While the quarterback position in Cleveland seemingly is the story which never ends, a more pressing issue that is certain to garner full-blown attention in Cleveland regarding the Browns defense.
Let’s not sugar-coat the facts, the Browns defense, the aspect expected to carry this team to contention, much less respectability has been the ever-growing thorn in the side of a football that has competed. Blown assignments, late in recognition, poor tackling, penalties — you get the picture.
It’s been ugly, very ugly in the eyes of the head coach Mike Pettine, a former defensive coordinator.
Not one tho throw his players and coaches under the bus, Pettine now must fix what ails this Browns defense — and quite possibly assume a greater responsibility of the defense, as his hand-picked defensive coordinator and friend Jim O’Neil’s defense isn’t getting the job done.
When you see an outside linebacker whose greatest attribute is to rush the quarterback be often relegated to dropping into coverage, you question the scheme. When you see a veteran inside linebacker missing a gap and slow to recognize responsibility of a back coming out of the backfield, you question the player.
If you see a defensive call selling all out, basically putting single man coverage while showing very little ability to change/pressure the QB, you question the scheme. When you have players in position to make plays and fail to make a tackle or run themselves out of a play, you question the player.
For the better part of 18 months we have listened to players talk about responsibility, acknowledge accountability, though the same issues which ailed this Browns defense upon the hire of Pettine and O’Neil remain.
Maybe the time glossing over Pettine being a strong defensive coach was without merit. Maybe this is what his defense is, the philosophy certainly stems from his tree, as does his defensive coordinator.
But, the issue on the defensive side of the ball isn’t a simple fix. It’s a double-edged sword at the moment, neither the coaching function nor the player end are fulfilling their part of the bargain.
This Cleveland defense is fundamentally flawed. Basing themselves as an aggressive, pressure defense, the Browns have not displayed the base characteristic to be this type of unit. Sure, we can look and see the Browns recorded seven sacks against the Tennessee Titans — but, let’s not quickly forget the Browns faced a rookie QB Marcos Mariota in his second NFL start that held onto the ball too long, the Browns defense mixed up their coverages and the Titans had personnel issues along the offensive line.
Sunday in San Diego, the Browns did not face Mariota, not did they face Derek Carr of the Oakland Raiders, who had success against a Cleveland defense that couldn’t generate pressure and were gashed by big-plays.
It was the Philip Rivers show and the Chargers QB was masterful in beating the blitz of the Browns.
After two series against the Browns defense, Rivers began to make it look easy. It really wasn’t, but the ability of Rivers to read the Cleveland defense and find receivers is what he does — it’s what has made his arguably a great NFL quarterback.
Rivers and the Chargers offense were far from being at full strength against the Browns. Down three starting offensive lineman and with only two wide receivers available following injuries to Malcolm Floyd and Stevie Johnson, Rivers would make the most of the opportunities he faced.
Nothing like a receiver being released on a cross (for no reason actually) and there being no communication between the DB and LB in position tales a tale of some issue within the structure of the Cleveland defense — result was a difference making play for the Chargers.
As the Chargers drove down the field on their game-wining drive, the inconsistency of the Browns defense again reared its ugly head. The Chargers blocked down on a running play, rather than filling the gap, an inside linebacker attacked the incorrect gap and a DB took a poor angle to the ball carrier — result was a difference making play for the Chargers.
Another opportunity Rivers cashed in on was what should have been a simply, relative short-gain pass out of the back-field which the RB gained 62 yards — as the veteran voice of the Browns front-seven got himself caught up looking into the backfield as the defense was blitzing and the RB released uncovered — result was a difference making play for the Chargers.
The story within is, the Browns defense didn’t suddenly stop playing — they have played this style of football for 20 games under Pettine and O’Neil. The defense is not disciplined, if they were the same mistakes, the fundamental lapses and personalities would not continue to occur.
Some of the issue within the Browns defense is a coaching by-product due to continuous error— some is a schematic issue due to being caught at times in compromising situations — and some of the issue is directly related to personnel, whether this is not making plays or not being talented/skilled to play the role — which again can be directed to coaching as well.
Hopes were high coming off a 7-9 season in 2014, many believe the Cleveland pass defense was very good due to the ‘numbers’, but as we questioned at many times a season ago and throughout the off-season was — due to teams having such tremendous success on the ground against the Browns, was the pass defense challenged to the point of breaking.
In 2015 we have learned the answer, through four weeks the Cleveland Browns defense has been a train-wreck and the buck has to stop somewhere.
Come Monday, head coach Mike Pettine is likely to be spending much more time on the defensive side of the ball.