Cody Kessler didn't use his days off this past weekend to get away from football.
If anything, the third-round rookie further immersed himself in it. Kessler spent the Saturday and Sunday following last week's loss to the Ravens in the film room. Given what he saw as a gift of multiple days of extra preparation for the Steelers, Kessler seized it heading into his eighth NFL start.
Kessler sat down with ClevelandBrowns.com after the team's final walk-through heading into Sunday's game.
CB.com: Steelers-Browns is one of this team's biggest rivalries. Take us back to some of your biggest rivalries in high school and at USC.
Kessler: High school, everyone kind of knew each other in my hometown, so I guess every game was a little bit of a rivalry game. College, obviously, UCLA was a big rivalry for us and Notre Dame was another one. You know what's at stake in a rivalry game. It's one of those you don't jump too far on your calendar, but you might circle it when you get to that game. There's a lot of emphasis on it and the history of it. Joe Thomas was explaining it a little bit, how long this battle's been going on back and forth and everything involved in this game and the two organizations.
CB.com: How much did you know about it before you got here and how much have you learned since you arrived?
Kessler: Not a whole lot beforehand. Obviously it's a divisional game and those always count a little extra and have a little more importance to them. It dates back to the 50s. I'm still learning about it and you can tell this week, it's more of how everyone's getting excited and putting a lot of emphasis on this game. As a player, you want to win every game but you've got to treat it the same as any other game. Stay focused and stick to your process.
CB.com: What have you done to bounce back since the Baltimore game? Did you step away from football during the time off?
Kessler: I did everything I could to stay with it. I watched film and got ready for Pittsburgh and tried to get a jump start on that. I think it's helped me a ton, just getting back focused and letting that last game go. It's behind me now and there's nothing you can do about it and you can't change anything. Just letting that one go and moving on to Pittsburgh. I used those extra days we had to prepare this week and get a jump start.
CB.com: What's stood out when you watch yourself on film?
Kessler: Plenty of stuff I'm still learning and there's a ton of stuff I want to work on. Just for me as a player and a quarterback in this offense is being a manager of that. Being able to go in there and be the leader of the offense and knowing where to go with the ball and get the play to the right player every time -- if it's a check, if you need to change protection, whatever it may be. You want to be on top of that and it's something I'm feeling more and more comfortable with each week. Coach (Hue) Jackson and Pep (Hamilton) have done a great job with me and helping me, being there to answer every question right away so there's no hesitation.
CB.com: You obviously didn't want to come out of the Ravens game, but what did it mean to hear Jackson say right away you'd be starting against the Steelers?
Kessler: Obviously as a competitor, you never want to come out but it was Coach Jackson's decision. That's what he felt was best at the time. I told people whether I was in the game or on the sideline, I'm going to be the same guy. I'm rooting our team on and doing anything I can to help to win. I'm just preparing this week knowing ahead of time after what happened gives you a little confidence going into the week. Just clearing that one or moving onto the next one. Even if it was different, I'd still continue to do the same things I've been doing, preparing and staying ready.
CB.com: What's the key to overcoming the second-half struggles that have plagued both sides of the ball?
Kessler: We come out so fast in the first half. First quarter we always start fast and do things well. Some games we didn't start as fast as we would have liked but the majority of time we come out and start fast. All the way up to halftime we always do a great job and then the second half, you've just got to be able at halftime to take a breather and then get that back again, that emotion and that feeling. I think the biggest part offensively is that first drive of the second half really sets that tone, especially if you start off getting the ball at halftime and you go down and score. That can really set the tone not only for the defense, but the entire team. That's something that offensively we want to continue to work on is coming out in the third quarter and starting fast just like we do at the beginning of games.
CB.com: How much has it been emphasized this week?
Kessler: That's a big part. You can't play half a game, you can't play three-quarters of a game. You have to play the full game and you have to stay consistent, especially toward the end of the game. There's maybe one or two plays in the fourth quarter in a close game that can really decide it. That's something you want to be more focused in the fourth quarter than any part because that's when you're going to decide a game. For us offensively, that's when we can extend drives, that's when we can win on third down and control the clock in the fourth quarter. That's just something that's on me, too. I've got to continue to emphasize it and do a better job.
CB.com: What kind of challenges do the Steelers present on defense?
Kessler: They're very big up front. They're a very physical football team on their back end as well. Very good cover guys and they're physical. They move around and fly around and give you a ton of different looks. There's so many different looks they do on first, second down and even third down. They give you so many different looks that try to confuse you. You've just got to stick to your base game plan and stick to your rules. It helps me eliminate confusion if I know where I'm going and know what I need to do protection-wise. They do a great job. They get after the quarterback and I've got to do a great job getting the ball out of my hands this week and throw it away if it's not there or be able to go to the check-down and move on.