The Cleveland Browns have lost a bit of the early season luster from the defense in recent weeks.
There are still several things to like as the Browns enter Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals atop the leaderboard in total defense (260 yards per game), passing defense (163.3 yards per game) and third-down percentage (28.3 percent).
But the past few weeks have seen the run defense take a step back as the defense has allowed more than 100 rushing yards in four consecutive games. That has helped to contribute to the red zone defense allowing opposing offenses to score 66.7 percent of the time, which has the Browns sitting at No. 29 in the rankings.
The Cardinals may be deep into a lost season, but they still enter the weekend second in the league at 5.1 yards per carry, third in rushing yards per game (148.6) and third in total rushing yards (1,102). Which, given the way Cleveland’s defense has been playing could present some issues.
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz seems as frustrated as everyone else about the struggles, which he addressed this week, starting with the deficiencies in the red zone (quotes via a team-provided transcript):
“I think the biggest thing is we have to stop people from running the ball across our goal line. If we’re going to take pride in being a physical defense that starts with run defense and it gets accentuated in the red zone, the field shrinks a little bit, and we have to do a better job of stopping the run. I think that’s probably the biggest thing.”
Schwartz also highlighted the need for players to remain focused on their assignments to avoid giving up a big play:
“I think you did see some examples that some of the gaps in our run game were us chasing boots and our eyes got distracted. Instead of doing our job in the run game, were trying to make a sack and hard to get a sack on a run play. I think that we have had to guard against that. And I think that there’s a fine line between doing your job and then trying to do too much. And we’ve talked about that ad nauseam here and everywhere else. If we just do our job, if we just be the best that we can be, the plays will come to us.”
Sunday’s game against the Cardinals may not be as easy as it should be - it’s the Browns, after all, and nothing is ever easy with this team - but it provides a good opportunity for the defense to refocus and get back to the way it was playing through the early part of the season.
And with the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers on the schedule the next two weeks, the Browns are going to need to have the defense playing at its best if they hope to keep their playoff hopes alive through the month of November.
How confident are you in Cleveland’s defense heading into the second half of the season?