G Joel Bitonio (12.11.20)

G Joel Bitonio:

On if the 0-16 season is ever a topic of conversation with other Browns players on that team, in relation to this year’s success:

“Big picture, you look back and years in the past, it is something that we had to experience and there are few guys who have been through that, but (Head) Coach (Kevin) Stefanski has done a good job of really having us focus on this year and the next game at hand. It is a week-to-week business in this league. You can beat a team and be the best team in the league and lose a game and be the worst team on a week-to-week basis. It is all about riding that wave and not riding that wave, just being the same team every week. That is kind of what we are focused on. Big picture when you look back after the season, it will be nice to look back and who has been some of the stuff here. Right now, we are just really focused on the Ravens and try to get out there and get a win against them.”

On differences in the team since Week 1 and how much QB Baker Mayfield has factored into it:

“That was our first time out. They beat us pretty good. They got after us, and that was all of the credit to them. They were ready, and we did not come out to play that game. Really, no excuses for that. As a team, we have developed an identity. We have tried to try to run the ball better. We have tried to play action pass. When people load the box, I think Baker is showing the ability to take the top off of defenses, and that is with good wide receiver play and tight ends and guys getting open and running open and doing their job. Everybody on the offense is really focused on their one-eleventh. If we are running a play fake, it is up to the O line, the tight ends and the running back to sell it so that people are looking in the backfield and not covering their guys. Baker, he is taking care of the ball and he is taking his shots when he can, and it has been impressive to see. We have a real challenge. Like you said, they kind of had our number last time we played them. In the division, we will see how it goes this time around. I think a lot has changed. I think we found our identity, and our defense is still taking the ball away and doing those things. That is kind of what we have preached all year is ball security on offense and takeaways on defense.”

On if the Ravens blitz more than any defense the Browns have faced:

“I think so. It is weird, they do weird percentages. The Steelers blitz like a ton, too, but it is like (Steelers DT) T.J. Watt and (Steelers OLB) Bud Dupree coming off the edge, where these guys actually have like a lot of different situations. It will be a game-time decision, but you see every week, they will have different defensive formations and different ways they can blitz you. They bring the house, and they are not afraid to move guys around and bring DBs when they have to. They will overload you with big guys on one side and bring a couple of DBs to the other. They do a lot of different things so it is good that we have a set a rules and ways to try and pick it up. As you can see, if you watch their tape, they have a new way to get home every week, and it usually is someone running free.”

On if the Ravens’ variety of blitzes make it tough on the offense:

“Yeah, they have great players, too, but it is variety. If you have a team that only does a certain thing, you can usually scheme a protection to kind of pick it up. Here, they bring four to a side and it is four big guys on one side and you are like, ‘Alright, they are rushing from that side,’ and they bring two DBs off the backside and you only send a running back that way. The next time you run there, they can bring the four big guys to the side so you can’t really pick and choose which way you want to slide the protection or who you want to pick up. It is kind of just a guessing game in that sense. If you have your base rules and you see different looks, that is where you get set and then the quarterback can get rid of the ball or switch it if he sees something. Cadence variation and all of those things come into play, but they do a great job of disguising it. That is one of our biggest challenges this week is picking up those blitzes.”

On the difference between playing divisional rivals:

“You play them twice a year so no matter what, you have the Ravens, the Steelers and the Bengals twice a year. You get used to the guys you are playing against and you get used to the schemes and stuff. When you play a new team, like we played in the NFC East this year and we do not play them for four years, so it is the first time you really play against those guys in a game and see those guys, not just like scheme wise but understanding who you are playing against so it is a chess match. ‘Alright, last time he was bull rushing me a lot. Is that what he is going to bring this time? What type of pass rush moves? What scheme on defense? They are running jam defense or something like that, and are they going to change it up this time?’ I think you can see it, too. If you look at the NFL, usually division games, it happens but there is a toss up. Like even last year, we got the Ravens once and they came back and got us, and the Bengals got us. They are usually close games and they are battles, and you know you are going to see them again. Sometimes, you play a team and you play them and it is like, ‘Alright, we will see you in four years or we will see you in the Super Bowl.’ For us [in the division], it is ‘Cool, we will see you next year at some point, probably the first game of the season again.’ It is just one of those things that you want to win those games, and the quickest way to get to the playoffs is through your division.”

