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus.
"You want to be playing your best football in November, December and January," Berry said. "I think that oftentimes, the best teams find out who they are and lean into those strengths. That is really our goal as we enter the second half of the year and hopefully try to play our best football leading into late into the season."
Here were five of the top points from his 30-minute long interview.
1. MNF win can be a "springboard" for second half
On several occasions, Berry mentioned the Browns' Monday Night Football win over a divisional rival as an example of what the Browns can look like on a weekly basis the rest of the season.
The offense hummed all night, and the defense shut down a quality QB for the second straight week. After battling consistency issues on both sides of the ball in the first seven games, the Browns finally built a complete game that followed the blueprint for what they envisioned with their roster before the season.
"Good to enter the bye week with a big win on Monday night against the defending AFC North champions, a good division rival and a good team with the Bengals," Berry said. "Thought we played really, quite honestly, our best game of the season."
Now, the key is to repeat it.
That will still be a difficult job with upcoming games against the Dolphins, Bills and Buccaneers. They're all playoff contenders — and the Dolphins and Bills are certainly in the category of Super Bowl contenders — but before Monday, the Bengals were considered a team in that tier, too.
The Browns shut them down, and there's plenty of belief in the building that they can do it again. They need to in order to still be in the playoff hunt in December, and they should be in excellent shape to carry the momentum after being able to enjoy their first weekend off since Labor Day.
"As we look at Monday night and going into this bye, I think it provided a picture of the team that we can be," he said. "We were by no means perfect, but we played our most complete game of the season. We're hopeful that that will be a nice springboard going into the second half of the year."
Check out the best photos from the Browns win over the Bengals yesterday by the Browns photo team
2. Defense playing "cleaner"
Perhaps the biggest reason for optimism toward a strong second half stems from the recent performances by the defense.
After a slow and at times painful start to the season, the Browns have turned things around significantly on that side of the ball. It started by holding Ravens QB Lamar Jackson to a season-low 179 scrimmage yards in Week 7 and continued by forcing two takeaways against Bengals QB Joe Burrow on Monday and limiting Cincinnati to 13 points.
The Browns ranked closer to the bottom-third of the league in total defense to open the year but have now moved to 12th with 331.4 yards allowed per game. The turnaround isn't complete yet — Cleveland still ranks 26th in the league with 24.9 points allowed per game — but the momentum is definitely building.
"I think we have just played cleaner on that side of the ball, whether it is mental assignments or communication," Berry said. "I think our tackling has improved over the last two weeks, as well. That is where I give (defensive coordinator) Joe (Woods) and the defensive staff a lot of credit for really kind of focusing on and kind of ironing out some of those areas where we didn't do them quite as well through the early part of the season.
"That side of the ball seems to be rounding into form, but we still have work to do. Ultimately, the biggest thing again is consistency there."
3. How the MNF win affected trade deadline approach
Berry admitted that the win over the Bengals did have somewhat of an effect on how the Browns approached the trade deadline.
"I would say that candidly it probably maybe had a little bit of a mild influence," Berry said. "I wouldn't say that it moved the needle significantly in one direction or another. I had probably a pretty good idea in terms of how we wanted to approach yesterday with a couple of different opportunities, but to suggest it didn't have some type of mild impact I think would be disingenuous."
The Browns might've been active — possibly making moves to add to their draft pick selection for 2023 and beyond — had they lost and instead fell to 2-6, which would've significantly affected their odds of cracking a playoff berth this season.
But at 3-5, the Browns believe they have the talent to make a run. Berry showed his faith in the team by standing still and said the only move the Browns were close to making was to add a player, not trade one away.
"We came close to one deal in terms of acquiring a player," he said. "It didn't come to fruition from a compensation package. We feel really good about the team we have and feel really good about the guys in the locker room."
4. Watson will start as soon as he's eligible
Not that there was much of a doubt, but Berry affirmed the expectation that Deshaun Watson will become the Browns' starting QB once his 11-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy ends.
Watson was able to return to the Browns facility on Oct. 10 but won't be able to practice with the team until Nov. 14. He'll be eligible to return to play in Week 13 against the Texans.
"He is allowed to be in meetings, work with our strength and conditioning staff and things like that," Berry said. "He's getting the work that he needs to do to get prepared."
Berry shared ample praise, however, for the work Jacoby Brissett has done in the interim.
"Jacoby has been everything that we had hoped when we signed him," Berry said. "I think that he's given us an opportunity and more to win the game in every one of his starts, with maybe save the exception of one. We knew that he was a special guy in the locker room from particularly his time in Indianapolis navigating the two years with (former Colts QB) Andrew Luck's injury and then ultimately his retirement. He has been an excellent addition to our organization, and we couldn't be happier with what he has provided the team so far."
5. Offense could have "modifications" when Watson returns
Berry stopped short of saying the offense will look dramatically different from its current form when Watson returns, but he did say that changes could still be made.
Such changes will likely account for the mobility Watson can bring to the offense, and we saw in training camp how it could be implemented with several roll-out pass plays and other designs that had Watson moving out of the pocket. The Browns could certainly open the playbook a bit more with Watson, but the basic foundations of the offense will likely remain the same.
"We spend a lot of time — as (Head Coach) Kevin (Stefanski) calls it, 'in the lab' — in the spring and throughout training camp understanding that every offense has to be designed around the starting quarterback's strengths," Berry said. "I think everybody realizes that it can look a little bit different when Deshaun eventually takes snaps under center.
"That being said, the core package of the offense will be consistent. That is not to say that there may not be modifications based on his skillset, but I don't think that transition will be quite as challenging as maybe some are anticipating."