Control what we can control.
That was coach Mike Pettine's message to the Cleveland Browns on Wednesday, as the team kicked up its preparations for Sunday's game against the Oakland Raiders.
The Browns (3-3) are aware of how the media and some in the fan base will sensationalize every win and overdramatize every loss. Now, it's about tuning out the noise. Pettine has tested his team to have its best week of practice and has faith if that does happen, they will see results on the field.
"The challenge this week for us was to have our best week of prep to make sure that our guys are dialed in, that they know the game plan inside and out, and that it's set up where we can play fast and, also, we know the opponent inside and out," Pettine told the media on Wednesday.
What the Browns are going to try to regain control of is the power-running game. Cleveland ranks sixth in the NFL in rushing (133.5 yards per game) and has no plans the deviate from their strategy of controlling the clock and tempo of the game through running backs Ben Tate, Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West.
The formula for the Browns success on offense isn't a secret: running the football effectively early on in the game so Brian Hoyer can open up the play-action passing attack. There was a reason Hoyer went into the Jacksonville game as the NFL's highest-ranked quarterback on deep passes down the field. When the Browns are pounding the football, receivers get one-on-one matchups in space and Hoyer's been reliable in making big strikes down the field.
According to STATS LLC, the Browns are fourth in the league in percentage of rushing plays in the first half at 48.9. Expect the commitment to stay the same against Oakland.
"We're the type of offense that we can't fall behind the sticks," said Pettine. "We have to be efficient on early downs. When we were successful in moving the ball on offense in previous weeks it's because we ran the ball well, which set up the play action, which got guys wide open downfield. Play pass isn't as effective on second-and-10 when they know it's coming."
The fact of the matter is that the Browns are still a top 10 offense in the NFL. Dynamic units like the Chargers, 49ers and Seahawks are ranked behind Cleveland. This is where "tuning the noise out" comes into play. There is no need for any type of major overhaul after one bad game.
The Browns are also looking to keep control on an area that's been shoring up as of late: the defense.
Since the second half of the Tennessee game, the defense, behind tackle and sacks leader Karlos Dansby, has rediscovered its identity of the nasty, roughneck unit who dominated in training camp. Cleveland has limited big plays from happening, while also creating some of their own – four interceptions during the last six quarters of play.
The Jaguars may have finished with 24 points, but Cleveland's defense only allowed one touchdown drive from outside their own territory. Jacksonville's offense capitalized on turnovers and a special teams miscue to score their points. The Browns seem settled on defense and are showing they can buckle down when the time calls for it.
The Browns' run defense is an area Pettine wasn't shy about on Wednesday, saying corrections are needed. Cleveland currently ranks last in the league defending the run. Losing two beefy starters like Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor doesn't help this glaring issue, but Pettine knows some kind of remedy needs to be formed.
"It's frustrating. It's something we look at, but we don't want to panic about it," Pettine explained about defending the run. "When it's a lot of little things sometimes it takes some time to get that correct.
"We know schematically what we have has been effective in stopping the run previously. It's a point of emphasis and we look to improve on it each week."
Other quick notes
- The second opinion on Ahtyba Rubin's ankle came back with positive feedback and the defensive lineman won't need ankle surgery. There is no official update on when Rubin might return to practice.
- The Browns offensive line situation is fluid and a determination on starters won't be known until Friday at the earliest.
- Pettine did say the Browns held their discussions about usage of running backs, like we reported Monday. Like the offensive line, the coaches will review all the practice tape before determining which running back gets what amount of carries.
- Pettine and some of the Browns brass flew out to Fresno, Calif., in the spring to visit Derek Carr prior the NFL Draft. Pettine lauded the Raiders rookie quarterback as very mature, and cited a reason why because of his strong bond with his older brother David, who was the first quarterback for the then expansion Houston Texas.
- "You can tell he's very much a student of the game just by how he plays," said Pettine. "You can tell he knows certain defense, where to go with the ball, when to get out of a run and throw it on the outside, basic coverage, where to attack a defense. I think his football IQ is well ahead of the game because of his background."