It's hard to find anyone on the Browns roster who has appreciated a season like 2020 more than Joel Bitonio.
The longest-tenured Browns player has been a key cog in the team's 9-4 mark and is playing left guard as well as anyone in the NFL. He's been a bulldozing force in Cleveland's top-ranked running attack and stout against opposing pass rushers, helping limit the opposition to just 17 sacks on the season.
Bitonio has seen it all since he joined the Browns in 2014. That's what has made this year so special and enjoyable.
ClevelandBrowns.com caught up with Bitonio as he eyes the Browns' Sunday Night Football matchup with the Giants.
CB.com: You're coming off an emotional, draining loss Monday against the Ravens. How has the team worked to put it in the past and move on toward another big game?
Bitonio: Obviously, being on a Monday night, you've got a quicker turnaround anyways. You use a day to recover and get back to work. Overall, the team was in good spirits. We were obviously disappointed we didn't find a way to win that game but we understand it's a long season and you're going to have games like that where you lose that you should have won. We took Tuesday off as a team. You let the people rehab and get back physically and then we were back to a normal week of practice. Guys are focused on the Giants and our next task at hand.
CB.com: What did you like most from the offense Monday and the last few weeks in general?
Bitonio: It's been good. We had those kind of three monsoon type, bad weather games. And everyone's like, "Oh they're just running the ball. They're not throwing." We didn't have a chance to really showcase we can pass the ball as well. When teams are stacking the box with eight guys, it's showing we have guys on the edges and at quarterback who can make those throws and do some damage through the air as well. It kind of lets us be a more balanced offense and really attack teams at different levels. But just the resilience we've shown. We were down two scores a few times in the game and really fought back and got back in it. We felt like if we had another possession there, we had a chance to win. It's one of those things where you want to keep growing as a team. You want to show you're multi-faceted and can attack defenses in different ways.
CB.com: Are you starting to see teams respect the pass more?
Bitonio: Yeah, I think you can see it. Baltimore was a little banged up on the edges in the secondary late in that game. When you're taking a top off a defense and passing for a bunch of yards, and there were times we had some huge passes and chunk plays down the field, you're going to have to start taking one of the safeties out of the box and going with more two-high. You have to give yourself a better chance to stop some of those looks you're getting from the offense. The thing is, the running game is still there, too. We're not stopping running the ball. That's our identity as well while taking shots with play action. I think it's a fine line. It's a cat and mouse game of what are we going to attack this play or this series.
Check out exclusive photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the New York Giants
CB.com: How do you think you've played this year?
Bitonio: I think it's been good. Coach (Bill) Callahan came in and (assistant offensive line) coach (Scott) Peters and coach (Kevin) Stefanski came in and I like the scheme we're running. I think it suits me with the outside zone. We run a lot of outside zone but we actually do a lot of gap scheme as well when we pull the guards and get them on the edges. All that type of stuff fits my game, so it's been good. It's really nice being able to have a coach who's been around a lot of great players in this league and steal some things from him fundamentally. I feel like I've played well this year and always want to keep improving. Each week, you've got to take something out and work on it and try to be the best version of yourself every time you go out there.
CB.com: How much would you say your play has been lifted up by the overall play of the offensive line?
Bitonio: It's huge. O-line play is one of those things where it's five guys working together. If you're playing next to a guy at center or tackle and you're a guard that is confused or can't get the job done, it's going to affect the way you play the game. When you have five guys across the line that are doing their job and are good players in this league, it helps bring the whole O-line up. Especially when we run those zone plays or those zone play-action plays, you have to trust the guy next to you is going to be there in your gap. If you're overcompensating for things and not truly believing that person is going to be there, that's when you get into trouble. It helps a bunch. (Jedrick Wills Jr.) has come in as a rookie and just put his head down and worked his tail off. Obviously me and JC (Tretter) have a pretty good connection playing a bunch of games together.
CB.com: What would you cite as the reason why this team hasn't lost back-to-back games this year?
Bitonio: It's Coach's focus on one week at a time, one game at a time. Once we go through the film and really break down what we did and choose a few things to improve on and fix from the game, it's in the past. Obviously we've had some blowout losses. This one was a very close loss. No matter what happens, as we come into the next week, we put the New York Giants for this week into focus. That's where we're focused this week and guys know you've got to take a step forward. You can't give up games in the AFC playoff race. A lot of tough teams. There's seven spots but there's eight, nine, 10 teams fighting for those spots and everybody has a winning record now. You've got to stack as many wins as you can.
CB.com: What do you make of all of the players and some coaches on both sides facing their former team Sunday?
Bitonio: I think it's a cool storyline. It gives the announcers something to talk about. They can talk about all of the 13 revenge games for all of the guys who have been traded, released or cut. It's the NFL so you play against these guys all the time. Obviously, if it wasn't COVID, it'd be great to see all of those guys, especially Kevin Zeitler, after the game. It's fun. It gives us something to talk about but once you start playing out there, you're playing a football game again and you're just ready to roll and hopefully get the W.