Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine spoke with the media on Monday following the team's last-minute 30-27 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. Pettine covered a wide variety of topics, from the struggles of the team's young cornerbacks to the emergence of Terrence West and Isaiah Crowell.
The transcript, courtesy of the Browns, is organized by topic below.
"We wake up today, look at the tape and we have some regret for lost opportunities. You can’t live life with regrets after a game like it, but you just feel you lose an opportunity. We had an opportunity to get the season started the right way, headed in the right direction, and it took us a half to get things figured out. It was obviously too late. That’s something that we’ll certainly work on is how we’re going to come out of the gate. It’s hard to have an explanation for a start like that. We really, in a lot of ways, slept-walked through the first half and they played. They made some plays, as well. I can’t say it was all our issues. With that being said, very proud of the way our guys came out and played in the second half. As I said after the game and as I told our players in the meeting today, there’s a phrase for almost winning, or a word for it. It’s called ‘losing.’ I talked about no moral victories and when you guys publish the standings it’s wins and losses. There’s no third column for moral victories. It’s something that we take some lessons from, some hard ones. Our normal protocol – and I went through it with the team today – Monday we come in. we’ll watch the game. We learn from it. We lock in the corrections. A sign of a good team is not repeating the same mistakes. As they move on and transition out of the building today after we’ve looked back, then they spend the rest of the time from Monday afternoon, Monday night, all day Tuesday through Wednesday morning – rest, recovery and looking forward to the next opponent. What you don’t want to do is dwell on a loss to the point where it becomes two losses. If the flip side were true, you don’t want to celebrate a win until Thursday or Friday. The next thing you know, it costs you the next week. It’s important in this league that you have the ability to compartmentalize and move on very quickly. That’s why we’re upset about the lost opportunities yesterday, but looking forward to the challenge this week."
Fixing the Defensive Struggles
On why the defense got off to a slow start against the Steelers: "We had three first downs also in the first half, as well. I think, as a team, we started slow, and that’s something that we’re going to talk about this week, whether it’s something we’re doing from a prep standpoint, how we warm up. All things are on the table for us. We’re going to look at and get some feedback from the guys and make sure that we’re doing the right things to come out of the gate. It was disappointing the way we started on defense. I can’t sit here and tell you otherwise that we need to makes sure that we are – right from the beginning – dialed in, focused. You can’t ease your way into NFL games. You’ve got to be ready to go right from the opening."
On shoring up tackling without actually tackling in practice: "It’s difficult. The coaches have to get creative with the drill work. We have to do a good job of thudding up in practice when the play…if we’re not going to tackle live in practice, at least show that they’re in the proper body position, that they’ve decelerated. They’ve squared up. They’ve sunk their weight. They’ve gotten their hands wide, show that they’re ready to make a tackle. Sometimes in practice you get a tendency. Guys just kind of fly by and tag. I think that’s on us as coaches. It is one of the most difficult things to be able to work on because just for obvious reasons you’re not going to tackle live to the ground in practice, but it’s certainly something…it seems when our guys are into it and focus we tackle better. We’ve got to make sure our minds are right. We didn’t tackle well in the first half, and it improved in the second half."
Addressing Cornerback Concerns
On if he has worked with young cornerbacks that have struggled early on and improved quickly: "Yeah. You have that with a rookie corner, and with most positions, the difficult thing you’re in is – I’ve said this a bunch of times – there’s no substitute for live game reps. Then, you get in the situation where you put yourself at the mercy of his learning curve. If he’s still learning…we always talk about the two positions that get you beat the fastest – cornerback and quarterback. That’s something that looking back on it maybe he did play too many reps, and we might look to maybe not…we’re not looking to bench him, but maybe scale back his reps this week."
