November 24, 2014

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Browns: Defensive stand required today

PLANTATION, Fla. — The Browns defense needs to make a stand.
Sure tackling would be a good start. A stop in the final minutes would be a fine way to finish. The proper intensity from start to finish is a must.
The defense hasn’t been awful lately — or throughout the season – but enough bad plays, especially in crucial situations, have cast Rob Ryan’s unit in a bad light.
Eric Wright, T.J. Ward and Eric Barton missed tackles and allowed Jets receiver Santonio Holmes to score with 16 seconds left in overtime.
Despite Cleveland forcing six turnovers the next week in Jacksonville, the lasting memory is the Jaguars scoring touchdowns on their last two drives to pull out an improbable win. Maurice Jones-Drew’s 75-yard catch-and-run with a screen pass exposed more bad tackling — Shaun Rogers, Sheldon Brown, Eric King, Ward — and nullified what would’ve been a winning drive by Colt McCoy.
The Browns broke the
two-game skid last week with a 24-23 win over Carolina. But only after John Kasay missed the winning field goal as time expired. The defense allowed unimpressive rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen to go
71 yards from his 5 in the final 59 seconds. Missed tackles — Bubba Ventrone, Chris Gocong, Mike Adams, Joe Haden — were again the culprit.
“These guys will run it down your throat if you’re not ready,” Ryan, the defensive coordinator, said of the Dolphins, today’s opponent. “They’ll get in that Wildcat and pound you with it.
“Our guys have had a great week of practice, we’re responding. I know a lot of people were saying that it sounded like Mark Twain got a new book out now, waited a hundred years to get it out. The death of our defense has been greatly exaggerated. We’re going to get back after it. We’ve got a lot of pride.”
Tackling was a primary focus in preparation for Miami and Pro Bowl running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. The players wore shoulder pads Wednesday as they practiced tackling techniques and where to fit in the run defense.
“We continue to work at it,” said Sheldon Brown, who’s fighting a sore shoulder.
Coach Eric Mangini should never be accused of ignoring tackling. He begins nearly every practice with a drill designed to improve technique and fundamentals, something rarely, if ever, seen in the NFL.
“We practice it every week,” Brown said. “It’s kinda like, ‘Oh, this drill, this drill.’ But we understand why. It’s football 101. Tackling and blocking. You have to do those things in order to compete.”
The Browns missed some tackles on Carolina’s opening drive, which snapped a streak of 23 games without allowing an opening touchdown. Mangini criticized the intensity and attributed it to a poor week of practice.
“It is a long, long season and you have guys hurt, you have different voices in the huddle, and the goal is to be able to get whoever is out there on that day working in that position with whatever the game plan is to be consistent in our preparation,” he said. “It’s not an easy thing to do over the course of 17 weeks, but it’s a really important thing to do.”
Mangini’s biggest criticism of the tackling was a failure to wrap up. He calls it ‘block tackling,’ when the defender expects the impact of the hit to drop the ball carrier.
“The runners are too good,” he said. “You’ve got to bring your head across his body, you’ve got to bring your arms and you have got to wrap up on those tackles. The other thing is that you want gang tackles. You want hats to the ball.”
One of the most frustrating aspects is that many of the lapses have come in the final minutes. Three above-average defensive performances have been negated by late meltdowns. The players insist fatigue isn’t a problem.
“I think guys press at those times, the game’s on the line,” Ryan said. “It’s amazing because I haven’t seen guys miss tackles all year like that and then we’ll have a rash of them.”
Safety Abram Elam was perplexed by the breakdowns.
“When it comes down to crunch time, when it’s time to make plays, we just have to find a way to dig deep and do that,” he said. “Like Sheldon said, no excuses. We just got to get it done.”
Ryan refused to get too excited about his run defense after the big wins over New Orleans and New England. He dismissed the 126 combined rushing yards, saying neither team was committed to the run. The Jets, Jaguars and Panthers committed and had success. The Browns have given up 468 on the ground in the last three weeks.
For the year, the defense ranks 22nd overall (357 yards per game) and 21st against the rush (120). It’s 12th in scoring at 20.8 points per game.
Miami brings the 19th-ranked run offense (106). Williams has 496 yards and a 4.4 average in 2010 and 9,388 yards for his career. Brown’s rushed for 539 and a 3.9 average this year.
In addition to the tackling, Mangini said the Browns must do a better job setting the edge. That means the ends, outside linebackers and cornerbacks must be stout at the point of attack and prevent the running back from choosing the lane he wants. End Robaire Smith is out for the year with a bad back, and outside linebacker Scott Fujita will miss his third straight game today with a knee injury. They’ve been missed.
“It’s significant,” Mangini said. “Robaire is excellent against the run, he also sets a certain tone. He’s a tough guy. We miss Robaire a lot. Scott has done great things this year, some of it’s the way he plays and some of it’s the way he sees the things they’re in, he communicates out those alerts or the adjustments. All that being said, other guys have had plenty of time to get ready for their chance.”
Defensive end Shaun Rogers could be out or limited today after missing practice all week with ankle and hip issues. Regardless of the lineup, Ryan believes his defense will bounce back.
“I’m very confident,” he said. “Our guys have worked hard and we are looking forward to this challenge. We’ve played some pretty good offenses and this will be another one down in Miami.
“We are going to prove our mettle, that’s just what we are going to do.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.