HC Kevin Stefanski (1.4.21)

Head Coach Kevin Stefanski:

Opening statement: 

“On the injury front, (WR) Donovan Peoples-Jones has a concussion so we will work through the protocols on that. (DE) Olivier Vernon ruptured his Achilles so we will be without him. He is going to get surgery, which obviously I am very disappointed for OV. He was playing at a high level, and we are going to miss his leadership.


“Recapping the game, kind of feel how I felt last night. Proud of the guys for fighting. I just know we have a ton that we can clean up, and we have to do that. Working very hard already on these calls to just identify with the guys things that we have to clean up. Common opponent, obviously, right back versus them next weekend so there is plenty that we know that we will face and I am sure they know that they are going to face. We just have to clean up some things from a technical standpoint.”


On what Vernon meant to the team and how Vernon stepped up when DE Myles Garrett was out: 

“He did [step up]. He stepped up his game. A bunch of guys have done that this season. OV is a great example of that. We were counting on him, we needed him and he stepped up. He is a leader for the football team in how he plays. OV does not say much, but when he talks, I think the guys listen. Just goes about his business. Certainly, hard to replace – I do not know if you replace any player – but we need guys to step up.”


On an update on Browns players on reserve/COVID-19 and if it is possible that CB Denzel Ward can play on Sunday: 

“With all of those guys on that COVID list, I can’t really get into specifics. I will just tell you that we will work through all of that, we will follow the protocols and see where they lead.”


On if it is a possibility that Ward could play Sunday: 

“I am not going to get into the hypotheticals. I promise you, we are going to follow the protocols to a T and then see where it goes.”


On when the Browns will have more information on what players will be able to return from reserve/COVID-19: 

“I really do not know just because every situation is so different. I will just wait until (Senior Vice President of Player Health and Development) Joe Sheehan tells me they are available.”


On playing without Ward and CB Kevin Johnson on Sunday and CB Robert Jackson’s performance: 

“There have been so many instances this year of playing without our starters. That happens every year due to injury and then this year being unique with all things COVID-related. We have been navigating it throughout the year. Guys have stepped up, like we just talked about. Put Robert out there and he had a couple of tough matchups, but by and large, he was in position. A couple of things that we can clean up, but all of those guys, I am proud of them for stepping up to the challenge.”


On the false starts yesterday: 

“That is not clean football. We work really hard to play clean ball. All of those pre-snap things are so correctable. Really, they should never happen is the way I look at it pre-snap.”


On RB Nick Chubb getting off to a fast start yesterday and decisions of when to use Chubb and RB Kareem Hunt: 

“We work both those guys in. We are mindful of workload and mindful of getting that win and also understanding that we have another hopefully a few games coming up here. Try to make sure it is the right balance of keeping both those guys fresh and getting the guy in there to get some work done.”


On if the experience playing on the road this season is ‘way different’: 

“I would say it is way different. We have not installed the silent count this year, which is crazy. We have not needed it. That is very, very different. I love playing in our building and obviously in front of 12,000. It is just hard to duplicate when that is 60,000 and that noise so that is very different.”


On if there was a common factor with sacks allowed yesterday: 

“We could clean up some technique. I thought a couple of play calls were not very good, and I put those guys in a tough spot. Clean up some technique. It is a good front.”


On the absence of offensive line coach Bill Callahan and assistant offensive line coach Scott Peters played a factor in the false start penalties: 

“No, it is just lack of concentration in those moments. Those guys know that they can’t do that. I do not see that happening moving forward.”


On reports that C JC Tretter helped with some OL coaching duties yesterday: 

“We had (coaching assistant) Ryan Cordell down there working with the offensive line. Ryan works with those guys every single day so that was natural. JC, you guys know he is very, very smart. There is not much he has not seen so I am just very comfortable with how those guys work together. JC was not Bill Russell player-coach, but the way he is on the sideline in a lot of ways, that is how he has always been.”


On if there are players on reserve/COVID-19 that the Browns can rule out for Sunday: 

“Again, I am just not going to get into specifics on that.”


