The Cleveland Browns defense was up and down all day against the Chicago Bears and that inconsistency was relied embodied in the performance of free safety Tashaun Gipson. Gipson not only had some great moments but career moments in some instances while having some issues in others that led to some big issues. In the end, the bottom fell out for Gipson and the defense as a whole and the Browns ultimately lost. In the end, Gipson had 5 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions and a defensive touchdown on the state sheet but there was more to it.
Gipson might be leading the league in interceptions he has caught off of tips this year. If it is not four of the team leading five he has now, it is all five. Some of this is a matter of luck and good fortune but part of that luck is the fact that Gipson seems to be in the right place at the right time and is a function of good hustle and a sense of where the play is going. He is being rewarded by working hard through the whole play and by doing so, the ball bounces, he can be in position to make a big play.
On the opening drive of the game, after a solid Bears drive, Jay Cutler threw a pass intended for Brandon Marshall that was tipped in a great play as part of a great game by T.J. Ward that went into the back of the end zone into the waiting arms of Gipson. Gipson made the play, the Bears were held out of the end zone and the Browns took over with the football.
Later in the game, Cutler threw another pass down the field that was again tipped up in the air which was intercepted by Gipson. This time, he had running room ahead of him and was able to get to the sideline and run it all the way in for the score. This was the first touchdown of Gipson’s career and his first multi-interception game of the year. The Browns really looked like they might be able to take full control of the game at that point and go onto win the game.
This was one of two defensive touchdowns scored by the Browns. Ward scored the other one on a fumble recovery when Billy Winn knocked the ball out of Martellus Bennett’s hands. Virtually untouched, Ward took the ball down the field and was able to score.
Gipson was also able to get involved in the running game, coming up the middle and making two big tackles for loss. The Browns as a whole were able to make plays behind the line of scrimmage with a combined 8 tackles for loss as a defense. They were only able to get two sacks with one from Jabaal Sheard and one where Leon McFadden and James Posey came up with a combined sack on a blitz. This is a problem that continues to prove problematic for the Browns and they need to win more matchups one on one, but they did get some pressure on Cutler.
The problem is that Gipson also missed tackles and took some problematic angles, which was another problem for the team as a whole. Especially later in the game when the Bears got their running game going, the Browns were finding themselves out of position quite a bit. Barkevious Mingo had some problems in this area and is an issue he needs to continue to address. There were some big running lanes essentially hoped up by Browns defenders. Gipson also missed tackles he should not have, which has been a nagging problem for him all season and the Browns in general.
They also had problems in coverage as did Gipson. There were two plays on one drive where the Bears ultimately scored where Gipson was out of position and showed a symptom of what had been hurting the defense all day. On the jump ball that found its way to Alshon Jeffery near the goal line, Gipson got caught too short and could not adjust to track the football. As a result, a ball that ultimately found its way to Jeffery’s body (while jumping), Gipson was way too far up the field and could not get to the pass. His timing on his jump was wrong but there was too much space there and he was not in position to make the play.
A few plays earlier in the drive, Cutler took a shot to Marshall where Gipson was underneath and Buster Skrine over the top, Gipson got caught peeking. This was extremely similar to the manner Joe Haden did against Antonio Brown and the deep ball he was able to score on against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Gipson got caught peeking into the backfield, slowed down a little bit which created space for Marshall. Skrine was in position over the top but Marshall had a chance to catch the ball because the underneath coverage was too short. This pass ultimately went incomplete and was a no harm, no foul situation, but it is something that they can hopefully learn from in film.
The Browns as a team have a lot of these near misses and little mistakes that end up in big plays. Some of it may have been a case of bad luck, but mostly it was a case of fundamentals and concentration falling by the way side. The difference between two interceptions and two tackles for loss as opposed to missed tackles and a couple of bad positions on coverage was not much.
Certainly, losing Joe Haden to a hip injury and not having Desmond Bryant hurt. Gipson, himself, came up hurt at one point in the game. The Browns do not have much depth in the secondary and this is an issue that needs to be addressed. The offense struggling so much in spite of benefiting from two touchdowns from the defense is definitely deflating and makes it tough to sustain throughout the game. There was a sense of the air being let out of the defense late in the fourth quarter. The hope is that the Browns can as a unit can learn from this, make more of the big plays while reducing some of the big mistakes and get better as an overall unit.
In the end, Gipson had a career day and deserves a great deal of credit for what he was able to do in this game. There are some issues that need to be cleaned up, but playing 60 minutes of perfect football is immensely difficult and Gipson is a second year player who has grown up quite a bit this year and he should be proud. Like with many of the marks that have been set by Browns players this year either in terms of team or NFL records or just personal ones are lost a little bit in the losing, but they are signs of growth and an indication of where this team can go in the future. The hope is the lumps they are taking now will pay off next season and these tough losses in the end prepare them for late game situations and being able to finish.