There's nothing normal for the Cleveland Browns hosting the Kansas City Chiefs this week after the dismissals of head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley, but interim head coach Gregg Williams finds himself trying to instill some semblance of order and stability for his squad in a time of turmoil.
"It's about what we do here these last weeks now," Williams said. "The past is the past, today is what it is and now we've got to get on to the (next) day."
Williams is trying to pull the Browns (2-5-1) out of a three-game skid.
"It's one of those things that you can handle as a distraction or you can use it to come together as a team," Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield said Wednesday before the first practice under Williams. "This locker room can become a lot tighter. I haven't been through a midseason change, but when (former Oklahoma head coach) Bob Stoops stepped down and (Oklahoma head coach) Lincoln Riley was the head coach, that was kind of the same situation
"It was different. It was new to us. We used that to come together. I expect the guys in here to be grown men, to be experienced football players and to handle it that way and keep that same mindset that we have the same goal. We need to reach that and work with each other."
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said his team can't let the distractions in Cleveland take his team's preparations off target. His plan is simple: stick to the process that helped his team to a 7-1 start
"We know there is talent there and coaching there," Reid said about the Browns. "What we do is focus in on getting the process of getting ready to play a football team and eliminate all those other things. That's what we can control."
The Browns certainly are not without talent, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. The club leads the league with 22 takeaways. Defensive end Myles Garrett, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2017 draft, paces the team with eight sacks. Reid says Garrett's speed off the ball makes him a dangerous pass rusher.
"You see him getting better from last year to this year," Reid said. "He is way more comfortable. He can bring it now. Fast, big, strong, quick, all those things make for a defensive end or outside linebacker at this level."
Reid expects Williams' defense to play aggressive against the Chiefs' passing attack led by quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
"He does a nice job with the guys," Reid said of Williams as a coach. "They will be ready to go. We have to make sure we focus in on that and make sure we are ready."
Mahomes sees that same aggression on the Cleveland game film.
"They have a great defensive line that can really rush the passer and they know how to get turnovers," Mahomes said. "They go for the strips, they go for the interceptions. For us, it's about staying within our game, playing the game we've been playing this entire season, not trying to force anything and just try to put some points on the board."
Williams said he scouted Mahomes among last year's quarterback class as the Browns prepared for the draft. Mahomes visited the Browns leading up to the draft, and Williams walked away sold on the quarterback's competitiveness and family upbringing.
"I was very impressed with him when he came through up here, and love what I heard, what I saw," Williams said. "I think the Chiefs have done a great job on how they've gone about coaching him, how they've built up his experience, how they trained him."
Offensively, the Browns remain fully behind Mayfield as the future face of the franchise. Williams believes the best thing he can to support Mayfield lies in helping him tap into instincts about how to be a NFL quarterback and lead a team on the field.
"I think he is also a lot like Pat there, I think he's a born leader," Williams said. "I think he's supposed to be the guy in the huddle. He's been that way his whole life. There's things that he does and feels about instincts that you cannot coach. You either have that or you don't have that."
Williams holds no doubts that Mayfield possesses the characteristics of a successful quarterback. But he seemed to question whether Jackson and Haley acted in the best interest of the rookie passer.
"He's got to have better people around him to continue to help do their job around him without making excuses," Williams said. "I can help him do that on not letting people make excuses around him."
Williams doesn't approach the second half of the season as a lost cause. He points to three losses by a combined nine points and four overtime games as evidence of a team closer to success than critics believe.
"We've got to continue to find a way to make a play or two at the end, maybe at the start, I don't know, to go ahead and win those games," Williams said." But Baker's the right guy, and there's a lot of other guys on this team that are also the right guys and we just got to get them going."