Shortly after Friday's practice came to a close, Browns linebacker Paul Kruger stood on the sidelines near the 25-yard line with a football in his hands. After some prodding from his teammates, Kruger uncorked a pass that sailed exactly where he wanted and doinked off the crossbar.
It's been that kind of season for Kruger, who put himself in some elite company when he picked up his 10th sack of the season in last week's loss to Cincinnati.
After showing off his arm, Kruger answered a few of our questions as Sunday's showdown with Carolina drew nearer.
Q: How's the reaction been from the team this week after last Sunday's loss to the Bengals?
A: Guys are all working for different things and our team is here to win games and build toward something special and we still have that vision in mind.
Q: How does a veteran like yourself pass on to the younger players how important it is to finish strong?
A: You have to have the bigger picture in mind. You can never lighten up in this league. There's not a day that goes by where you can not work and not put in the time and effort because not only will somebody surpass you but that doesn't prove good character and good competitive spirit for a team and organization. We're all here to do one thing, and that's win football games. That's not going to change from week to week and different scenarios. When you go into a game, your mindset is to win regardless of the circumstances.
Q: There's a lot of talk about taking momentum into the offseason. You've been around the league for a while. How much is that legit?
A: It is legit. It's something that I think good teams, they learn how to create momentum and sustain it and build on it. That's definitely something that's going to be a focus for us. Really what it boils down for us is progression and getting better each and every week, each month and continuing to next year. For us, finishing strong, going into the offseason with a lot of confidence and moving forward in the type of way that it gives the whole confidence and expectations that are high coming into next year.
Q: From a personal standpoint, you hit a milestone last week when you collected your 10th sack. I know you're not big on stats, but did that mean a little something extra for you?
A: Yeah, it was exciting for me honestly. For me, it was a nice little landmark and it's always nice to see plays that affect the game in a positive way for your team. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a relief and a confident feeling. I'm excited that I've had some success this year and I definitely want to build on that going into next year.
Q: What schematic changes in the defense, if any, have helped you thrive more this season?
A: Really just a little more simplicity. You're not doing as much dropping, you're not worried about coverages. A lot of the game, I'm just focused on getting one place and one place in a hurry. Especially when there's a lot of guys playing good football around you, you're put in situations where you can rush the passer. It kind of all plays together in that kind of way. I've worked hard this offseason to get better and Coach has done a great job. Coach Flurry, who coaches outside backers, he's done an exceptional job this year. He's made each one of us better in certain ways. Definitely just a combination of things.
Q: Was there an "ah ha" moment in training camp or early in the season where you realized this is going to work out for me?
A: Not really. Each week refocusing, having some vision and just kind of having a goal for not only each week, but each year. You set landmarks for yourself. That's something I've tried to do and stay focused on throughout the week.
Q: Looking ahead to Sunday's opponent, Carolina has a losing record but is in the thick of a division race. What do you see from the Panthers' offense?
A: I think they have some weapons. Obviously Cam Newton being the type of guy that can hurt you with his ability to run the ball as well as the type of arm strength he has. He presents some issues and I think they have some running backs that can really get downhill in a hurry. It's just the type of game where if we play their scheme well and have early success, it will be a game where we can show some good things and have some success with.
Q: Is there anyone in the league similar to Newton or is he unique in his own way?
A: He's definitely unique in his own way. Andrew Luck is a similar type of athlete in his ability to run but I don't think they're used in the same way. He's kind of a breed of his own. I don't know how much he weighs -- got to be 250 or so and 6-5 or whatever he is -- he's a big load but he's also an exceptional athlete. He's definitely a talented guy.
Q: Is there a chip on the defense's shoulder with stopping the run and how you can improve this week?
A: Yeah. We definitely have been focused on that this week. It's something that's kind of been up and down throughout the season. We really want to make that kind of a trademark for us that we stop the run and put ourselves in situations where we can go out and rush the passer and make plays in the secondary. It's going to be a focus until it's taken care of.