OC Alex Van Pelt (1.7.21)

Offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt:

On his approach to calling offensive plays on Sunday night:

“Just try to do it as well as I can. I really do not have an approach. Obviously, I have a good feel of (Head Coach) Kevin (Stefanski) and how he has called it throughout the course of the season. I want to stay true to his beliefs in the offense, and I feel the same way. Obviously, it will be a little bit different just because of the nature. Nobody calls it the same. Hopefully, it will be very similar. We have had a lot of success offensively. My hope is at the end of the game there are not too many times where he is yelling at his TV going, ‘What the heck are you doing’ (laughter).”

On if the Browns will run a flea-flicker on the first offensive play of the game:

“If it is available. We will see (laughter).”

On having Pittsburgh roots and returning there for a playoff game:

“It is special, but it is a playoff game so every one of those, wherever it is, is special. It does not really mean anything different. I will not have any friends in the stands so that will not be a part of it.”

On if the Brown have enough banked practice reps if the team is unable to practice this week:

“Obviously, we would love to get out there at some point and do not know if that will happen or not, but you do have to feel good about all of the reps we have inquired and banked over the course of the season through training camp to now. Worst case scenario, we do not, and that is OK. We will just play the hand we are dealt and go down there with a great attitude.”

On the balance between adding new wrinkles to the offensive scheme and knowing the team has to also just run its stuff, particularly when playing a familiar opponent:

“Yeah, there is a fine line. You obviously do not want to go down there and do the same things over and over because they obviously know us well, too. There is a fine line to do what you do and that you do well and find different ways to do it. That is kind of the philosophy.”

On his experience and involvement in the gameplan, play calling and wearing the headset on gamedays:

“It is a collaborative effort from everybody who is on the headsets. That is how we gameplan, that is how we put it together and then on gameday, Kevin if he needs a call here or there will say, ‘Get ready for this next third down call and tell me what you think.’ We are all working together collaboratively to get the next calls in. Obviously, he does a lot of it on his own, but when he does ask we are there for him to help him, whether it be in the run or be in a situational play where it is third-down red zone or short yardage. We all have input and we all have a voice on gameday.”

On if in a normal week he is typically thinking about what he may call on offense in that situation but is now making the final decision:

“I am definitely going to lean on the guys who will be available on gameday for us. Nothing will change other than just the fact that I will be calling them. That would be it. I will still take the input from the guys. I will have a million questions, but we will get through it together.”

On how fired up QB Baker Mayfield is for his first playoff game:

“I am sure he is fired up. To get us there and do a great job like he has all year and to close it out there in the four-minute drive with the first down to cap it, I know he is fired up. We have not really talked much about it. We did talk earlier in the week about the intensity of playoffs games and how they ratchet up with each game and with each week. I think the guys are prepared for that. A lot of these guys have not been in that situation yet so just getting them prepped for the physicality and the intensity in which the game will be played.

On who will replace G Joel Bitonio at LG this week:

“We will see what happens on Sunday. Do not want to really talk about that right now.”

On if he has talked to Bitonio and Bitonio having to miss the first playoff game of his career as the longest-tenured Browns player:

“That is a hard one to swallow. I reached out to him early in the week when I found out, just letting him know how much we do appreciate him. We talked about it briefly as an offensive group and told him he is a big part of why we are there. We are definitely going to miss him. It is unfortunate. It is a crazy year. Hopefully, if things go well, we maybe get him back for the next round.”

On if he sees the team potentially dedicating this week’s game to Bitonio and Stefanski and if there is more motivation to this game with the adversity the team is facing:

“This is a team that fights. This is a team that is resilient. Kind of getting back into the corner a little bit so I do not know if it is dedication to those guys or the fact that this team wants to fight and is not going to get bullied into the corner. I feel like now we short some men, but at the same time, I like the group that is in the room when we do the Zoom meetings and I like the way that their approach has been this week. I feel really good about taking whoever is left down there to Pittsburgh. I know you will get the best.”

On how important it is for Mayfield and him to be in sync as QB and offensive play caller:

“Always, it always is important. For me, the game revolves around the quarterback, how he sees the game and how things effect the quarterback. That has never changed and never will. Being in sync with the quarterback on gameday is critical.”

On if he has been able to develop being in sync with Mayfield all season long:

“Yeah, I would think so. Yes.”

On the challenge of running the ball against the Steelers defense and the decision to run fewer keepers and boots last week against Pittsburgh:

“I have said it all year long, you defend the keeper or you defend the run and then it opens up the other. They chose to defend the keepers and keep the quarterback in the pocket, which is fine. There will be some runs that cut back on that back side that we will benefit from. It is one of the other, and we are ready for either.”

