Over the course of the Browns' Week 9 bye week, coaches and players were given ample time to complete some self-evaluation and analyze the pros and cons of their previous eight games.
All of that work — in addition to taking advantage of the additional rest and healing up for the final half of the season — should fare well as Cleveland gears up for a strong second half. At 5-3, the Browns currently sit one spot out of a playoff berth and are firmly in the mix of teams capable of reaching the postseason.
But despite the time to reflect on the season, no one on the Browns is peeking ahead to the playoffs.
"I don't think it helps us to set our gaze anywhere but where we are right now," coach Kevin Stefanski said Monday. "I think for us, we'd be doing ourselves a disservice if we concerned ourselves with anything other than the Houston Texans."
That's the Browns' Week 10 opponent, and it's all that Cleveland wants to think about right now.
That approach should come as no surprise after seeing how the Browns approached their first eight games. Stefanski and the rest of the Browns have touted a "one week at a time" approach since the offseason, and even though the Browns have positioned themselves for a playoff run, they won't let the temptations of a postseason berth sway them from completing maximum preparation week by week.
So let's outline arguably the biggest storylines coming from Berea to begin Week 10.
- The Browns on Monday designated running back Nick Chubb to return from injured reserve, and they're looking forward to inserting Chubb — who still leads all NFL running backs with six runs of over 20 or more yards despite missing four games due to a knee injury — back into their mix of dangerous offensive playmakers.
- Tight end Austin Hooper, right guard Wyatt Teller and linebacker Jacob Phillips, who all missed multiple games before the bye due to injuries but returned to practice Monday, are working back into shape, too.
The bye week arrived just in time. The Browns are on pace to potentially play with one of their healthiest rosters since the beginning of the season, and that bodes well for Cleveland's odds of adding more wins to a record that is already its best to start a season since 1994.
"Whenever you have your starters back, it's a good thing," Hooper said. "The bye week just allows you to fix all those ailments and little tweaks and pulls and allows you to get some sleep throughout the week. We can come back fresh, so it's huge."
The Browns' offseason roster on April 1, 2021
The job is far from done, though, and the Browns' odds of finding a successful second half of the season will hinge on the continuation of several key trends from the first eight games.
On offense, Cleveland is looking to keep the edge it's typically found in the run game and keep the offense running at an efficient. That job should be a bit easier when Chubb makes his return, and his presence alongside Pro Bowl running back Kareem Hunt means the Browns will have one of the best running back tandems in the league. Quarterback Baker Mayfield and his array of receivers who have helped carry the load after the season-ending injury to Odell Beckham Jr. will keep searching for big plays, too.
On defense, the Browns will continue to aggressively pursue turnovers that were crucial in all five of their wins. Cleveland is ninth in the league with 14 turnovers, just two away from the top spot, and have been one of the best teams in the league at turning takeaways into points.
The Browns have clear identities on both sides of the ball. Now, the rest of the season will be dedicated toward maintaining them.
"That's the nice part of having the bye week in the middle. You get a nice eight-game sample," Stefanski said. "We pulled it all apart, and what happens is you get all this information from the coaching staff and from everybody. You compile it, you talk through it and then you check the tape. What we tried to do is on offense, look at the run game, look at the pass game and look at us situationally and the same on defense, and maybe find some areas that we are good at and why we are good at them and then make sure we protect those types of things."
The Browns certainly have plenty of positives on their side as they gear up for what's ahead. That includes an intense race to the playoffs, but they're not wasting any time looking at that yet.
Their focus is on whatever is ahead each week, and after a refreshing bye week, the Browns are eager to continue building to their promising season — seven days at a time.
"The NFL season is a slog," Stefanski said. "To get this bye right in the middle can be a big boost for our guys."