With the offense struggling to get anything going after the first series of the game, the Browns needed the defense to step up the way it did the previous three games when it held the Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals to a combined 45 points.
Instead, the defense that everyone saw against the Los Angeles Chargers and Arizona Cardinals returned, giving up 45 points, three touchdown drives of more than 90 yards, and an absurd drive chart that saw the Patriots score on seven of their eight drives.
That led to some questions being raised from defensive end Myles Garrett about a lack of adjustments throughout the game, cornerback Greg Newsome II playing the “I just do what they tell me to do” card, safety John Johnson III pointing out that the defense keeps getting beat by the same plays, and linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah not understanding why he was on the field for barely a third of the defensive snaps.
At the center of it all is second-year defensive coordinator Joe Woods, who hasn’t seen the defensive side of the ball make the type of improvement, at least not a consistent one, that was expected after general manager Andrew Berry put some considerable work into rebuilding the defense in the offseason.
Following the game against the Chargers, when defensive breakdowns led to a pair of easy touchdowns by wide receiver Mike Williams, head coach Kevin Stefanski blamed the issue on communication breakdowns, while Woods said it was poor technique on the part of the players.
After another long against the Patriots, Woods said on Thursday that the issues were once again mostly related to execution (quote via a team-provided transcript):
“Just really execution. Everybody doing their job. We threw multiple things at them. It is just everybody doing their job, and it is up to me to put them in the right calls where they can have success based on what people are trying to do.”
And what about Garrett’s comments about a lack of in-game adjustments? Well, Woods pointed out that the Browns got New England into several third-down situations but the players could not get the job done:
“In the first half of the game, I think the first series we got them to third-an-eight, third-and-seven, third-and-13 so when those things happen, you feel like you are doing good. Then they had the one-play series, and then the next series, we got them to three third downs again – I think third-and-one, third-and-five and third-and-nine — so we were getting them in manageable situations. We just were not able to get off of the field. At halftime, we did not have as much time as we normally have because we had to talk about so many things defensively to try to fix it. There were a couple of things that I said I wanted to do in the second half, I called them the first series and we went three-and-out. I think when you lose that way, everybody is trying to figure out what happen. As coaches and as players, we just have to make sure that we work together, communicate and get things fixed.”
The situation with the defense has been a bit baffling all season as the unit does well on first and second downs, as Woods pointed out, but for some reason struggles enormously on third down — especially when it is third and long (or at least it seems that way).
That would seem like everyone knows what they are doing, but something just breaks when the time comes to make a play to turn the game in Cleveland’s favor.
It might not matter much this week as the Browns are facing the winless Detroit Lions, although Detroit did manage to tie the Pittsburgh Steelers last week and lost to the Baltimore Ravens thanks to a league-record 66-yard field goal by Justin Tucker at the end of the game.
Still, the Lions are not very good as they are 29th overall in offense and 23rd in defense, so this would appear to be a prime opportunity for the defense to have a decent showing, calm some nerves, and get ready for a crucial home-and-home series against the Baltimore Ravens.