On if he had a coach who spent as much time with him and he does with QB Baker Mayfield and how his relationship with Mayfield has grown and if Mayfield has ever asked to watch his film: 

“No, I do not think [he has asked to watch my film]. I do not think there is anything left that you can get out there (laughter). The coach that did that for me was Paul Hackett. He was my coach at the University of Pittsburgh, and he was the guy who spent every waking moment with me. From that experience moving on to just seeing how (Cowboys Head Coach) Mike McCarthy operated in Green Bay and the relationship you build with the quarterback there with (Packers QB) Aaron (Rodgers) and how important that is on gameday, really, there is going to be one thought and one way to call a game, and that is through the quarterback’s eyes. I have learned that from those guys. Just being around guys daily, early on when we were meeting in person, you just build relationships and you kind of get to feel the way guys learn, the way guys react to certain comments and how to get guys motivated at times. It is just building relationships like anybody else.”

On Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger’s comment that it would be jarring to not have Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner’s voice in his ear and how Mayfield will feel with him calling the plays this week rather than Stefanski: 

“Gameday is a different scenario. Obviously, you are hearing a different voice, but I think my voice should be calming and familiar just from all of the meetings over the course of the season.”

On confidence in Mayfield and if Mayfield has more freedom to change plays at the line of scrimmage and has grown in that area: 

“Not getting into specifics of audibling, but yes, he has earned the right to be able to do what he sees on the field. That is earned through the course of the season.”

On Mayfield’s performance running the ball last week: 

“That is an area that has really been on tap for a lot of years and the season so far, but when he decides to go, he has enough ability obviously to be a threat. He made some great plays for us with his legs. That is part of the game. That is part of being a complete quarterback.”

On how Mayfield responded after the loss to the NY Jets last week to help propel the Browns to the playoffs and how Mayfield has progressed throughout the season, particularly with his low interception total in recent week: 

“He is playing at a high level. He has been for the second half of the season. Whatever he has interception-wise in the last whatever many games has been great, and that is what we are looking for. To me, the light is on and it came on somewhere over course of that, during the bye week maybe, where we are coaching and now he is starting to realize what we are talking about and then you start to see the fruits of those labors and how well he can play under these different demands. He has really answered the bell well. He is playing as well as anybody. Hopefully, that keeps moving forward. I am really proud of him because he is very coachable. He takes coaching right to the core. He tries to do everything how you want it done. He is great that way.”

On how remarkable it is that Mayfield has only had one interception in the last eight games: 

“We do not put any numbers on it. We do not really think much about it. We just do not throw interceptions, and that is kind of the mindset.”

On how his relationship with Stefanski has grown this year and how they work so well together: 

“He is a hell of a guy to start with. He is really, really, really a hell of a football coach. The way he carries himself in the building and as a person and very easy to communicate with, it has just been great. It is very natural to come in and meet somebody for the first time and work in a system under them. I have really enjoyed the experience. He is really respectful to everybody. Everybody has a voice. He cares about his players and cares about his coaches. I am just really disappointed he does not have a chance to go down there and coach in his first playoff game as a head coach. That is disappointing. I think he will proud of the guys who he has put together to take down there the Pittsburgh. That is most important.”

On the Steelers’ pass rush and ability to bring pressure from anywhere on the line of scrimmage: 

“It is tough. They have some talented guys, I have said it before. (Steelers DT) Cam Heyward is one best in the league obviously, and (Steelers OLB T.J.) Watt on the edge and guys inside, too. They are all good players. It is going to be a challenge for our protection group as it is anytime we play these guys. That is something we have identified, and hopefully, we will have some answers for.”

On how much more of a challenge it will be protecting against the Steelers’ pass rush without Bitonio: 

“It is a challenge, and we understand that. We have to do other things well, as well. We have to pass protect well when that time comes. We have to run it well. We have to be on top of our game. I have said it before, when you are playing defense like this, you have to play your best game. That is what it is going to take Sunday for us to be successful.”

On if there will be opportunities to build off RB Nick Chubb’s success last week, understanding the Steelers defenders will return a few starters this week: 

“I think so. It is important to have those guys fresh throughout the course of the game. Kevin and (run game coordinator/running backs coach) Stump (Mitchell) do a great job of managing the rushes. That will be nothing that I will change or do differently. We will have a plan going in and how many touches guys will get, and we will try and stick to that.”

On the most important thing Stefanski does on gamedays, given Stefanski this week has downplayed his overall impact during games: 

“The biggest thing I would say is he likes to have fun. He keeps it light from the beginning to the end. He pokes fun at himself throughout the course of the game, and he is really calming. That is the biggest thing. We are going to have to do a great job of trying to follow his lead.”

On confirming Stefanski laughs during games: 

“He will make little snide jokes like, ‘Well, that was that was great’ or like, ‘Mic check two, seven, 427.’ He is just always popping a dad joke out here and there, trying to keep the guys loose and light. It will be a challenge for us, but we will try to continue that. We are going to miss him.”

On more on Stefanski saying he is not worried about the team in his absence on Sunday: 

“It is tough when you lose your leader. Obviously, it is tough, but at some point, it is like being a parent and sending your kid to college. Hopefully, you have done enough to get them ready for what is ahead. I think that is kind of the mindset.”

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