With a week full of drama at the coaching level resolved, the Cleveland Browns (2-4-1) can now fully focus on the Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2-1) in Week 8.
Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield gets his first shot as a starter against the Browns’ divisional rival on the road.
And offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who will continue calling plays, wants Baker to be prepared for what’s to come at Heinz Field.
"He has to be ready," Haley told reporters. "The name of the game, and what I just said — I have been on teams that have started slow and have not done the things necessary to win enough games — you keep doing what you are doing and you keep getting better. The teams that do that and that continue to progress week in and week out and just get better have a chance to play in bigger games at the end of the year."
Haley’s point on starting fast rings true for the Browns’ offense, a unit that has struggled with consistency in recent weeks.
In order to potentially come out of Sunday with a win, Baker and the offense must be better on third downs with a view to eat up clock and sustain drives. Both areas have plagued the Browns’ offense through seven games and the unit ranks 29th in the league in third-down efficiency and 28th in average time of possession.
Perhaps a solution could surround improved protection of Baker, who has been sacked 18 times since becoming the starter five games ago, including a total of 15 times in the past three games.
Haley, however, pointed to the experience level of the players around his rookie quarterback and said Baker must have faith that his teammates, including those at the skill positions, will fulfill their responsibilities.
"That is part of the trust process with quarterback of trusting that they are going to do what they are going to do," Haley said. "It is a young group. We have a lot of young guys that are playing critical positions. All you can do is coach those guys and coach them hard, make sure that they know that you care, make sure that they know you believe in them and make sure that they know that you are putting in the best possible position to succeed."
Meanwhile, the Browns have been involved in four overtime games this season, including Week 1’s tie against the Steelers when Tyrod Taylor started at quarterback.
A fast start to the game in a hostile environment could help the Browns get back on the winning track, but it won’t happen if Baker is not fully prepared to lead the offense.
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