Hue Jackson will deliver his final pep talk of 2017 the night before the Browns’ season finale against the Steelers this weekend. He won’t, however, focus too much on what happens if Cleveland can’t leave Pittsburgh with its first win.
“We all hope to be beyond that by this point. We’re not. So that within itself is disappointing,” he said Friday. “I think to keep talking about it, what does that do? I don’t think it does anything for our football team.”
The Browns must beat the Steelers on Sunday at Heinz Field to avoid the franchise's first winless season. Here’s what else you need to know:
— Defensive backs Jamar Taylor and Briean Boddy-Calhoun are questionable for Sunday’s game, but Jackson is optimistic both corners will play this weekend. Fullback Danny Vitale (groin) was ruled out.
— The turning point in Sunday’s loss to the Bears was when an offsides penalty wiped out Myles Garrett’s interception return for a touchdown on the first play of the second half. The play would’ve given Cleveland its first lead of the game and a much-needed swing of momentum. Instead, Chicago scored a few plays later and never looked back. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said it made clear to a young bunch that the small things matter. “We were offsides and it took points off the board,” he said, “and it was magnified to the point where our guys see how detailed-conscious you have to be.”
— While the Browns’ run game hasn’t been quite as dominant as they hoped, members of the group think they’ve established something that could be special in the future. “We think we have a good nucleus moving forward of players who are outstanding of what they do,” run game coordinator Kirby Wilson said. “They’re not going to always win their battles, but if we can keep that core together and take the next step next year, I think we will all see the fruits of that.”
Cleveland re-signed left guard Joel Bitonio (who was named a Pro Bowl alternate earlier this month) and added center JC Tretter and right guard Kevin Zeitler in free agency. The Browns return dynamic running back Duke Johnson Jr. while Isaiah Crowell is due to become a free agent.
“We have a talented bunch up there. They work hard. They are young. They are physical. They are aggressive,” Wilson said. “We think we have the makings of something special right there.”
— After a bumpy stretch early in the season, rookie kicker Zane Gonzalez has made 10 of his last 12 kicks. This past weekend in Chicago, Gonzalez knocked down a 48-yarder in snowy, windy conditions at Soldier Field, a kick that could be a harbinger of things to come.
“That was a big-time kick. He has the ability and I’m real proud of him, but he will have another big challenge this weekend,” special teams coordinator Chris Tabor said. “I think he’s playing to his personality and I mean that in a very positive way because he is a laid back guy, doesn’t get too bent out of shape. I think he’s basically gone up there, ‘You know what, I’m going to start kicking and let it rip.’”