October 25, 2014

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Browns’ defense looking offensive

CLEVELAND — If someone had told Cleveland Browns coach Pat Shurmur during the offseason that his defense would be one of his team’s biggest weaknesses after three weeks, he might have suspected he’d be in deep trouble.

The Browns have allowed seven touchdowns over the past two games — including a pair in the first quarter of Sunday’s 24-14 loss to Buffalo — to become one of two NFL teams to start 0-3, the other being the New Orleans Saints.

“It sucks — it sucks to be 0-3,” linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said.

The Browns were fifth in the NFL in scoring defense last season, allowing just 19.2 points per game, but injuries and suspensions have taken their toll and for the second straight week the defense was burned early and often.

Buffalo scored on its first two possessions before starting running back C.J. Spiller left the game with a shoulder injury. Spiller scored the Bills second touchdown after catching a Ryan Fitzpatrick screen pass and breaking free for 32 yards.

“Anytime a team runs a ton of screens, you’ve got to be able to react or it always catches up to you,” Jackson said. “We’ve got to do a better job of understanding situations.”

The Bills got 150 of their 344 yards of total offense in the first quarter.

It was the second time in as many games Cleveland has allowed three passing touchdowns.

Fitzpatrick torched a Cleveland secondary that was missing Joe Haden — serving the second game of his four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy — and Eric Hagg, who despite being healthy found himself on the inactive list Sunday.

In fact, three of the four starters in the defensive backfield — Usama Young, Dimitri Patterson and Buster Skrine — were not in the starting lineup in Week 1.

Patterson realizes the Browns need to find additional playmakers on the defensive side of the ball.

“They ran the ball well and they made plays when they needed to make plays,” Patterson said. “They had maybe 200 yards passing, but it wasn’t that he was throwing the ball all over the place. They made plays when they needed to make plays and we didn’t, and that’s why we’re in the situation we’re in right now.”

The Browns will play three of their next four games on the road, including trips to AFC runner-up Baltimore and the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants. The Browns are hoping to solve their defensive woes before the losing streak — which sits at a league-high nine games — and the season spiral further out of control.

“I don’t know what’s going on, but we’ve got to fix it,” safety T.J. Ward said. “I think there’s some uncertainty going on because we keep getting picked. I really can’t explain it. I don’t know what’s going on right now, but we’ve got to fix it. Just the communication, what’s said, what’s supposed to happen within the defense.

“I think we’re just playing a little different than we did last year. Last year we were sure when we got in that we were playing certain things. I think it’s kind of different now based on personnel. We’ve just got to get something solidified and stick with it.”

The Browns have been outscored 41-20 in the first half during the first three games. But instead of dwelling on the past, Jackson, who intercepted a pass in Cleveland’s first two games, is looking forward.

“We gotta move on,” he said. “We’ve got a ton of games left. It stings right now, but it’s a short week and we have to get ready for Baltimore.”

Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or ctsports@chroniclet.com.