BEREA— Browns defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil was asked on Friday to address the strengths of Cleveland's defense.
It was a simple question that O’Neil could’ve answered rather quickly, whether he was forward with his thoughts or not.
Instead, he stared in silence at the podium below him for about eight seconds before he asked the reporter to clarify the question.
Said reporter tried to make the question more clear— a seemingly impossible task— before O’Neil finally delivered an answer.
The answer didn’t include the word “strength” a single time, nor did it address the question that was asked in any way, shape or form.
Rather, the answer mixed together an assortment of thoughts on the weaknesses of the Browns defense, rather than a single strong suit that the unit displayed.
By completely avoiding the question after a lengthy pause and a unnecessary need for clarification, maybe O’Neil was quietly indicating that the Browns didn’t have a strength on defense.
After all, the team is ranked 30th in the NFL in terms of total yardage allowed, 29th in the NFL in passing yardage allowed and 32nd in terms of rushing yardage allowed, meaning that O'Neil might've been right.
Though he couldn’t name a strength that the Brownse defense displayed, O’Neil did say that he took plenty of time over the bye week to see what made the defense so deplorable.
“The one thing that we did find was most of our mistakes came when we might have had a breakdown in communication,” O’Neil said. “We have to communicate at every level of the defense. Most of that falls on our safeties and our inside backers. It starts with the safeties, then goes to the inside backers and the inside backers have to get it to the front. That was the first thing that we discovered that we need to get better at.”
When the Browns did communicate, however, O’Neil said that the defense played at a very high level.
“When our guys are out there and they’re communicating and we’re executing as a defense and I’m doing a good job putting them in a position to make plays, we’ve played really well,” O’Neil said. “We’re just trying to build on that, keep executing, keep playing together, keep playing good team defense.”
It’s hard to imagine that one of the league’s worst defenses has no other major problems outside of communication, but that’s exactly what O’Neil feels is the case.
He’s not alone in that thought, either.
“There were some small things. There wasn’t any one glaring thing. It’s a combination of a lot of little things. Sometimes its 10 players getting a plus and one getting a minus and the ball finding that area of the field.” head coach Mike Pettine said. “Definitely some thought was put into it. Can’t say there was anything glaring that come out of it but a lot of little details.”
Tasked with cleaning up the assortment of “little things” that have apparently made the defense so poor this season, O’Neil has been very encouraged that things will change for the defense after the bye week.
What won’t change, however, are the lofty goals that he set for his defense when this season began, even with the way the group has played over the first ten games.
“Our goal hasn’t changed on defense. We want to play dominant defense. It was good over the bye to go back and study ourselves – what we’re doing well, what we’re not doing well, what we can do better, what we have to do better – but the mentality in the room hasn’t changed,” O’Neil said. “I’m excited for the last six weeks of the season.”
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