On what is so special about Ravens DE Calais Campbell:

“Strictly just looking at the guy, his size, his length and his height. That is one of the things, too, is if he does not get home in the pass rush, he gets his hands on balls. I think you guys saw it last week, he got a tip. He had two in our game the last time we played him. He is just an active vet. He knows if we are running the ball or he knows his fit, and he is always in the right place at the right time. It is his size and power kind of overpowers guys sometimes, and he has been great. He has made his money in his career on finishing those plays. I think he is also their vocal leader. If you see him, he gets them pumped up before games and he kind of brings that edge. They did not have him or (Ravens NT) Brandon Williams for a few games, but those two guys are run-stopping guys that can get after the passer. They are very important to their defense, and they were missing those guys for a few weeks.”

On if he dreads or loves facing a player like Campbell:

“Every week, there is a guy that you have to go against that is a great player in this league so it is one of the challenges. At least for me, I look at the schedule and I see a defense and who am I going to get to go up against that week. You see the Steelers, and for mem it is (Steelers DT) Cameron Heyward. You go to the Bengals, and it is (Bengals DT) Geno (Atkins). You go to these guys now, I have Brandon Williams and Calais Campbell, and it is a battle. You know you are going to go out there and fight. For an offensive lineman, you have to win more than you lose or they get the advantage there. It will be a fun battle. It is always fun going out there and getting to play against the best.”

On if he gets a sense that WR Jarvis Landry is feeling better and having an appreciation for consistency, including his standing among NFL WRs for games with five or more catches:

“The last couple of games, like you said, he has come on and he has had big games. I think it was going to Florida to get some sun really woke him up (laughter). He has done a good job. We have found ways to get him the ball, and we have kind of passed more the last couple of weeks instead of those three games where we were strictly running the ball – you could not pass the ball more than 10 yards. I think it just opened up the offense a little bit, and he has a couple of touchdowns now. I think he is getting in a rhythm. The production has always been there. The catch production, you look at his career, and it was always like fastest guy to 100, 200, 300, 400 or 500 catches, however many it is. He has done it his whole career. You do not really know about it until he is your teammate, and you see Jarvis’ 400th catch or whatever it is now. He just finds a way to get the ball, and we find a way to get it to him. I think it is just one of those things and he is one of those guys when he does well the team kind of rallies behind it and is excited for him. We have had a lot of young receivers stepping up the last few weeks, and it is has been really good to see Higgy (WR Rashard Higgins) and DPJ (WR Donovan Peoples-Jones) and those guys really taking off.”

On if there is something about Stefanski’s leadership that is unique: 

“It is hard to explain, but he is just the same guy. Win, lose or indifferent, it is just the same thing every week. The expectations never change, and that is to always work, to always improve and to always put the team first. That is his motto, and that is the way he coaches us and talks to us. That is just who he is. It is kind of hard to explain on a personality level, but it is just those expectations. The standard never changes, and that is what we are focused on each week.”

On how Mayfield has handled and responded to public doubt or criticism this year: 

“It is one of those things where we do not really talk about like, ‘Oh, did you hear what ESPN Cleveland said about you? Or the guys on ESPN were talking about the Browns.’ We are really trying to focus on what we have. You can tell with his play he has that passion – he always had that passion – but he has that confidence in what he is doing and in the plays he is making. I think the coaches are putting him in a good spot, and we are trying to protect for him. Like I said earlier, it is a week-to-week business. You can’t live on ups and downs in the NFL. It will torture you if you think about every week on the good or the bad. You have to be focused on the week at hand, and I think he has done a great job of that. It is just his focus to try and improve and fix the things that need to be fixed. It is everybody’s mentality, though. We all want to be better each and every week and work to get that. I think the best thing is he has not listened to any of the noise outside, good, bad or indifferent. He is just ready to take that next step, keep working and keep improving.”

