Joe Flacco looking forward to adding to his 9-2 career record in Cleveland – but this time as Browns quarterback
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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland. He has covered the Browns since 1984.
Takeaways from Browns practice and interviews …
If he follows the model of last week, Kevin Stefanski will formally name Joe Flacco the Browns starting quarterback against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Friday.\
Why not? As the Browns return home after a two-game losing skid on the road, who better than Flacco to get them back on the winning track? He’s 9-2 in games in Cleveland Browns Stadium, winning eight times with the Baltimore Ravens and once with the New York Jets. Only Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger has more wins in Cleveland among opposing quarterbacks. He was 12-2-1 in Cleveland.
“Well, yeah,” Flacco said with a smile, acknowledging his record in Cleveland. “Hopefully we can get another one this weekend and see what happens here.”
Certainly, all signs point to Flacco making his Browns debut at home. Following his impressive first game in Los Angeles, Flacco has taken all snaps with the first team offense in practice periods open to media. Rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who suffered a concussion in the Denver game on November 26, has not been totally cleared through protocol. He practiced on a limited basis for the second day in a row.
And though he wouldn’t step on the head coach’s toes and announce Flacco the starter, offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt indicated that the team intends to stick with Flacco down this playoff stretch run.
The context of Van Pelt’s comment was a question about the value of backup quarterbacks.
“It’s important to have one,” he said. “We’ve had some good success with the guys we put in those positions, but yeah, it’s always like another security blanket. The guys have stepped in. P.J. [Walker] won two games for us, Dorian won a game for us. Joe’s going to win a game for us eventually down the road. So we feel good about how we’ve gotten these guys prepared to play regardless of who’s in.”
Flacco hails from New Jersey and played at Delaware before his NFL career began with Baltimore. His frequent battles in division games in Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati gave him an appreciation of the blue-collar football played in the AFC North. He’s suited for what lies ahead as the Browns pursue their first playoff berth since 2020.
“Listen, the thing [about] playing in this division … it’s not an indoor stadium … it’s a grass field, outdoors. You feel the city of Cleveland,” he said. “You usually have some kind of weather, so you know where you are. And that’s the way you like it. You smell the grass. It just feels like football.
“And this whole division is like that to a certain extent. That’s kind of been attractive to myself. It’s like when you can go out there and like I said, smell the grass and feel like it’s football weather and that’s the time of year we’re in. We’re in December and we’re in Cleveland and it should be a lot of fun.”
Flacco hasn’t been the starting quarterback on a playoff team since the 2014 season when the Ravens finished third in the AFC North at 10-6, beat Pittsburgh in a wild-card game and lost to New England, 35-31, in a divisional playoff game.
So I asked him how he feels carrying the weight of the team’s post-season hopes on his shoulders now.
“It’s invigorating, for sure. It’s exciting. This is what you want,” he said. “There’s always things like when you’re sitting by yourself and you’re running through things in your head, there’s always things that you’re going to think about and that’s why it is so important.
“And you always hear people say, ‘Just stay in the moment. Be where you are.’ And that’s one of the biggest challenges for probably professional athletes is to try to stay in the moment as much as you can and just worry about today, doing this interview. After this, going and taking care of my body and going into the meeting room.
“If you let your mind wander five days from now, four days from now, three days from now, you’re just doing yourself such a disservice. And more importantly, you’re doing your team a disservice because you don’t want to think about outcomes. You want to think about doing your job and everybody else doing their job side by side and letting everything else take care of itself.”
One day at a time. That’s why Stefanski has waited to make the announcement on Flacco starting. He didn’t want to get ahead of each day’s work.
Despite missing an average of 3 games per season with injuries, cornerback Denzel Ward does not intend to change his aggressive, physical playing style. (Cleveland Browns)
Cornerback Denzel Ward all but declared himself ready to play again after missing two games with a shoulder injury.
The defense badly missed Ward in the games in Denver and Los Angeles, as coaches Sean Payton and Sean McVay jumped on targeting Ward’s replacements in the Browns’ secondary.Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz indicated missing Ward’s press coverage allowed quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Matthew Stafford to neutralize the Browns’ pass rush with quick completions.
“When the quarterback is taking an approach of throwing it quick, it does put more of an emphasis on tight coverage. Don’t give them quick answers,” Schwartz said.
He added, “Denzel means an awful lot to us. If we’re able to get him back this week, I’m sure that’ll give us a boost.”
Ward’s injury history is a frequent target of criticism from fans. Ward has missed 18 games over six seasons because of injury or COVID. He is a fearless tackler despite his smallish frame (5-11 and 190 pounds). I asked him at this stage of his career if would he contemplate changing his style of play to avoid missing games because of injuries.
“I’m a playmaking corner,” he said. “I feel like my team needs me and I need this game. I love playing this game. Injuries are going to happen. Stuff is going to happen. I had a few concussions, but I’m not too worried about that. I did my research and everything on that and overcame those and hurt my shoulder a little bit, but that’s just how the game goes.
“Sometimes you have to try to find a way to continue to stay on top of my body and everything. And once maybe I do go out, get back as fast as I can and get back out there, but it’s definitely not going to affect the way I play the game. I feel like when I’m out there I just do what I can to help my team win, and that’s playing fast and physical, being who I am.”
In Jacksonville, quarterback Trevor Lawrence shocked some by participating in practice on a limited basis after suffering a high ankle sprain in the Monday night loss to Cincinnati. So the Browns are preparing for a fully mobile Lawrence, an immobile Lawrence, and for backup C.J. Beathard. “There’s a lot of uncertainty going into this game,” Schwartz said, citing the quarterback situation and possible unfavorable weather conditions. “I think our game plan is going to be 25 percent bigger to handle all the different things that come up.” …
Receiver Amari Cooper (concussion, ribs) was the only DNP for strictly injury reasons. Tight end David Njoku’s DNP was not injury related, per the club’s report.