LG Joel Bitonio (12.26.23)

First of all, how’d the back come through Sunday? 

“Yeah, ended up doing pretty well. Early in the game I got freaking knocked down one time and like landed on my back. That kind of shot a little bit, you know, locked it up for a second, took a couple plays, but it stayed all right. So I got through game all right. I’m feeling better than I was last week at this time, so it’s doing pretty good.”


Joel, right now, the last three games. Is this the best the offense has looked in your tenure here? Small sample size, but it’s all we’ve got.

“No, yeah. Thinking back on it, I think the passing game has been very, very strong. Obviously as a lineman you’re a little – whatever it takes to win, but we want a little bit more efficiency in the run game. Our yards per carry has been down, but I think in the passing game it’s been very good and definitely one of the top three game stretches we’ve had.”


The big plays you’re getting in the passing game, though, and the verticality that’s come with having Joe (Flacco) back there. What type of energy has that injected into the offense? The fact that you guys not only are taking so many deep shots, but you’re connecting? 

“Yeah, the big plays have been nice. It’s fun to have three play drives or one play drives where you’re scoring a touchdown pretty quickly. And I mean, we showed, too, we could run 18 or 20 play drive as well, but those big plays are huge. Get points on the board quickly, demoralize the defense because our defense takes up there and keep on.”


I’m not sure what your expectations were when Joe got here. Has this gotten beyond that? 

“He’s played really well. I didn’t know really what to expect. Like I said, I saw him throw in practice a little bit. I’m like, he looks like he’s still throw, but going out there playing is a lot different than practice. Unfortunately, I saw what he did when he was playing with the Jets against us last year, so there’s something in there. But no, he’s been great for us. He’s been a leader. He’s really stayed in the ship and we’ve been thankful to have him.”


Even though the offense has been widely based, with (Kevin) Stefanski on multiple tight ends. Do you get the feeling that this is where he always wanted to get to?

“I think it shows that Coach Stefanski can kind of work his personnel and what he wants to do. But yeah, in this league, you want to take those shots. You want to have those big plays, those ETA plays where you can get 75 yards, 80 yards and a pop. I think it matters on who’s playing, though, as well. When you have Nick Chubb in the backfield, he’ll probably give him a few more carries and stuff like that, but I think it’s always been from the day he wants to be a balanced attack, but be able to take those shots when he can.”


Inside the scoring zone, have the Browns kind of copied the Chiefs with their creativity?

“Not exactly copy, but I think we’ve had some good plays where we put (Jerome) Ford and Kareem (Hunt) and the whole mob back and had some plays on that. But in this league, there’s only so many plays you can run so we’re trying to find different ways we can score and get open. I don’t know if they’ve taken place in Kansas City or not, but I think you have to be great in the red zone to make things happen.”


Joe’s arm, what does he do for opening up the defense a little bit and just stretching the field?

“Yeah, I think if you watch the tape over the last few weeks, you’re probably going to scoot your safeties back a little bit. You got to realize, hey, these guys are taking some shots downfield and hopefully for us it widens the box on us. Because there was a little stretch there where people are going heavy and they’re putting one more guy out. We had the block, so it’s definitely helped balance things out a little bit more.”


What do you think that scene is going to be like? Thursday night with the chance to clinch in front of the home crowd. 

“Oh, high energy. It’s been great all year. The home crowd has been awesome all year, but we’re excited to get down there on Thursday. We know the Jets came in and got a win last week, so they’re still playing motivated football and they’re a big challenge for us, but I think the fans will have high energy. We will have high energy and I think it’s going to be a great atmosphere.”


Hey, Joel, your back on the short week. How much a bigger challenge is that? And are you getting extra treatment or how does that look? 

“Yeah, I wish I probably had a few more days, but everybody’s a little beat up right now, so I’ll do my best to be out there and we’ll go from there. You go out there, play Thursday and you get the weekend off. So that’s all I’m thinking about right now is just going out there and do what we can to try and get a win.”


Myles (Garrett) said a couple of weeks ago that Dr. Seuss couldn’t write this season. It’s  just been so abstract and surreal. You kind of feel the same way that this path to 10-5 has been, let’s say, unorthodox? 

“Yeah, it’s been a little different. I mean, the injuries, the quarterback situations and it’s the NFL, but the Cleveland Browns in its own unique way. But we’ve stressed all along, I mean, since Coach Stefanski has been here, he’s stressed going 1-0. It sounds cliché, but if you focus on the week at hand and you try not to look at too much of the big picture, people tend to believe that stuff. So we’re just trying to go 1-0 and we’ll see what happens.”


When you say it sounds cliché, why do you think guys have bought in this year, specifically to Kevin’s messaging? 

“You have to. I mean, when you go out there and you’re down to your fourth and fifth tackle, fourth quarterback of the year. Your best offense player, Nick Chubb, been out all season. You have to focus on one win at a time. There’s really nothing else you can do when you’re coming in here like Joe and coming off the streets. What else can he focus on? He has to get ready to play one game and play that game. And so that’s just been our mantra. And he’s talked about being resilient since he’s been here as well. And I think this group just shows like, hey, we have some resilience.”


You just talked about that hit you took, the jolt at the back. I know you’ve been doing this a long time, but does it shot like that when the guy just picks you off, does that still catch you off guard?

“Yeah, it was an ET, and I was trying to close the A gap. My D tackle was rushing pretty hard inside, so I was like, oh, I got this. I’ll close it off. I feel it. And I peeked, like, at the last second, and he just… Some guys like to pick and roll that where if they have the team, they’ll go try and sack the quarterback. And he was trying to headhunt me a little bit, so it’s part of the game. If I have a shot and he’s rushing, I’m going to try and take that, too. So it’s part of it. The catch off guard, honestly, my back wasn’t messed up. I would have popped up just as quick and been fine, but the impact of hitting the ground was what kind of jolted me a little bit, but it’s part of the game.”


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