BEREA— The Browns have a problem.
Though they allow 149.8 yards per game on the ground and boast the league’s worst run defense, the Browns can’t figure out a specific issue that's adding to their struggles against the run.
“I wouldn’t say you can blame it on one little thing,” defensive lineman John Hughes said, when asked why the Browns haven’t been able to address the issues with the run defense. “If one guy lets one thing slip, all ten guys can be doing something right and then that one slip will make a big play.”
When rookie nose tackle Danny Shelton was asked the same question, his answer was a bit different.
“It’s exactly what everyone thinks,” Shelton said. “Getting off our blocks, focusing on setting an edge, focusing on tackling and not just whiffing a tackle.”
Another Browns defender, outside linebacker Armonty Bryant, supplied another set of issues that weren’t addressed by the first two.
“Alignment, rolling off, knocking (guys) back,” Bryant said. “Good hand placement, violent sheds, stuff like that.”
With so many explanations for the Browns run issues, it's easy to see why they can't focus on a specific issue or resolution to their problem.
There is one thing, however, upon which each player agrees.
It’s on them to get the job done and has nothing to do with the coaching staff.
“I don’t think it’s a scheme issue at all,” Hughes said. “I think it’s us just getting our jobs done.”
“They put us in the best situation to make plays,” Bryant said of the Browns defensive coaches. “It’s all up to us to make those types of plays.”
The players may be taking the blame in addition to working tirelessly to shore up the run defense, but nothing seems to be changing, which is perhaps the most puzzling issue of all.
“It is a source of frustration,” head coach Mike Pettine said. “It is probably the biggest issue that we deal with here. I know there were some growing pains going to a new system and having new faces in the front seven again this year, but it is something that we will always emphasize and always strive to be better.”
If the Browns are to finally turn their run defense around this week, they’ll have to do so against the St. Louis Rams and rookie running back Todd Gurley, who’s averaged over 100 yards per game in his three appearances this season.
Gurley knows that the Browns have struggled defending the run, but doesn’t seem to believe that the numbers tell the whole story.
“Rank don’t mean nothing, man. That’s just a stat,” Gurley said. “Those guys, they’ll come play this Sunday and play balls out, so we’ll just see what happens when the game comes.”
The rookie rusher knows about the Browns and the Browns have certainly taken time to get know Gurley as well.
“We’ve been watching film on him,” Hughes said. "I watched a little film yesterday on him and we watched as a defense today… He makes big plays happen. He gets downhill fast. A lot of guys like to teeter-totter in the whole, but he sees his gap and he hits it.”
His ability is evident on film and, according to Shelton, gives the Browns a key facet of the game to hone in on this week.
“He’s not a guy that’s going to go down after one hit,” Shelton said. “We’re going to have to really just concentrate on tackling this week.”
If the Browns are tackling Gurley, it means that they were as prepared as Pettine hoped they would be and are carrying the correct mindset into the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday afternoon.
“I think they are certainly going to see this as a matchup of their strength against our weakness,” Pettine said. “We don’t go out there wanting to stop the run and wanting to play that street fight with them up front because that is what they are built to do and what they are going to do, then we will get embarrassed defending the run. Our guys have to be locked in.”
The defenders know too that mindset, in addition to on-field matter, will play a big role in Sunday’s game.
“We just have to dial in and really just think about those little details when it’s crunch time, Bryant said. “(We have to) just to step up when our number’s called.”
When the Browns are able to step up, they’ll be thrilled to do so, if only to stop answering the constant questions that they haven’t been able to answer just yet.
“We’re tired of hearing about the run,” Hughes said. “We know what we have to do. It keeps pushing us and we’re going to let it out on Sunday."
For all of your Browns news, updates and analysis from Berea, follow Hayden Grove on Twitter: @H_Grove.