On if Callahan and pass game coordinator/wide receivers coach Chad O’Shea coaches will be able to work from home this week, given reports that they had experienced symptoms: 

“All of these guys, you are hoping everybody is feeling good and getting better. We do a lot of work virtually already. That has kind of been the name of the game. Feel confident that we can continue to work remotely, if you will, with the coaches.”


On the impact if Callahan is not able to attend practice this week: 

“We will have to pivot if that is the case. We had Ryan Cordell down there yesterday. Again, he is in the individual drills all week with those guys so confident that we can get our work done.”


On giving QB Baker Mayfield the ball on the third-down play to seal the game and if there were more designed QB runs this week: 

“That was really the only designed quarterback run. I do not believe there were others. He has the option at times in certain plays, but just felt that was the right call for the right moment because it worked. Really well blocked. (TE) Austin Hooper did a great job at the point of attack. (T) Jack Conklin did a great job on his pull. (RB) Kareem (Hunt) brought a ton of force with his lead block. The guys did a nice job of executing there.”


On rotating the Browns RBs series to series yesterday: 

“That is really what we do every game – we go series to series. Kareem gets a ton of reps on third down. There are certain plays that we want Nick in there for and there are certain plays that we want Kareem in there for, but once we get into the flow of it, just have some dialogue with (run game coordinator/running backs coach) Stump (Mitchell) and then feel comfortable with who we have out there. Again, we feel like we want to make sure we have some fresh guys starting this week.”


On the emphasis on blocking with Browns skill players and what that says about those players hustling to make blocks: 

“It says a lot about those guys being great teammates. I also think it says a lot about how they are being coached. You better block if you are a wide receiver. Coach O’Shea demands it. It is really twofold: it is the players that we have believing in each other and being great teammates and being selfless and then making sure you coach effort.”


On if the team tracks skill players blocking and reinforces it during the week: 

“Yes, definitely. When you watch the tape together as a group, you are always pointing those things out. The offensive line in particular loves to see the wide receivers blocking downfield and getting guys on the ground. It is great for the entire unit.”


On if he has previously faced the same team in back-to-back weeks in his career and the challenges it presents: 

“Yeah, I did go through something similar in 2012 with the Vikings. We beat the Packers in the last game and then went to the Packers the next week. The quarterback got hurt in the previous game. It is unique. A lot of the presentations we are going to give the players will be very fresh. They will have seen a lot of these plays already so you coach them off of your previous game a lot, and they are doing the same. Neither of our teams are going to wholesale change their schemes here in the Wild Card playoffs. Obviously, they are going to have players playing in this one that they did not have in the last one so we will see how that adjusts their plan. It is a very different feeling when you come in and you want to put on the tape of your previous opponent and you are watching the game from yesterday.”


On if the prospect of playing the Steelers in the Wild Card round was in the back of his mind at all yesterday: 

“I knew that was a distinct possibility.”


On his first playoff appearance with the Vikings: 

“We went 10-6 in 2008 and played the Eagles. I was fortunate being with the Vikings for all of those years, I had a bunch of opportunities to go into the playoffs and get to the championship game a couple of times. I have guys on the staff that have won Super Bowls. We have players that have won Super Bowls. Guys have been there, and they understand once you get here, you have a chance. I reminded the players of that today. There are 14 teams in this thing so you have a chance. Now, we are just going to make sure we focus on what we have to do this week to sharpen our game up.”


On if the preparation and everything else feel different this week: 

“I hope it is not too different. I hope Wednesday feels like Wednesday. I hope we are on the field, having the normal rhythm of our week and getting the preparations in. That is what we are going try and double down on is making sure we stick to what got us here from a preparation standpoint.”


On all of the Browns consistently echoing the same message that the team has not yet achieved its goals for the season: 

“The guys get it. Again, those 14 teams that are in it want to win a Super Bowl. In order to do that, you have to get in the tournament first. That is what yesterday was – they punched their ticket, and now, we are going to focus on this game. It is a one-game season, and we have to do everything we can to prepare to play a really good football team again.”


