BEREA—The start to the season, the Browns defense has not been what defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil nor the Browns envisioned—to say the least.
The Browns planned on having the defense be the cornerstone of the team this season. However, the rushing defense has given up over 150 yards rushing in each of the first three games after the Browns made a concerted effort to improve in that area in the off-season. Last season, the Browns ranked 32nd in the NFL. After three weeks, the Browns are ranked dead last, once again.
“I’m not going to sit here and say that we still can’t be the cornerstone of all this and we still can’t do that,” O’Neil said. “We have to be consistent and not give up that one big play. The numbers are what they are, but when you allow a 48-yard rush or whatever it was, you can’t do that. You have to be consistent every single play. You can’t be consistent for 28 plays or 29 plays and play good football and then for one or two runs, you give up a 20-yard run and a 40-yard-something urn. That’s what kills you.
“Usually, you can deal with one guy getting a minus on a play or something but, when it happens when you’re playing solid football, and then all of a sudden you get a play and three or four guys get a minus on it and you miss a tackle, that’s what’s going to happen,” he said. “You have to bring it every single play. I have to bring it every single play. I have to put guys in position to make the play. I like where we’re going. I’m confident in our players. I’m confident in myself. I’m confident in our coaches. I’m not willing to say that we’re not going to be a good defense or we’re not going to stop the run. I know the first three weeks are what they are. We’re moving ahead, and we’re looking forward to San Diego.”
Mike Pettine said tackling was the number one issue after last week’s loss to the Raiders. He said the Browns had 14 missed tackles.
“That’s one of the things,” O’Neil said. “We have to be more consistent with our tackling. I have to do a better job putting guys in position where they can make plays in space, but yeah, that’s something we need to improve on.”
O’Neil said it’s all mental.
“I think you have to bring a mindset every single play, that’s one,” O’Neil said. “No. 2 is the way you finish each play on the practice field, you can finish in a good football position – bend at the end, we talk about tagging off at the hip, that way you’re in position to put your chest on the ball carrier and wrap and drive for five (yards) and tackle a guy when you actually are in a live situation. It’s something we’ve worked every day as a defense. If you look at the first five minutes of our individual, we’re usually always working on tackling. We just have to continue working it. We’ll get better at it. We have good coaches. It’ll be a point of emphasis for us.”
Paul Kruger agreed.
“It is just a mindset for us,” he said. “We just have to do better at it. Tackling is a simple thing. There are only so many ways you can explain how to do it. We need to be better as a group. We need to get low. We need to do it as a group. Gang tackle. It is a simple thing, we just have to get it done.”
Donte Whitner missed a couple tackles against the Raiders, including a 55-yard pass play to Marcel Reece that could’ve been stopped for a short gain.
“We’re frustrated,” Whitner said. “We just can’t give up the big plays.”
Pettine said there are more than one reason for the missed tackles.
“You couldn’t say it was any one thing,” he said. “It is something clearly alarming to be at that number and then the amount of yardage that came with it. It is something that we pride ourselves on tackling well. We feel we can get guys to the ball in a hurry and have an opportunity to minimize the gain, and we have to do that.”
Kruger said it’s time for the front seven to set the tone on defense.
“I think so, absolutely,” he said. “This is a huge game for us I think. The (defensive) line as a front seven we want to play better. This is a good opportunity for us to go out and show something.”
O’Neil said he shares the blame in how the defense has played thus far.
“Yeah, I’m always going to be my toughest critic,” O’Neil said. “Those guys know if they mess up, I call them out, and if I mess something up or don’t put them in a great position to make a play, I’ll be the first to take the blame. It starts with me. I have to do better. If I’m better, they’ll do better. I have no problem [taking responsibility]. I’m not going to be a finger pointer. I’m always going to start with myself, and I hope those guys respect that.”
O’Neil defended the defensive scheme that the Browns employ.
“The foundation of our scheme is the foundation of our scheme,” he said. “It’s been very successful on both the run and the pass. Like I said, I have to do a better job and we have to do a better job being more consistent.”
Pettine said the defense has to just play better and the coaches have to coach better.
“I don’t want to get into it or come off as a coach as ‘Hey, it’s not the scheme; it’s the players,’” Pettine said. “I think it all needs to be better. There were times when we did have a guy at the point of attack, we needed to make a play and we didn’t. There could be some other things where you could point to scheme-wise, but I don’t want to sit here and make that statement. I think across the board, playing and coaching needs to be better.”
Bowe Doing Well: Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo was asked about WR Dwayne Bowe and he was positive about him.
