Up until Sunday, Sione Takitaki's path to defensive playing time had been blocked a bit by a handful of factors.
First, he's the backup to veteran Joe Schobert, who rarely comes off the field. Second, he missed a good chunk of the preseason with a hamstring injury, preventing him from logging a significant number of in-game snaps. Third, the Browns often use just two linebackers, limiting the opportunities that might present themselves if Cleveland regularly deployed three or more.
The last factor changed a bit in the past two games, as the Browns faced two teams, Denver and Buffalo, that required the Browns to deploy a third linebacker more often than usual. Against the Broncos, veteran Adarius Taylor played those snaps. On Sunday, it was Takitaki, who played a season-high 11 defensive snaps to go along with his regular work on special teams.
Takitaki, Cleveland's third-round pick in the 2019 draft, collected two tackles in a game that featured a handful of key, defensive stops en route to a much-needed Browns victory.
"I think he did pretty good from the situations that he was in there," Browns coach Freddie Kitchens said Monday. "He has been playing very well on special teams and that earned him a chance to go out on defense. Special teams is very important to this team, so he did his job at a pretty good success rate through the season up to this point and he has gradually gotten better in special teams, so he kind of earned him some playing time on defense."
Check out the best photos from the Cleveland Browns win over the Buffalo Bills yesterday by the Browns photo team
— Kitchens said the Browns came out of Sunday's game relatively healthy, a positive development heading into a short week of preparation.
Defensive end Olivier Vernon, who missed Sunday's game with a knee injury, remains day to day, Kitchens said.
— Kitchens promised after Sunday's game he'd run the ball again if the Browns faced a goal-line situation similar to the one that ended with no points on eight attempts from the 1- and 2-yard lines. Upon further review, Kitchens said Monday the plays came down to simple matchups the Browns didn't win.
"We have to do a better job of maintaining our blocks," Kitchens said. "We were on the right people for the most part; we just have to win our one-on-one matchups a lot of times down there. When you get down in goal to go situations, you like to be able to run the ball in and to do that, you have to win your one-on-one matchups."
— Kitchens maintained Monday his reasoning behind making WR Antonio Callaway inactive for Sunday's game would remain between he and Callaway but confirmed it would just be a one-game decision.
"I always want our guys to make good choices," Kitchens said. "I am not going to talk anymore about that situation. I did what I felt like I needed to do, and it is over."
Callaway, who was suspended for the first four games of the season, has eight catches for 89 yards on the season.
— Kitchens said Browns coaches began their preparations Sunday night for Thursday's primetime matchup with the Steelers.
"Just trying to get a plan together for Pittsburgh who, of course, is a huge division opponent," Kitchens said. "Passion and energy will not be a problem. We have to prepare to control our emotions, stay in the moment and play the game and play the play."
— The Browns have committed just nine penalties in the past two games and haven't turned the ball over in the last 11 quarters. Those are positive developments, Kitchens acknowledged. The next step is increasing the turnovers produced by the defense.
The Browns have gone from worst in the NFL in penalties to 30th. They're tied for 27th with 17 giveaways compared to just nine takeaways. The Browns will look to nab their first interception since Week 4 when they face the Steelers.