On if he is seeing the same things from Mayfield that everyone saw in 2018 that made everyone believe Mayfield was ‘the guy’: 

“He has always been like… His personality, we gravitate towards him. That is what he has been since he stepped on the field against the Jets that game and really since he stepped into the building. That has always been there. Obviously, when you are winning games, it is more apparent. When you are not winning games, it is like, ‘Oh, their energy’s low.’ It is like, yeah, we lost. It is one of those tough things. I think he has just been the same guy. He has worked and worked. Maybe he has done a better job this year of just focusing on the week ahead, but he has always had that swagger and he has always been that guy that brings that juice for the rest of the team to kind of thrive off of.”

 

On if Stefanski pared down the offense Week 1, particularly due to the virtual offseason program, and how much the offense has opened up since the season opener: 

“I think game flow kind of affected us as, well. I do not know about the passing game, I thought we had a decent amount of runs in the game because we had done it in training camp, but like you said, we had not had a preseason game. When you get down early, I think we passed more than we probably have in most of the games that game. I watched the tape from that first game, and there were not too many opportunities to really keep pounding the ball because we had a few good runs. We had a few good runs for the run game. I think we ran for 140 or something. (RB Nick) Chubb and (RB) Kareem (Hunt) both broke off a few. It was just a different game flow that week. I think we do have a different identity now, but I can’t really speak to exactly what we were doing passing game wise. I think run game, it was a pretty normal week of install. I know we have a lot more plays now that we have ran and put on tape and that we feel comfortable running.”

On leading NFL Gs in the Pro Bowl fan vote and if this has been his best season: 

“I appreciate the fans voting obviously. That is a huge honor. I think it was my commercial, the Fuel Up to Play 60 [commercial] that got me over the over the hump (laughter). It is hard to think about it when you are playing a week-to-week schedule. You think about it, and you want to improve. I do think I have gotten better each and every year at something and something has improved. Staying on the field and playing snaps and stuff has helped. Obviously, being next to (C) JC (Tretter) and (T) Jed (Jedrick Wills Jr.) and (offensive line) Coach (Bill) Callahan coming in and Coach Stefanski’s offense, it all feels very good this year. To look at it from an overall best year and stuff, we still have so many games to play and things like that. You just want to keep improving and keep working to be the best that you can be.”

On if he looks forward to more Browns players getting Pro Bowl recognition due to the team’s overall success this year: 

“Yeah, I hope so. Obviously, winning games is the main goal, and I think every single guy on the team would say like, ‘Hey, we want to win games before personal accolades.’ When you look back at your career and you can say, ‘Hey, I was a Pro Bowler’ or ‘Hey, I made an All-Pro team,’ there is an honor to that. That means fans, coaches and other players are recognizing that you are a good player in this league. The more games you win, usually, there are more guys that can make those Pro Bowl rosters and All-Pro rosters. I think we have more talented players. Guys have been working and guys have been grinding. Hopefully, we get those honors, but again, we are really just trying to focus on how we can win this next game.”

 

On if he has ever made Chubb smile or laugh: 

“I am sure I have, but I do not remember how. Probably a sarcastic joke or something like that gets him to smile. He will laugh. He will give you a good chuckle here and there, but not something I can remember off of the top my head.”

On not having media present in the locker room during the week or after games: 

“We miss you guys and everything like that, and we only have to do this once a week instead of every day in the locker room. After the games, you have a little bit more time to compose yourself. Even if you do have to talk to the media, you kind of just get to sit in your locker relax for a second and talk to your wife or talk to somebody and just really compose yourself. There are some elements to it that are definitely different. You do not have as many sidebar one-on-one conversations with you guys, but from a decompressing mode and just being like, ‘Alright, I can relax for 15-20 minutes and not think about the game for a second,’ and then go talk to the media or then go have a discussion, that has been nice. You can kind of eat in the locker room if you need to or something like that and grab a snack. All of the little things that kind of add up after a game where sometimes you get ambushed right after the game and you have to be ready for some hard-hitting questions.”

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