CLEVELAND (AP) — Hours after giving up 238 yards rushing to the NFL’s worst rushing team, the Browns traded for a linebacker who hasn’t played this season due to an injury.
Desperate times. Cleveland’s defense is also broken.
A unit that was supposed to be one of the team’s strengths — and possibly carry the Browns while waiting for Deshaun Watson to get back from his 11-game suspension — has underperformed to alarming levels through five games.
Coordinator Joe Woods has become an easy target for fan frustration.
If not failing to communicate, the Browns miss tackles, blow assignments and can’t get a stop when they need one. A week after the Atlanta Falcons ran the ball down Cleveland’s throat — with Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney out injured — in the second half, the Chargers did it for four quarters.
And Garrett and Clowney did nothing to stop them.
Coach Kevin Stefanski vowed Monday to fix his defense, which has become offensive in the worst way possible.
So, coach, what needs work?
“It can’t be one player, it can’t be one scheme and it can’t be one position; it’s everybody,” Stefansksi said. “We have to own it, and we have to fix it. We have to make sure that we look at everything.
“There is nothing that you can’t look at. We have to be very intentional about that because until you stop it, teams are going to always continue to do that.”
The Browns seem to be dealing with some scheme issues, along with maybe a size problem.
Linebackers Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Jacob Phillips have good speed, which is ideal for covering backs and tight ends on pass routes but not for filling a hole to take on a 300-pound guard, shedding the block and making a tackle.
Stefanski isn’t ready to admit the Browns might be a little light.
“I do believe in run defense a lot of it is discipline, running to the ball and tacking well,” he said. “It’s our jobs to put the guys in position to make plays. That’s obvious. Schematically, we have to make sure they are in position and then we have to tackle.”
The lights were still on at FirstEnergy Stadium on Sunday when general manager Andrew Berry made a move designed to address some of Cleveland’s defensive woes, trading for former Pro Bowl linebacker Deion Jones.
The 27-year-old Jones can perhaps fill the void left by captain Anthony Walker Jr.’s season-ending injury.
After giving up 50 points in the fourth quarter in their first four games, the Browns held the Chargers to just three in the final 15 minutes. So there is evidence the Browns are making some improvements.
Stefanski is confident more are coming.
“I’ve seen these players, this scheme and these coaches, this group play winning football, winning defensive football — taking the football away, stopping the run and playing great on money downs,” he said. “We have to go do it. It’s very, very easy for me to say it and for us to say it, but we have to go do it.”
The offense is holding up its end, moving the chains, scoring and doing enough to win. Nick Chubb had another solid game, rushing for 134 yards and scoring a pair of TDs, including a 41-yarder he capped by stiff-arming Chargers star Khalil Mack.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Quarterback Jacoby Brissett has been dependable and, in many ways, better than expected while filling in for Watson. Until the end, that is.
Brissett has thrown three interceptions, all of them in the closing minutes of Cleveland’s three losses.
On Sunday, he was picked in the end zone on a third-and-7 play at LA’s 9, when that was the only thing he couldn’t afford to do. The Browns signed Brissett and started him because he had a reputation for avoiding turnovers.
Wide receiver Amari Cooper bounced back from a week ago with seven catches (on 12 targets) for 76 yards. Cooper had only one reception for 9 yards in a loss to Atlanta. Beyond being a dependable pass catcher, Cooper’s presence opens space for Cleveland’s other receivers.
Rookie Cade York missed two field-goal attempts, including a 54-yard try with 11 seconds left that would have won the game. York couldn’t remember ever missing twice in the same game.
The fourth-round draft pick opened the season with a game-winning, 58-yarder in the closing seconds at Carolina, but has since veered off target.
Cornerback Denzel Ward remains in the concussion protocol after going out in the fourth quarter. Ward was credited with nine solo tackles, some of them takedowns of Chargers receiver Mike Williams, who finished with 10 catches for 134 yards.
258 — The Chargers’ rushing total through four games before steamrolling the Browns.
Nobody knows how to expose a team’s weaknesses more than Bill Belichick, who is well aware of Cleveland’s defensive issues as he readies the New England Patriots for their visit on Sunday.
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