July 25, 2014

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Browns’ defense faces tough test in Rams’ Jackson

BEREA — The Browns defense could use an easy game. It ranks last in the NFL in yardage (413 a game), 30th in scoring (30.5 points per game) and qualifies as the biggest disappointment of the first six games.
On the surface, the visit to St. Louis on Sunday is the perfect opportunity to get right. The Rams offense ranks 30th in yardage (274.6) and 32nd in scoring (11.3).
But Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson is due back from a groin injury, so the Rams just got a whole lot tougher.
“He’s an explosive guy,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said Friday. “He can break arm tackles. He’s got a burst. He can get to the edge on you. He can run inside and outside.”
Jackson missed the last four games and has been limited to 69 carries for 233 yards (3.4 average) and no touchdowns. That’s a far cry from his breakout 2006 season, when he rushed for 1,528 yards, caught 90 passes for 806 yards and scored 16 touchdowns.
The 2,334 yards from scrimmage rank fifth all time, and the 436 touches 11th.
Browns quarterback Derek Anderson saw the size, speed and power before everyone else. They shared a room in the international dorm — “It was the nicest one, so we all wanted to get in there,” Anderson said — as freshmen at Oregon State.
“Our freshman year he got in there and he was like a man against boys, just running kids over,” Anderson said. “He pretty much just ran Oregon’s secondary over our sophomore year. He’s 235 and lean and doesn’t quit. You have to tackle him the whole game.”
Jackson, 24, is listed at 6-foot-2, 231 pounds. Browns linebackers Andra Davis and D’Qwell Jackson compared Jackson to Miami’s Ronnie Brown, who rushed for 101 yards on 19 carries against the Browns and gave them fits with his second effort.
“That size and speed and toughness, that’s hard to come about,” D’Qwell Jackson said of Steven. “He’ll break arm tackles, so we’ve got to be conscious of running to the ball and be in good tackling position.”
The Browns rank 30th against the run (149.5 yards) and have allowed a 100-yard rusher in all six games. Much of the problem has been attributed to struggles across the line, which has been weakened by nose tackle Ted Washington’s decline and end Orpheus Roye’s balky knee.
“I don’t see our defense being outschemed,” general manager Phil Savage said. “A lot has to do with some consistency that begins upfront.”
Grantham said the linemen haven’t been winning their one-on-one battles.
“You have to win the line of scrimmage,” Grantham said. “That comes with playing with leverage and playing physical. When that doesn’t happen, it affects the linebackers, it affects how you call the game and it affects basically everything that you’re doing.
“The big emphasis to me, from the bye week to now, is securing those guys upfront, talking about winning at the line of scrimmage, talking about securing your gap, talking about playing with your hands and doing the things you need to do to be successful and to be a productive defense.”
Jackson will test each of those teaching points.
“It’s going to be important that not only one guy be able to tackle him, but it’s going to take a team of guys,” coach Romeo Crennel said. “Our pursuit to the football will be critical, our lane discipline, our run fits, all those things are going to be critical on this back.
“So we can’t let him outside. Then when he goes inside, we gotta make sure our fits inside our good.”
Grantham said he saw enough bright spots in the Browns’ last three games to remain optimistic about the defense making a big improvement over the final 10 games.
“The big thing with me is talking about finishing games and finishing plays,” he said. “I think if we do that, then we can get back to playing the kind of way we played the first couple of years and the kind of defense we want to be.”
Stopping Jackson would be a good start.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.