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Pettine: 'We have to be better for longer'

By the time Mike Pettine arrived for his Wednesday press conference, the preparation for Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals had long been underway.

A review of Sunday's loss, coupled with the trends that have unfolded during a disappointing start to the season, inspired Pettine to deliver a simple message as he assessed the challenge that faces Cleveland not just Sunday, but in the weeks to come.

"We have to be better for longer," Pettine said.

Pettine didn't specify an area where that needed to be heeded most, but it would certainly be beneficial in all three phases against a 5-2 Arizona team that comes to Cleveland boasting the NFL's best scoring differential ( 96), a top-five offense and a top-five defense.

On offense, the Browns are looking to eliminate the slow starts and penalties that have put them in early holes. On defense, Cleveland's been statistically much better against the run in the first quarter than it has the rest of the game. The Browns special teams has produced big plays and includes one of the NFL's most efficient kickers, but penalties have negated a number of quality returns.

"(The Cardinals) present a lot of challenges for us. Our focus as it always is, is more on us than it is on the opponent. We have to respond with a great week of prep," Pettine said. "We have played well in stretches and that is what this league is about – play well enough at a consistent level to end up on the positive side."

The Cardinals are fresh off a Monday night win at home against the Ravens that included a little bit of all the ingredients that have helped them rise to the top of the NFC West.

Thirty-year-old veteran running back Chris Johnson ran for a season-high 122 yards and a touchdown, boosting a rushing offense that finished 31st last year to fourth this season. Thirty-five-year-old veteran quarterback Carson Palmer, back from a knee injury that derailed his 2014 season, completed 20-of-29 passes for 275 and two touchdowns. And the Cardinals' defense, which is among the league's best in most categories, intercepted Joe Flacco late to secure the team's fifth victory in seven tries.

"What is coming into town is a very well-rounded football team," Pettine said. "It will certainly be a big challenge for us in all three phases."

Pettine implored the players Monday to respond to the adversity by asking themselves what they can do better to make the team better. As much as the Browns respect Arizona, the focus of the players remained on themselves Wednesday.

Pettine's message to be better for longer was certainly delivered long before Wednesday's press conference.

"We have to be a balanced group," defensive lineman Xavier Cooper said. "When the offense scores, we have to be able to get a stop. When the offense doesn't score, we have to be able to get another stop.

"For us to win, it's from special teams, offense and defense, all three phases. We have to sustain that energy and physicality all four quarters."

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