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Joe Woods: ‘I can’t put my finger on (slow starts)’

Cleveland’s defense has had a rough go of it the past two seasons and the man tasked with fixing it is still searching for answers why.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Cleveland Browns Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Like a movie studio looking to make a quick buck, the Cleveland Browns defense presented a sequel in 2022 that no one was asking to see.

The Browns did not bother even to change up the script or the majority of the cast in opening this season with breakdowns in the secondary that almost cost them the opening game and did cost them a victory in Week 2.

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That was followed up by allowing the Atlanta Falcons (202 rushing yards) and Los Angeles Chargers (238 rushing yards) to run with abandon in winnable games that turned into losses. As an added bonus, the defense had no answers for New England rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe, who tossed a pair of touchdowns and threw for 309 yards in yet another loss that helped to set the season on course for another disappointing end and an offseason filled with questions.

As the Browns prepare to play out the string starting on Sunday against the Washington Commanders, defensive coordinator Joe Woods, the man who has sat in the director’s chair for three seasons, was asked why the defense has struggled to hit the start of the season running.

And he gave perhaps one of the most answers possible, even if it will do little to calm the nerves of a disgruntled fan base (quote via a team-provided transcript):

“For whatever reason, it just feels like we start slow. Some of it may be the preseason you don’t do a bunch, you face different offensive schemes and you are trying to feel what you do good, but overall, I really can’t put my finger on it.”

While Woods earns a few points for his honesty, the fact that he still has no answer to the issues plaguing the defense 48 games into his tenure should give everyone involved a reason to question what is going on.

In 2021 the blame was pinned on the Browns having eight new starters on defense and that everyone needed time to figure things out. However, that wasn’t the case this year, as the only significant addition to the defense was rookie cornerback Martin Emerson Jr.

To be fair, the defense has dealt with its share of injuries as defensive end Myles Garrett has played a large portion of the year with a shoulder injury, fellow defensive end Jadeveon has missed time with an ankle injury and concussion, and at various points in the campaign season-ending injuries have hit linebackers Anthony Walker Jr., Jacob Phillips, Sione Takitaki and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.

Woods touched on those issues during his media appearance on Thursday, but to his credit, he did not deflect and placed the blame for the defensive woes on the coaching staff.

Still, given that the defense played a significant role in derailing the season during the 11-game suspension of quarterback Deshaun Watson and the fact that the defensive coaching staff seems to struggle to make any adjustments during the game, like in the Week 14 game against the Cincinnati Bengals when they were so baffled by the Bengals losing wide receivers Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins that they forgot about Ja’Marr Chase, it seems unlikely that the Browns will offer up a trilogy on the defensive side of the ball in 2023.