On if a young cornerback’s confidence can be damaged like a young quarterback’s if he plays too much too soon: "I think there is, but not as much. I think we need to do a better job as a staff putting him in some situations, maybe getting him some help. There is no substitute for playing, and that’s something where he needs to transition. He needs to take what he does on the practice field and take it to the game because he’s practiced well. That’s part of the learning process, too, that he’s got to be able to dial in. We always talk to our players, ‘Fall back on your technique. You should hear your position coaches voices in your head talking you through the play, especially pre-snap.’ That’s something that we preach to all of our young guys that are maybe having some struggles."
On if he has any experienced corners who can come in: "Yeah, (DB) Aaron (Berry) has been solid in the reps that he’s been in there. He’s played before. The young kid came in a did a decent job; (DB) K’Waun Williams did a nice job in the few snaps that he was in there. We do have some other options."
On if he knows what DB Justin Gilbert’s study habits are like: "Our coaches are very demanding as far as what they ask our players to do outside the building as far as homework assignments, weekly tests, and he’s been on point on all of that type of prep stuff."
On if he worries about hurting Gilbert’s confidence if he scales back his reps: "I don’t, but there’s that fine line. You’ve got to do what’s best for the team, but at the same time, you still want the kid to get some confidence. It’s tough. Life in the NFL for a rookie corner is tough. There aren’t many, if you go back through the years, that have come right out of college and been special right out of the gate. I don’t even think (DB) Joe Haden until – I think it was game six or seven when he was a rookie. It’s something where you walk that fine line. Hey, do we play him? Then at what point do we…I think we’ve got to try and find that middle ground."
On it looking like Haden and several others in the secondary had a difficult day:"Joe, for the most part, I thought was pretty solid. The one that got caught on him for the long touchdown, I don’t know if he could have been in better coverage. That was as perfect of a ball as you could of through. That was a disappointing play. We had a free runner, and (Steelers QB) Ben (Roethlisberger) was Ben. We had a free run on a blitz and didn’t have a chance to get him on the ground, and (Roethlisberger) got out of the pocket and threw a ball where nobody could get to it but the receiver. Sometimes you just look at stats – thrown to, completions, yardage. I don’t put Joe at fault for that play. I don’t think he could have covered him any better."
The Wide Receiver Situation
On whether any of the WRs stood out in Sunday’s game: "I thought that they all competed. I thought the game wasn’t (too) big – we keep using that phrase - with (Taylor) Gabriel. He was blocking his tail off against (S Troy) Polamalu making catches over the middle of the field. I thought that (WR Andrew Hawkins) competed well. He just needs to learn that sometimes it’s best to get what you can get and just go down, but he’s such a competitor fighting for extra yards, taking unnecessary shots. But that group in the second half stepped it up and really competed."
On whether they will use WR Marlon Moore coming off of suspension: "We haven’t made that decision yet."
On WR/returner Travis Benjamin’s performance and being replaced as the kick returner and punt returner: "I’m not sure, I think there were some situations where we felt that he shouldn’t (have) fair-caught it. But that’s his first game back. The kick-off one I think that we just felt that (Taylor) Gabriel was a little fresher at that point given the reps that they had taken. We’re very confident in Travis, I think that he is one of the premiere returners in the league. He’ll bounce back."
The View From the Sidelines
On if calling the defense himself proved to be the case on Sunday against the Steelers: "It did. We split the game. When they started to go with some of their up-tempo stuff and it was more nickel calls, then (Browns defensive coordinator) Jim (O’Neil) took over. For a good part of the game when we were in base defense, I called it. Then, we got to the point where we, in between series, would kind of plan out the next series just from a scripting standpoint. ‘I’m going to script out the next series. What do we like first down against this, second down against this?’ That’ll kind of be a fluid thing. I don’t have one way to say it. I thought the times when he had it he did a good job, especially in the second half when they got us off the field a couple times. I thought he did a good job."
On the difficulties in communication between Hoyer and Shanahan: "I think that I knew that there were some complaints that – it wasn’t the play coming in late- Kyle calls them fast. It was not an issue of that it was more the electronics part of it, the headset."
