Browns Need to Dial up Aggressiveness

OBR columnist Rich Passan believes that the Cleveland Browns need to avoid playing passive defense to continue to make progress. Rich points to the collapse of the team's defensive strategy to make his point. Agree or disagree? Sound off in the OBR forums!

Somewhere, it is decreed that the 2007 Cleveland Browns will play close games. Somewhere, it is decreed that Browns coaches will not be given sufficient thinking power to wrap up games before they head toward disaster.

Somewhere, it is decreed the Browns will play down to opponents. And somewhere, it is decreed the Browns, without warning, will abandon what got them the lead in favor of what more often than not will threaten a lead.

Where that somewhere is remains a mystery, but the Browns had better find it soon and change it or the march to the playoffs will be short-circuited.

Sunday in the swamplands of New Jersey, they took benevolence dangerously close to a losing level before escaping with a victory that should have been secured in the third quarter against the decidedly inferior New York Jets.

Why the defensive coaching staff chose to go conservative against a Jets offense that obviously had problems handling the Browns' blitzing pressure is a question the staff had better answer correctly before Sunday's game against Buffalo.

It's a generally accepted position in football that you stick with what got you there. In this case, it was a strong and aggressive defensive presence by the Browns that helped scratch out a 7-0 lead with a minute left in the first half.

The defense, with blitzes coming from all directions, harassed young Jets quarterback Kellen Clemens into throwing before he wanted. It played unexpectedly well, particularly when it blunted the Jets, who nearly turned a Derek Anderson interception into the first score of the game early in the first quarter.

A sensational goal-line stand and timely Sean Jones interception at the goal line restored renewed faith in the much-maligned Cleveland defense, which has put too much pressure on the offense with its ineptitude this season. It looked as though it was going to return the favor.

Until their final drive of the half, the Jets had accumulated less than 100 yards in total offense against a Cleveland defense that had allowed nearly 400 yards a game. Thomas Jones had to work hard for every one of his 42 yards on the ground.

Then the coaches turned off the brain machine. Whether it was Todd Grantham or Romeo Crennel, whose fingerprints are all over the new aggression on defense, isn't certain. But in the last minute of the first half, the Jets all of a sudden found their offense because the Browns Ex-Laxed their defense.

Clemens found time to throw with little or no pressure from the Cleveland front seven, Jets receivers found openings in the Browns' zone defense and before you know it, Mike Nugent's field goal had the Jets on the scoreboard. No blitzing, no man-to-man coverage. The coaches basically allowed the Jets to do what they were unable to do earlier because of the aforementioned pressure.

Just make sure your man doesn't get behind you seemed to be the Cleveland philosophy. It probably never occurred to the coaches that Clemens had trouble throwing the ball when pressured. If it did, then that magnifies the problem on the sidelines.

Evidently, the coaches didn't learn their lesson the first time because it happened all over again with less than six minutes left in the game and the Browns with a seemingly safe 17-6 lead.

Reliable defense, something the Browns have yet to master this season, was needed because the offense struggled most of the afternoon.

Anderson, who recovered nicely from yet another rough start, was efficient. Not spectacular as he's been most of the season. Not steady. Just efficient. He made plays when he needed to.

So when the Jets took over with 5:27 left in regulation, the Browns' so-called brain trust figured this one was wrapped up and went to the turtle defense one more time. Playing football in a shell begs for trouble. The Jets obliged.

Up to that point, the Cleveland defense had held the Jets' offense in check in the second half with only a Nugent field goal in the first three series. Yardage came grudgingly.

Then the Cleveland blitzes all but vanished, taking aggression out of the equation. It was as though the Browns had opened up the front door and welcomed the Jets in without a fight. Thus, 17-6 became 17-12 and momentum shifted, especially after the Jets recovered an onside kick that would have been moot had the Browns played aggressively.

Not again, Browns Nation must have sighed. Can't these guys win a game in normal fashion? Not with this defensive coaching staff they can't.

Just like that, the game took on a Hitchcockian glow. What should have been an easy victory turned into one that became doubtful in a hurry and let the Jets back in a game in which they didn't deserve to be. The Cleveland defensive masterminds badly coached it into an uneasy finish.

They caught a huge break when Jets coach Eric Mangini inexplicably ordered two Nugent field goals late in the game when touchdowns should have been the goal.

When are the Browns' defensive coaches going to learn to that passive football generally leads to negative results? The Jets didn't earn any of their points Sunday. The Browns allowed them to score them.

They got away with it against New York. They won't against the next two opponents, Buffalo and Cincinnati, teams that know how to score and pose serious problems to the Cleveland defense.

Passive football will not win many more games, especially if the offense continues to distance itself from the scoring pyrotechnics of earlier this season. This is the time of the season the defense must produce. But it needs help from the coaching staff.

If Grantham and Crennel coach like that against the Bills Sunday at CBS, especially against Buffalo rookie quarterback Trent Edwards and a strong running game, the result won't be nearly as satisfying as it was with the lowly Jets.

This team is getting too close to qualifying for the postseason to screw up now. It is incumbent upon the coaches on both sides of the ball to take advantage of the talent on board and maximize its ability to win games.

And that ability lies in an aggressive approach to the game. Aggressive football is winning football.

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