BEREA — The problem with the Browns defense is that there isn’t just one problem.
It stinks against the run (ranked 31st), is just as bad against the pass (24th, with 11 touchdowns allowed) and has given up 105 points (32nd).
“They throw balls over our head. They’re able to run it. Everybody is involved in that,” coach Romeo Crennel said Wednesday.
The defense was supposed to be the strength of the team. Coordinator Todd Grantham got a contract extension, the 3-4 scheme was entering its third year and talent had been added to a group that overachieved last season. Instead, it’s been an all-around disaster — and the problems are connected.
When the Browns struggle to stop the run, it forces the coaches to move a safety closer to the line of scrimmage. That puts extra pressure on the cornerbacks, because they have to play man-to-man without help deep.
The leaky pass coverage also influences the run defense. If the secondary is getting beat, the pass rushers feel an urgency to put pressure on the quarterback. In their hurry, the linebackers rush up the field, get out of position and allow a big run.
And the cycle starts again. No wonder the Browns rank 31st overall, allowing 430.7 yards a game. Only Buffalo is worse.
“We’ve done a lot of good things, but we need to be more consistent in doing those things,” outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley said. “The big play has hurt us.”
Following the third disappointing effort in as many games, Crennel said he’ll increase the number of rotations this week vs. Baltimore. More guys will play at more positions, which will hopefully have a two-pronged effect.
“It will keep people fresher and it will also help with the competitive edge that we need,” Crennel said. “Guys know they will have an opportunity to play and then a guy who’s been playing is not going to be able to say, ‘I have it wrapped up.’”
Crennel doesn’t have many alternatives. General manager Phil Savage tried to increase the depth in the offseason, but it’s still a problem. So making wholesale changes isn’t a realistic option.
The starting line is old: Nose tackle Ted Washington is 39, end Orpheus Roye is 34 and coming off preseason knee surgery and end Robaire Smith is 29. Backups Ethan Kelley and Simon Fraser are undersized, and Shaun Smith has been playing end instead of his normal nose tackle because of Roye’s injury situation.
“The consistent problem is gap awareness and missed tackling,” Fraser said. “We gotta go out there and execute. That’s the bottom line.”
At inside linebacker, captain Andra Davis has already lost time to second-year player Leon Williams, but the result has been the same: too many tackles made too many yards downfield.
On the outside, Wimbley got his first two sacks Sunday, but has just nine tackles. He’s constantly double-teamed and has been hurt by the absence of veteran Willie McGinest, who returned to practice Wednesday and could provide a boost to the run defense. Antwan Peek has also been limited by a strained foot.
“I think everybody here expected us to be better,” Wimbley said. “It’s something we’re working on every week. We need to improve, all the guys know that.
“I still have confidence in my teammates. I believe we can still get it done, we can turn this defensive unit around.”
Rookie cornerback Eric Wright is just as confident, which is hard to figure after a rocky start. He’s allowed four touchdowns, including a terrible 41-yarder vs. the Raiders, but received a vote of confidence from Crennel, who kept him in the starting lineup.
“I just feel like I’m due and getting ready to make a lot of plays,” Wright said. “Potentially we have one of the top defenses in the entire NFL. With the personnel, speed, physical guys we have out there, we have the ability to be great defensively.
“I anticipate a big change.”
It needs to be across the board.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.