The game against the Detroit Lions was disappointing for a number of reasons, but the front seven did not play as well as they could have and should have based on what they have been able to do this season. There were some issues in coverage from the linebackers but there were not a ton of impact plays and the pass rush was largely ineffective for the entire game as the Browns were only able to get one sack which was for almost no loss and two hits on quarterback Matthew Stafford.
It is important to note that the Lions have been able to pass block well and on the season, have only given up 9 sacks including the one the Browns got from Craig Robertson, but this is an area that is supposed to be a strength for the Browns and especially the defense. Even the sack they did get was mediocre. Barkevious Mingo should have had what would have been his fourth sack of the season but he was unable to secure the tackle on Stafford and Robertson knocked him out of bounds short of the line of scrimmage for the sack. The Lions might not have even lost a full yard on the play.
Ray Horton prides himself on having a pressure defense, but there was not much pressure coming from the Browns. The only two hits they were able to get on Stafford came from Phil Taylor and Desmond Bryant. They also had the hit from Quentin Groves which was called for roughing the passer; a terrible call on a great play by Groves. The Browns were without Jabaal Sheard and Billy Winn, but they had plenty of talent on the field to get the job done.
The Lions deserve credit with the execution by their offensive line and their ability to protect as well as Stafford’s ability to move in the pocket and extend plays. The design of the offense can also use quick passes and some screen passes to keep the pass rush off balance. Nevertheless, no one in the front seven can be happy with how ineffective they were as a whole.
There are always going to be play calls that anyone can quibble with and there are times when the offense makes the right play call at a time for the defense that is out there. Maybe Horton deserves some criticism for the game plan, but this mostly comes down to the players on the field. Blitzes are a great way to create pressure and put the opponent in a tough spot in terms of how many they need to protect against, but just getting blocked is not enough reason to get stopped. The players have to be able to win individual matchups and players like Mingo, Bryant, Taylor, Athyba Rubin and Paul Kruger need to be able to beat the opponent and get pressure. That did not happen this week.
For the most part the secondary did a pretty good job in coverage. Buster Skrine had another good day and caused the interception made by Tashaun Gipson in addition to a couple of other plays he broke up while Joe Haden had one ugly drive against Calvin Johnson but was able to get through it and play well the rest of the game. T.J. Ward and Gipson were used aggressively, especially in the first half and were seen near the line of scrimmage on plays quite a bit with Ward making a number of tackles.
The run defense was not as good as it has been. The Lions as a team were able to run for 118 yards on 28 carries at an average of 4.2 yards. 39 of it was on one play from Reggie Bush and if not for that play, the average drops below three yards per carry. The play did happen and gauged the Browns for quite a bit of yardage and helped open up some opportunities for Bush in the passing game.
Robertson had some problems in coverage against Lions tight ends and he made it clear he knew it when he talked to the media. Kruger had similar sentiments in regards to his own play. There does seem to be accountability on this team, which is a good thing. They have to play better and they know it and as much as can sit there and dwell on what happened against Detroit, they have to focus on what they need to do in order to be successful against Green Bay.
Aaron Rodgers is arguably the best quarterback in the NFL right now and the Browns know they need to be able to put pressure on him if they are going to win. Rodgers has had times where he will hold onto the ball too long and take some bad sacks and the Packers offensive line is dealing with a combination of injuries and mediocre play.
The Packers also have a couple of big injuries among their wide receivers, which might give the Browns an extra half a beat to get to the quarterback. The Browns are also hoping to get Winn and Sheard back who would certainly help. Sheard is one of the best players on the defense and certainly makes a big difference while Winn is arguably one of the top three defensive linemen and gives them a huge boost when he is able to rotate on the left side as well as being able to rush the passer.
The Browns are trying to establish an identity on defense starting with that front seven. They have a substantial amount of talent there and all of it can continue to get better. Getting healthier will help, but injuries happen and guys need to step up and make plays. The defense has had some games where it has been brilliant but after a week and a half to prepare, did not look like many would have expected against the Lions. They have plenty of opportunities to get better and build their brand but it needs to start this week against the Packers.