On whether it the technical difficulties happened once or throughout the game:"It was intermittent throughout. We had some problems with it. I think that one time Brain (Hoyer) had to run over and get a play call from him."
On if he second guesses himself on the coaching decisions made at the end of the game when QB Brian Hoyer got sacked: "I don’t. I’m not going to step on the toes of the offensive coordinator either. He was good with them calling plays. I thought he had Pittsburgh pretty dialed in for that half. I’m not going to be the proverbial Monday morning quarterback. It’s easy to look back and (say), ‘Oh, we should have done that. We should have kicked a field goal. We should have taken the air out of the ball there.’ Those are things that are easy to say when they don’t work out. We made the decisions that we made, and we’ll live with them."
The Running Backs Step Up
On whether he expected six yards-a-carry from the team’s running game: "Yeah, I didn’t realize that until I peeked at it afterwards. I thought it was good. It was consistent – all three guys, averaged over six (yards-per-carry). If we can get that rolling I think you’ll see how the play-action opens up. I mean, we had some of those crossing routes where there was nobody anywhere near him. You start running the ball well and the nice thing about the zone scheme is that the play action stuff really does marry-up to it. It looks very similar as opposed to some of the drop-back-play-action where the linemen would give it away. It’s going to be a big part of what we do, not just yesterday but moving forward."
On if he was surprised by the way RB Terrance West played: "No, because he had a great week of practice. He really did. We kind of dangled a carrot with him giving him jersey number 28. We told him it depended on how he prepped for the week, so he was a model citizen the day we told him that. I think running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery has done such a good job with the young backs especially. (RB Isaiah) Crowell was a guy we were thinking, ‘Hey, I don’t know how much we’re going to use him this year,’ – not a lot of reps in the preseason and just his lack of experience. He’s a guy who stepped up and obviously played well. I don’t think anybody would have guessed that he would have had two touchdowns in the opener. That’s part of the NFL. Somebody gets hurt and it’s the next man up. That’s what coaches get paid for – to make sure those guys are ready. I think West has come a long way in this system, and I think Crowell is built for it. He’s a one-cut downhill guy. You could see when their defense got tired, both of those guys were just what the doctor ordered."
How Hoyer Did
On what he thought of Hoyer’s performance and if the arrow is still pointing up for him: "It is, but I think across the board we just need to raise our level of consistency. He made some great throws in the game. The touchdown to (WR) Travis (Benjamin) I thought was as good of a throw as you could have made. Some of those crossing routes, the deep in-cut on the third and long to ‘Hawk’ (WR Andrew Hawkins) I thought couldn’t have been thrown any better. Then there were some throws that, he’d be the first one to tell you, he would want to have over again – a couple he threw low. I know it’s hard for him with our smaller guys – With (WR Taylor) Gabriel and Hawkins. You’re going between throwing to (TE) Jordan (Cameron) and throwing to those guys. It’s not your typical catch radius that he’s thrown towards. I think as he settles in…I thought the offensive line, for the most part, protected well. We did give up two sacks, but neither of them were attributed to the inside five. We had one pressure that they gave up, but I think as he gets a good feel for the pocket and playing with that group and where he can step up, that will only…the tendency for him is sometimes he speeds himself up. I think the more he plays, the calmer he’ll be."
It's How You Finish
On will the second half of the game help the team going forward: "It gives us some momentum. We know we’re 0-1, it could be a different 0-1 game had the second half had been a duplicate of the first half. But, I think, to get a taste of what it should look like I think is a confidence boost for our guys that when their mind is right that it doesn’t matter who’s across from them if we execute. I thought just watching the way that we ran the ball in the second half, that (offensive) line working together I thought was outstanding. I think that there is that learning curve with the zone scheme. I think those guys – that group of five- really started to turn it on and play well. But I think defensively we’ll take something from it as well but we learned some hard lessons but at the same time there is, at least, some momentum coming out of that second half."
