After regrouping, Browns’ defense should get stronger

Posted by Vic Carucci on September 20, 2011 – 7:29 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

In an NFL season that has so far been defined by staggering offensive production, it seems a little strange to be talking about solid defensive play.

However, the Browns displayed exactly that in their 27-19 victory against the Colts Sunday.

They were particularly effective up front, with rookie linemen Jabaal Sheard and Phil Taylor forming an imposing duo in only their second NFL game. The Colts’ offensive line had few answers when it came to dealing with them as pass-rushers. They steadily applied pressure on Kerry Collins. Sheard and Ahtyba Rubin each had a sack, the Browns were credited with four quarterback hits, and forced Collins to throw an interception and lose a fumble.

With behemoths Taylor and Rubin working in tandem at tackle, it’s hard to see too many offensive lines being able to prevent them from collapsing the pocket and otherwise being significantly disruptive.

And given that the Browns are so young on their defensive line, this is something that will only improve as Sheard and Taylor gain more experience.

The Browns’ defense had actually done a decent job for the better part of the season-opening loss against the Bengals. But two major gaffes – getting caught off-guard by a quick-snap touchdown pass and giving up a long touchdown run at the end – left a lingering sense of anger and frustration.

Defensive coordinator Dick Jauron took the blame for the lapse that led to the back-breaking touchdown throw. Now, he is equally entitled to take some bows for the coaching job he and the rest of the Browns’ defensive staff did against the Colts.

One strategic move that seemed to pay dividends for the Browns was honoring Sheard’s request to move from right to left end — his position at the University of Pittsburgh — and Jayme Mitchell moving from left to right end. Sheard managed to get the better part of his matchups against Colts right guard Mike Pollak, who was thrust into the lineup for injured Ryan Diem, and right tackle Jeff Linkenbach.

For the most part, the Browns’ secondary did a nice job in coverage, offering little in the way of open targets for Collins. Consequently, the quarterback wound up holding the ball, and his lack of speed and slow, deliberate throwing motion made him particularly vulnerable to the Browns’ pass rush.

But there were many times when Collins simply had no opportunity to set up in the pocket and make throws because he often had a pass-rusher bearing down on him.

Generally speaking, the Browns’ defense seemed to be dialed into what the Colts’ offense was showing. The Colts did have some success running the ball, averaging 4.2 yards per carry on 26 attempts. And Collins had a few decent throws.

But the vast majority of damage took place between the 20s. The Browns held the Colts to four consecutive field goals before finally allowing them to score their lone touchdown, on a Collins pass to Dallas Clark, with 24 seconds remaining.

 That’s known as bending, but not breaking, which is the primary characteristic of Dick Jauron’s defense.

>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET, for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford” on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on ClevelandBrowns.com.

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/viccarucci

 


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Browns’ offensive balance is a sign of things to come

Posted by Vic Carucci on September 20, 2011 – 1:29 am

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

In Sunday’s victory against the Colts, the Browns revealed what could very well prove to be the offensive template that they’ll follow for the rest of the season — and beyond.

That’s because they achieved virtual perfection in striking a balance between the run and the pass.

By running 34 times, the Browns did exactly what they needed to do against a defense that routinely gets overpowered on the ground. And by throwing 32 times, they were able to keep that defense guessing and off-balance for the better part of the game.

Given his background as a 10-year assistant coach for pass-happy Andy Reid in Philadelphia and for helping to make Sam Bradford a prolific passer as the Rams’ offensive coordinator last season, Browns coach Pat Shurmur had more than a few skeptics wondering just how willing he would be to run the ball.

Those doubts were put to rest Sunday when he turned Peyton Hillis loose for 27 carries.

Shurmur still believes in setting up the run with the pass. The idea is to force opponents to keep as many smaller, faster defenders on the field as possible, and then take advantage of mismatches on the ground, which happened quite often against the Colts.

Working behind a line that had an easier time dealing with a smaller and less physical defense than the one that it faced when the Bengals came to town on opening day, Hillis was able to find the daylight to be more productive than he was in the opener. He had 94 yards, averaging 3.5 per carry, and tore off a 24-yarder for his second touchdown run of the day that sealed the victory in the second quarter.

As a back who gets stronger with the more carries he gets and picks up his fair share of yards on his own with second, third and sometimes even fourth effort, Hillis must be utilized accordingly. And Shurmur recognizes as much. The coach also understands how tremendously effective Hillis is as a receiver out of the backfield, which is one of the primary components of the Browns’ West Coast offense. His four catches for 23 yards, including a 19-yard gain, were essential to the Browns’ offensive success.

And that brings up the balance that existed within Cleveland’s passing game. Colt McCoy managed to get the ball into the hands of eight different pass-catchers. Three of the top four were wide receivers – Greg Little, Mohamed Massaquoi, and Joshua Cribbs.

The Browns’ highly talented tight-end duo of Ben Watson and Evan Moore was mostly quiet against the Colts – except for Moore’s 16-yard touchdown catch – because the Colts’ defense focused on getting hands on them as they came off the line. So McCoy simply looked to the perimeter and usually found someone open.

Sunday’s win was all about the Browns’ offense having options … which was because they had balance.

>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET, for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford” on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on ClevelandBrowns.com.

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/viccarucci


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