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Discussing Browns Defense as They Prepare to Host Steelers

Discussing the issues the Cleveland Browns defense is facing and offering some potential fixes as they get ready to host the Pittsburgh Steelers on a short week.
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The Cleveland Browns were fortunate to beat the Carolina Panthers on 58-yard Cade York field goal made necessary by coverage breakdowns and then lost to the New York Jets in historic fashion in no small part to busts as well as general incompetence from the defense. If major improvements don't come against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday, changes could come in that week and a half layoff before the road trip to Atlanta.

When asked if the issue with calls is getting them in from the sideline or on the field, safety Grant Delpit said, "On the field." Additionally, the notion that the green dot moving around to different players was dismissed as a problem, something that was echoed by Denzel Ward.

All the defensive backs seemed to think their communication was good coming into the season, so this causing a loss to the Jets came as a surprise, despite the fact they just dealt with this issue in the game against the Panthers.

None of the players blamed coaching. Maybe that's because they don't want to be seen throwing coaches under the bus in public, but it may simply be a problem the players have to own. As Delpit put it, "Make sure we talk, make sure we're on the same page and we're overemphasizing it."

It's frustrating that the Panthers game wasn't enough to hammer that point home and it might take a humiliating loss to solve, assuming it gets solved for the Steelers game.

Anthony Walker Jr. blamed himself for communication issues, saying, “I’m the communicator. I’m the guy who is supposed to get everyone lined up, and obviously, I didn’t do my job two weeks in a row. I’ll take that one, and we will be back.”

Whether or not the issues are on Walker is unclear, but he was signed and then re-signed in no small part because of his leadership. So taking the blame may function as more as a pledge to personally make sure it doesn't happen again.

The Browns have consistently generated pressure on the opposing quarterback through two games. Having a player like Myles Garrett on the defensive line is always going to help and Jadeveon Clowney's sack fumble and recovery likely kept points off the board.

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Joe Flacco looked great Sunday because he was consistently able to get the ball out on time. Why? Individual players weren't good in coverage, but there was also no disruption of the routes to upset the timing. For all the things Defensive Coordinator Joe Woods' scheme does well, the fact that so many teams are allowed to run freely into their routes is one of the aspects most difficult to understand.

The Browns might argue that they don't want to mess with their linebackers, pointing to how well Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Anthony Walker Jr. are playing. They're right. Those two have played at a high level, which should be a source of hope but only adds to the frustration that the defense isn't working. Given the struggles Jacob Phillips is experiencing, they may need to lean harder into Walker, keeping him on the field more.

That said, Walker is more suited to combat crossers than he is to run and chase anyone in coverage. If their linebackers can do more to help the safeties, the Browns may need to do it, even if it's only a call they mix in to the game plan.

The defense is supposed to be a strength helping to carry the load for an underpowered offense. Currently, the opposite is happening as the offense is overperforming and was downright elegant in their execution against the Jets, which is part of what makes this loss so devastating for a team that needs every win they can get.

The metrics that dogged Woods last year were early season busted coverages and being unable to get off the field on third and fourth down. The busted coverages got better over the course of the year, but the third down rate was always higher than it should be.

Two games in and the busted coverages are ridiculous, regardless of who is at fault. Perception could quickly become reality if Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is getting uncontested touchdown passes on Thursday. Alignment and assignment are the two fundamental starting points when it comes to defense and the Browns have made too many mistakes with both.

Meanwhile, the third down rate against the Panthers was 36.3 percent, which is fine. Against the Jets, it was 53.3 percent, which is concerning.

The Steelers offense should be a team where the defense can gain confidence. They are struggling on the offensive line and running the ball with a quarterback in Trubisky that isn't enabling the best part of their offense, the receivers to function. But so were the Jets and it didn't happen.

If the Browns put together a great defensive performance, it will be a sigh of relief and potentially mean order has been restored, but if they find themselves unable to make the proper adjustments and look incompetent in a nationally televised game hosting the Steelers, warranted or not, owner Jimmy Haslam will likely give the mob what they want in a dismissed assistant coach.