On what to take out of games in order to finish them: "You just have to be relentless in your approach, keep your standards high and have guys understand that this is a win business, losing is unacceptable."
On if he has an update on Browns RB Ben Tate and Browns TE Jordan Cameron’s injuries: "I don’t. I don’t have the full details on that yet. If we get information we’ll go ahead and push that out. If not, it’ll be Wednesday."
On how confident he feels with TE Gary Barnidge and TE Jim Dray if they have to go without Cameron for a little bit: "That’s on the table. We still don’t have the medical info yet, but I thought both those guys did a nice job – had some key catches in the game."
The Ray Rice Situation
On today’s decision from the Baltimore Ravens releasing RB Ray Rice: "Yeah, I saw the video this morning. It was deeply disturbing especially as a father that has two daughters. There’s just no place for that behavior in our society."
On whether he was glad to see NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s stand on domestic violence: "Yeah, when the policy got changed - absolutely. I agree with that whole-heartedly as does (Browns’ General Manager Ray Farmer.)
On whether he was surprised that the Baltimore Ravens released RB Ray Rice after the video surfaced: "I wasn’t surprised after watching it."
On whether he could coach a player who was involved in domestic violence:"You never want to talk in absolutes, but it would be real difficult."
Loose Ends - Kruger, Brown, Playing Up-Tempo, Moving Forward
On how impressed he is with LB Paul Kruger getting two sacks: "Paul played well. He did. I thought he was very physical. His production came as a result of rolling off the ball and being very physical. LB Jabaal (Sheard’s) sack was the same way. Paul is a guy who’s come a long way with his technique. We got on him early on. He was getting too far up the field. Our running saying in the defensive room is ‘you can’t get a sack on a run play.’ He’s taken it to heart and taken the coaching. He was one of the guys too on the sideline – he was one of the guys at halftime too who kept saying, ‘Hey, there’s a lot of game let. There’s a lot of game left.’ I think there were probably a few doubters in that room (who thought), ‘Hey, we’re probably done here being on the road in this environment down by this much.’ He was one of the guys who I thought kept it up and stepped our guys up."
On whether Steelers’ WR Antonio Brown should have been ejected for the kick to the face of punter Spencer Lanning: "I think he was trying to hurdle him and our guy kind of fell backwards and it was a kick to the head but I don’t think it was. To eject a player there would have to be intent. I don’t think he intended to do it. I think it was a hurdle and I think – it’s just where it ended it up because our guy was falling backwards."
On how long he thinks an up-tempo offense can be sustained and if it is impossible to sustain: "I think it’s difficult, and also from a defensive perspective, I think when you face the same tempo all the time I think you get used to it. It becomes rhythmic. I think the threat of that needs to be there. We ran it obviously for a whole half because we had to down that. I’ve always wanted to have an offense that had that ability to change tempos, just having been on the defensive side knowing that if there’s that threat of them going ultra-fast it causes some issues. It gets you out of the rhythm of being a play caller. It would be difficult since that’s not what we train for. I know there are some teams that’s all they do. That’s Philly, that’s Buffalo and that’s not who we are. I was glad that we showed the ability that we could jump into it and sustain it for as long as we did."
On how confident he is that the lost opportunities that need corrected can be corrected as they head into the home opener against New Orleans: "We feel confident. That’s what we do. That’s our business. We evaluate the tape. What’s correctable? Let’s make sure we’re all over it and we correct it and we put in on the players like, ‘These are the mistakes that we made. Let’s lock these in as corrections.’ Then you just keep building from there. When you’re in a new system, there are going to be situations that come up (on) both sides of the ball that you haven’t gone over in an OTA or in training camp that come up for the first time in a game where you get some mistakes made because there’s just not that bank of experience playing in that system to lock those things in. We’re hopeful that this group will handle the corrections and lock them in. We’ll just keep building from there."