Browns mission: Start fast on the road
BEREA, Ohio — To say the Browns have been off to a slow start on the road would be the understatement of the year.
The Browns have been painfully slow starters in their two road games this season, having been outscored 55-13 in the two away games they’ve played. They were down to the Steelers in the season opener 27-3 at halftime and were down 28-10 to the Titans on Oct. 5.
"It’s paramount to us, to start fast," Mike Pettine said. "It will be a point of emphasis for us all week. We all know the facts that we’ve been outscored 55-13 in the first halves of our games on the road."
Pettine said the team might change up their game day schedule on the road to see if that helps.
"I talked to some of the players about (the game day schedule) and we might make some changes."
In the two games, the Browns are remarkably 1-1. In the first game, the Browns had a 24-point rally to tie the Steelers, only to lose on a last second field goal.
Then against the Titans, the Browns set an NFL record by coming back from 25 points to defeat the Titans, 29-28, which was the biggest come-from-behind victory for a road team in league history.
"You can’t build sustained success starting that way and consistently think you can play your way out of it," Pettine said. "That will be something we’ll look to correct."
The Browns are traveling to Jacksonville to take on a team that is winless in six games and ranked near the bottom in many NFL statistical categories. Jacksonville is 32nd in offense and 30th in defense. Meanwhile, the Browns are 10th in offense and 29th in defense.
Pettine said the Browns have come ready to play.
"They’re a competitive, hungry, prideful team," he said. "We’re playing down at their place.
"We know we’re not in the situation where we can go down and put in an average effort and come away successful," he said. "We’re going to get their best shot."
The Browns are tied for ninth in the NFL averaging 26.8 points a game. Meanwhile, the Jaguars are 32nd in the league averaging just 13.5 points a game.
The Browns are third in the NFL rushing averaging 146.4 yards a game and tied for 10th overall on offense, averaging 383.2 in total yards per game. Jacksonville is 32nd in points, total yards (290) and in rushing (69.5).
"Sometimes, the numbers can be very deceiving," Pettine said. "(Jacksonville) was missing some of their guys. We don’t get too wrapped up in (the numbers). We watch the tape."
Last year, the Jaguars came to Cleveland on Dec. 1 and beat the Browns 32-28. The Jaguars came into that game with a record of just 2-9.
"I think we’re just struggling now with consistency and playing the whole 60 minutes," Jaguars’ coach Gus Bradley said Wednesday in a conference call with the media. "We’re a different team than we were last year.
"I think we have 10 new starters than the team we had last year on offense," he said. "It really has completely changed in our team. It’s created new challenges. We’ve got a lot of youth on the offensive side. I love their competitiveness."
Pettine is fully aware that the Browns at 3-2 will have to be ready to play.
"We’re not good enough to just show up."
McDonald practices: OL Nick McDonald has been designated to return to practice from Reserve/NFI. He can practice and be activated to the 53-man roster at any time within a 21-day period. After 21 days, he must be activated or returned to Reserve/NFI and will not be eligible to return to the Browns active roster for the remainder of the 2014 season.
"I feel good," McDonald said. "I’ve played a lot of center, but whatever the coaches want me to do, that’s fine with me."
McDonald was on the field for his first practice Wednesday wearing a brace on his wrist. He wears No. 68.
McDonald (6-4, 306) played with the Patriots in 2011-12, starting three games and spent 2013 missing the season. He was released by the Patriots and signed by the Chargers in July before being released and signed by the Browns to the reserve/non-football injury list.
It is expected that McDonald wouldn’t be activated for this week’s game, but that John Greco would play center, at least this week.
"It’s pretty much the mindset of next man up with losing Alex," Pettine said. "Whether it’s John sliding over and Paul stepping in or Vinston Painter. We now have Nick McDonald available to practice and we’re not sure how it will all shake out."
McDonald said he thinks he can be ready to play sooner than later.
"I’ve been staying in shape and preparing every week," he said.
McDonald was originally an undrafted rookie free agent from Grand Valley State.
Gipson out, Rubin back: The Browns issued a lengthy list of players that would be limited at practice including: DB Tashaun Gipson (thigh), LB Paul Kruger (back), OL Alex Mack (leg), DL Ahtyba Rubin (ankle), WR Rodney Smith (hamstring), DL Phil Taylor (knee), OL Joe Thomas (rest), DB K’Waun Williams (concussion) and DL Billy Winn (quad).
Gipson, Winn and Smith were on the stationary bikes during the beginning of practice, while Rubin, Kruger and DB Joe Haden (hip) were all practicing. On the official injury report, Gipson, Winn and Smith were listed as did not practice.
Williams, Taylor and Mack were not on the field.
Pettine mentioned that he is optimistic Rubin will be able to play this week.
"We’re hopeful to get Rubin back."
Kruger, Rubin and McDonald were listed as limited on the official injury report.
Fua adds depth: The Browns signed DL Sione Fua on Tuesday. In addition, the club placed DL Armonty Bryant (knee) on injured reserve.
Pettine said that if Rubin comes back, Fua might still be active this week.
"We are anticipating getting ‘Rube’ back," he said. "I don’t’ know if we’ll have four or five (defensive linemen).
"We’ll make that decision at the end of the week," he said. "He had a good workout, was in shape and he’s smart. We liked the film we watched on him. We’re hoping he can be productive for us and be a contributor as the year goes along."
Fua (6-2, 310) is in his in his fourth NFL season out of Stanford. Originally a third round draft pick by Carolina in 2011, Fua has appeared in 29 games with 12 starts. He has registered 33 tackles and one forced fumble. He appeared in 27 games with the Panthers from 2011-13 and two games with the Broncos last season. Fua was waived by the Broncos during final roster cuts this season.
He appeared in 50 games at Stanford and totaled 80 tackles, nine sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. He is wearing No. 70 for the Browns.
Bryant to IR: Bryant sustained damage to knee ligaments in the first quarter against Pittsburgh that will require surgical repair. His surgery will be scheduled for later this month. He appeared in five games with two starts and recorded 11 tackles and one sack.
Cone signed: The Browns signed WR Kevin Cone to the practice squad.
Cone (6-3, 216) is in his third NFL season out of Georgia Tech. Cone originally signed with Atlanta as an undrafted free agent in 2011 and has appeared in 29 games. He has one reception for 12 yards and 10 special-teams tackles. He spent 2011-13 with the Falcons and has spent time on the Cardinals and Buccaneers practice squads this year.
The Browns also released WR Lee Doss from the practice squad.
No distraction: Pettine was asked if the contract talks surrounding QB Brian Hoyer could be a distraction on the team’s focus for this week’s game.
"It can be, if we let it," Pettine said. "We’re focused on the task at hand. Distractions come in all shapes and sizes.
"Brian will be the first one to tell you he’s focused on this game."
Mack Surgery: Pettine said that C Alex Mack will have surgery to repair his fibula on Friday in North Carolina. Mack signed an offer sheet as a restricted free agent with the Jaguars that was matched by the Browns.