“I thought he had his best practice of the year (Wednesday),” DeFilippo said.
When pressed why he was inactive last week, DeFilippo said.
“I was just thrilled Dwayne had his best practice of the year (Wednesday).”
When asked if Bowe was inactive due to the hamstring injury last Sunday, he replied “Yes.”
Johnny Package: DeFilippo is trying to keep the Chargers guessing as to the possibility of using a package for QB Johnny Manziel.
“That’s always a possibility,” he said. “If I said we didn’t have a package of plays for Johnny Manziel against San Diego, I’d be lying.”
Turbin Practices: RB Robert Turbin was on the practice field during the portion of practice that was open to the media. It is believed to be the first time since he was claimed on waivers from the Seahawks. He was listed as “did not practice” on Wednesday. Meanwhile, RB Shaun Draughn was not seen on the field during open media time. Turbin has been on the active roster, thus a player wouldn’t need to be released for him to play.
LB Scott Solomon (ankle) and DL Desmond Bryant (shoulder) were on the side with trainers. LB Craig Robertson (ankle) and DB K’Waun Williams (concussion) were not seen on the field. WR Travis Benjamin (ribs), LB Karlos Dansby (ankle), DB Justin Gilbert (hamstring), DB Joe Haden (ribs/finger), DB Tashaun Gipson (groin) and OL Mitchell Schwartz (thumb) were all practicing.
Rolling with Whitner: Both Pettine and O’Neil supported DB Donte Whitner’s play and said he will continue to be the starting strong safety.
“We’re going to roll with Donte Whitner,” O’Neil said.
Pettine was asked if rookie DB Ibraheim Campbell might get more playing time.
“Just in regards to Whit, we’re not at that point,” Pettine said. “We like Campbell, think he’s going to be a good player. He’s done a good job for Tabes (Chris Tabor) when he’s been in there, but we’re not at that point. Whit’s a competitive guy, and he’ll be the first to tell you he knows he needs to play more consistently.”
O’Neil is very supportive of Whitner.
“He’s missed a couple tackles. I think that he’s very hard on himself, also. He’s also done a lot of great things for us in the run game and in the pass game. He’s been very focused, locked in. I think he’s very excited to get back out on the field Sunday.”
New OL Coach: Paul Dunn has been added to the coaching staff and will be the assistant to OL coach George DeLeone, who is the acting offensive line coach replacing Andy Moeller.
“Yeah, that is in the process of being finalized,” Pettine said. “We are going to bring Paul Dunn on board. He will be (assistant offensive line coach) George’s (DeLeone) assistant. I have a lot of respect for Paul. I have known for him a long time. He worked with (tight ends coach) Brian Angelichio at the University of Pittsburgh. (secondary coach) Jeff Hafley was there, as well. He worked with (wide receivers coach) Joker (Phillips) at Kentucky. He has coached in the NFL for a good number of years, First with Atlanta and with Houston a year ago.”
Pettine said he didn’t want to speculate on how much the absence of Moeller meant to the offensive line in the running game.
“I can’t put any type of number or say how much it’s had an effect,” Pettine said. “When you lose your offensive line coach, a coach that is a quality football coach, it is going to have an effect. How much? I can’t speak to that. I am not going to sit here and say it meant nothing.”
“Whenever you lose a coach, there’s going to be change,” DeFilippo said. “”It takes time to get used to. I can’t tell you our struggles running the football were because of Andy Moeller (not being here).”
Pettine was asked if the coaching staff is considering using first round draft pick Cameron Erving more.
“We are getting him in there some at the extra tight end, the jumbo tight end spot. We have talked about getting him to the point where we will work him in some. That has to be earned, and Cam is in good standing with us and is practicing well. You go through the logical spot for him to play is at right guard. John Greco has played well. There will be some opportunities as the season goes on, but it is not something we want to force. We want to make sure that Cam has all of his little details nailed down and that he is prepared as he can be and is ready to jump in there with that group and perform at a high level.”
WWE Belt: O’Neil said there were four or five defensive players who graded out to earn the belt for last week’s game. He couldn’t remember all the names but mentioned DB Johnson Bademosi and DL Randy Starks. O’Neil was asked if he thought of not giving out the reward if the team lost.
“There were a number of guys that had two tags this week so they’re kind of rolling it. Obviously, we prefer that number to be up to five or six tags so we have one clear winner. I think (DB Johnson) Bademosi was one; (DL) Randy Starks had two. I’m leaving out two guys so I probably shouldn’t have named anybody, but there it was four or five guys that all had two so they’re rolling with it by day.”