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Four Downs: What Mike Pettine, Browns coaches took away from long weekend


1. What Mike Pettine, Browns coaches took away from long weekend

Mike Pettine was reluctant to make any broad-sweeping conclusions or judgments in the immediate aftermath of Cleveland's 31-10 loss at Cincinnati. Instead, he looked ahead to the relatively extended time away from the daily grind of an NFL season -- the first such stretch since the start of training camp -- as an opportunity to recalibrate and reassess.

The realizations that came from these three-plus days were not as dramatic as some may have anticipated. As he delivered one of his longest answers of his Tuesday press conference, Pettine first explained what wasn't concluded from the Browns' 2-7 start.

"What we are not going to do is wholesale changes and hit the panic button. We believe in what we are doing," Pettine said. "We believe in the system that we run and some things certainly have to be done better, but at the same time we are not panicking that we need to make radical changes.

"I know some things didn't go our way, but there are a bunch of games you could point to how close we were. That is the NFL. It is a bottom-line league as I have said all along. We are still confident in what we do. We just have to get the results on the field."

Pettine's decision to stick with veteran , in the event he's healthy enough Sunday at Pittsburgh, as his starting quarterback was indicative of this line of thinking. Though the Browns have a number of younger players -- especially on defense -- playing because of circumstance, there hasn't been a wholesale shift in philosophy to force players into action to evaluate their potential for the future.

When Pettine met with the players as a group Tuesday for the first time since last Thursday, he laid out the three ways the team could respond to its circumstances. They could let it define them, tear them apart or grow stronger from it.

That ability to handle adversity and not blame each other for where the team currently sits is pivotal toward the next seven games, Pettine said.

"At times like this, that is when you find out who we are," Pettine said. "I have talked about adversity before. You find out who we are and who is mentally tough, who is physically tough, who can push through and those are the guys you want with you moving forward."

2. Help on the way at wide receiver

Pettine was sharp in his criticism of the Browns' shorthanded group of wide receivers after Thursday's game. The look of that unit promises to be different against the Steelers thanks to the likely return of Brian Hartline and Andrew Hawkins.

Both players, who were cleared from the concussion protocol and able to practice Tuesday, were out against the Bengals. Hawkins has missed the past two games.

Hartline is the only Browns wide receiver to catch a touchdown pass since Week 3. He had two in Cleveland's Week 8 loss to Arizona.

"We showed early in the year when that group is all out there together that we can be productive," Pettine said. "Not having Hartline, not having Hawkins – that hurt."

3. Maybe not in the secondary, though

Joe Haden and Donte Whitner didn't practice Tuesday and remained in league's concussion protocol. It's uncertain if either defensive back will be ready for Sunday's game with the Steelers.

If one or neither aren't able to dress, that will be nothing new for the Browns. The projected starting secondary of Haden, Whitner, Tramon Williams and Tashaun Gipson along with nickel back K'Waun Williams have all started in the same game just three times this season.

Against the Bengals, Cleveland gave heavy snaps to Pierre Desir at cornerback in place of Haden. Justin Gilbert also received the most defensive snaps he's had all season.

Rookie Ibraheim Campbell filled in for Whitner and held his own, finishing with five tackles. He played through a hamstring injury he said won't limit him against the Steelers.

"Whether Donte's out there or not, I'm always preparing and staying ready to go," Campbell said. "Based on the Arizona game, you can be out there at any snap and you have to fill in seamlessly."

4. Stat of the week

Duke Johnson continued to pad his receiving stats last week against the Bengals, hauling in two receptions for 38 yards and a touchdown. This year's class of rookie wide receivers hasn't dazzled like last year's, but Johnson's place among them statistically is still worth noting. He's tied for second in receiving touchdowns (two), third in receiving yards (369) and third in receptions (35).

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