On if he has to block out the Browns’ history against the Steelers and give the message that ‘anybody can beat anybody’: 

“Yeah, and I think that is the truth. We have a lot of guys here, myself included, that can’t really speak to some of those stats you just named. I know it is boring, but we are going to focus on going 1-0 this week.”


On if yesterday’s game had a playoff feel and if there is any carryover with that mentality and focus this week: 

“I think so. The urgency definitely was there last week because win or you are not playing anymore. A similar situation this week. When you are in the playoffs, you have to win or you are going home. They get that. That started last week, but I do not think I need to remind them of what is at stake.”


On if the Steelers offense looked different yesterday and how he discerns what may carry over this week with Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger back: 

“I think we expected it to look different with the change in quarterback, and we expect it to look different again this week. That is part of their job is to play to their players’ strengths. We understand that may change. It is our job to put ourselves in their building, think like them and try and get a feel for what they may do this week. That is what we are going to work hard on. Like you mentioned, they had wrinkles yesterday with (Steelers QB Josh) Dobbs coming in there to run it. They absolutely could do that again this week or not. That is part of the preparation. There is the game theory in trying to understand what they are doing and how it informs your decisions and game planning.”


On speaking with Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin before yesterday’s game, which Tomlin is not typically prone to doing: 

“Coach Tomlin and I were together for a year in 2006, as well as (defensive coordinator) Joe Woods, Chad O’Shea and (senior offensive assistant) Kevin Rogers, and (Steelers defensive line coach) Carl Dunbar is on their staff. Listen, it is a rivalry. He wants to beat our butts and we want to beat their butts, but he is a friend so excited to just catch up with him for a couple of minutes there.”


On the challenge the Browns face playing at Pittsburgh, given the number of years it has been since the team has won there: 

“The challenge is playing a really well-coached team with a bunch of good players. That is the challenge. Again, I understand the statistics are out there, but really not too concerned with the past.”


On Mayfield’s celebration after his third-down run to secure the win and how infectious Mayfield’s excitement is within the building: 

“I did not get a good look at that one, but I will go check it out. You know Baker’s personality. He brings people along. He is the guy who everybody looks to. His leadership is on display at all times. He is a fiery player. He is a fiery person. I think you just see a player who really wants it. That is evident in how he plays and it is evident and how he prepares, and I think it is a great message to our team that we have a bunch of guys that are fighting and scrapping and clawing for everything they can get.”


On if DE Adrian Clayborn is the next man up at DE with Vernon out, given Clayborn received the most snaps of DEs outside of Garrett and Vernon: 

“Yeah, that would be the case throughout the season. Adrian has in that guy going in there. (DE) Porter Gustin is another guy who was in there yesterday and would have his role increase, as well.”


On how valuable Clayborn’s experience is as one of the Browns players who has won a Super Bowl and made several deep runs in the playoffs: 

“Those guys are important in January. Adrian is again a leader of his football team, and he does not have to say much, just how he prepares and how he goes about his business. You are right, he has been there and he has done that. It is great for our players to see a guy who even though he has that experience, he comes in every day ready to work.”


On his reaction to Garrett speaking with Steelers QB Mason Rudolph after the game: 

“No real reaction. Myles has been a tremendous leader for us. Always counting on him. Good for him to do that, but ultimately, I know his focus is on this game.”


On the Browns starting CB Robert Jackson at CB and if Jackson played well enough to start again this week, if needed: 

“We will see how it goes and see how this week goes. You are right, we do have options and you talk through all of those options and make sure you are putting a plan together that you think makes sense. We will do that again this week. As it pertains to Robert, he stepped up in a tough spot, just like a bunch of guys have stepped up in a tough spot. That is the name of the game right now. You have to be ready to go in at a moment’s notice.”


On the height of the Steelers WRs and the challenge it presents: 

“Those balls that are up in the air and they are 50/50 balls, you have to go compete. Some of those big body wide receivers do a great job of trying to box people out. It is a challenge, and we totally understand that and have to work real hard to go get those balls.”


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