BEREA - The Browns are coming off a 24-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens and facing a short week leading up to a Thursday road game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
When Browns coach Pat Shurmur was asked what his message was to the players, he probably should have said, "Assume crash position."
It can't be easy to be positive entering the final four games of the season with a 4-8 record. There are still two games remaining against the Steelers and a rematch with the Ravens on Christmas Eve.
"You just keep pushing. That's the important thing," Shurmur said. "If this was a real easy thing then everybody can do it. You try to find a way to win a game."
A week ago as Shurmur began preparations for the Ravens, he viewed it as a chance to gauge how the Browns stack up against one of the elite teams in the AFC North Division. After being torched for 290 rushing yards, including 204 by Ray Rice, the Browns would seem to be facing a long road to gaining parity with the Ravens and Steelers.
Receiver Josh Cribbs was the lone voice of reason on that topic immediately after the game, saying there is a big gap between the Browns and Ravens. Shurmur is smart enough to avoid going down that road. It would be like former Browns coach Chris Palmer saying he felt like he was on a runaway train during the doldrums of a 3-13 season in 2000, which was his second and final year on the job.
On the outside looking in it might appear as if the organization is stuck in an out-of-control revolving door with no signs of being competitive within sight. Shurmur doesn't see it that way.
"We've got progress to make," he said. "You're at this point of the season, and you don't have as many victories as you'd like to have. I don't know if I would use the phrase a long way to go."
What Rice was able today last Sunday puts a spotlight on what has been the biggest problem since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999. Every offseason attempts are made to bolster the run defense, and every season the defense is among the worst in that area.
The problem is that there are other glaring weaknesses that need to be improved, and there aren't enough possible acquisitions available in one offseason to make everything better. Quarterback Colt McCoy's future will have to be assessed. He keeps talking about seeing signs of improvement, but where were they on Sunday? The receivers don't get open enough, and when they do there are too many dropped passes.
The list can go on and on. Shurmur had to know what he was facing when he took the job last January, but he might not have known how much of a reclamation project he faced.
"You want constant progress, and you want it to show up as victories," Shurmur said. "We didn't play well enough (Sunday) to win."
The Browns didn't have any time to evaluate the Ravens' game Monday as Shurmur and his staff quickly jumped on preparations for the Steelers. The only practice will be today before the Browns fly to Pittsburgh Wednesday.
What awaits in Heinz Field can only be described as a major challenge. The Browns haven't won in Pittsburgh since quarterback Tim Couch led the way to a 33-13 win in 2003.
Shurmur's biggest task will be to keep the players motivated.
"I'm still excited to lead these guys and help them do what it takes to win games," he said. "I'm not discouraged one bit. Disappointed when we lose. When we win, I'm not so much happy for me. I'm happy for the players, the coaches and the fans."
There have been plenty of sad faces around the Browns of late.