Cleveland Browns: 3 defensive takeaways from Week 1
By Thomas Moore
The Cleveland Browns have a lot of work to do on defense. Here are three takeaways following the Week 1 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Cleveland Browns defense did little on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles to make anyone forget the nightmare of 2015.
The Browns gave up 403 yards of total offense and 23 first downs to the Eagles, did little to make life difficult for rookie quarterback Carson Wentz, allowed Philadelphia to control the ball for almost 40 minutes and gave up 27 points – the eighth time in their past 10 games, dating back to last season, that they have surrounded 27 or more points.
“We knew what we were up against and we felt like if we played the type of defense we know we can play that guys shouldn’t score that many points on us,” defensive back Tramon Williams said. “Really that’s the way it was after the first drive … it just didn’t mesh today so we’ve got to go back to the drawing board and come back and try to be better.”
Here are three takeaways from a mostly forgettable performance at Lincoln Financial Field.
Lack of big plays
The Browns inability to make any game-changing plays on defense helped contribute to Sunday’s defeat.
While the defense was able to hit Philadelphia quarterback Carson Wentz eight times, they only sacked him twice – one coming on a busted screen play where Wentz could have just as easily thrown the ball away rather than take a sack.
It was nice to see the Browns limit the Eagles to just three-of-15 on third down, but their inability to come up with a big play proved costly.
Following Cameron Erving’s errant snap that resulted in a safety, the Eagles took over and were facing a fourth-and-four play on Cleveland’s 40-yard line. Stop the Eagles there and, while still bad, the damage from the safety is minimized.
Instead, the defense gives up a completion to Zach Ertz, who bulls his way through Jordan Poyer for the first down. One play later Wentz hits Nelson Agholor for a 35-yard touchdown pass.
Suddenly, rather than giving the ball back to the offense trailing by just five points, the Browns fall behind by 12 and the game is essentially over.
“With us, we have to get off the field on third down. Not making stupid penalties when it is third-and-short, getting offsides, holding calls, stuff that can make a drive longer,” cornerback Joe Haden said after the game. “We have to lock in, start winning the battle on first down and second down. Then making sure when it is third-and-short or third-and-long, making sure we get off the field.”
Sometimes the other guy just makes a play
It is easy as fans to focus on what your favorite team is doing wrong without looking at the fact that the other team may just be doing something right.
A perfect example of that comes from the fourth-down play and subsequent touchdown by the Eagles on Sunday.
On the fourth-down play the Browns sent a blitz and had a rusher come free at Wentz, but he stayed calm and got the pass off. And it still would not have been enough if Poyer had made the tackle.
On the touchdown pass to Agholor, Wentz made a throw that put the ball in a position where either his receiver was going to catch it or it was going to fall incomplete. As ESPN’s Bill Barnwell pointed out:
"At the time of release, you can see that Agholor has a bit of separation, but he isn’t remotely open. Wentz threw the pass 20 yards in advance to the spot where Agholor was going to be and put it in a place where Haden or the safety couldn’t make a play. There are promising quarterbacks in this league who haven’t made a throw that impressive in their entire career. Wentz did it in his first game.your text"
Sometimes it just works out that way.
Hope in the middle?
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No matter what they do on defense the Browns continue to have trouble stopping the run and Sunday’s game was no different.
The defense gave up 133 rushing yards – more than they gave up on average last season – but they at least were able to avoid giving up the big play as Kenjon Barner’s 19-yard run was the longest on the day for the Eagles.
Part of the credit for, if not exactly stopping the run but at least limiting the damage, goes to nose tackle Danny Shelton and inside linebackers Demario Davis and Christian Kirksey, who were three of the five highest-ranked defensive players, according to Pro Football Focus:
"New pair of inside linebackers Demario Davis and Chris Kirksey made a strong start to their career as a tandem. They were both aggressive attacking the line of scrimmage, nullifying any potential yardage after contact. The pair finished with four stops apiece, limiting the Eagles’ run game considerably. In coverage, they allowed only four catches from six targets for 24 yards."
"The apparent improvement of Danny Shelton is also encouraging. He was highly disruptive in his 42 snaps, even if he wasn’t always able to finish plays."
If Shelton keeps improving, and Davis and Kirksey hold up, the Browns will have one less item to worry about when it comes to the defense.
Next: Browns offense awful in Week 1 loss
“I thought our defense, for the most part, fought hard,” head coach Hue Jackson said. “It was kind of like bend but don’t break a little bit, but we’ll get better. We need to keep working, but I saw signs of things getting better. I did, I really did. So we have to take the good and grow from it and eliminate the bad.”
The Browns will have their next chance to eliminate the bad when they host the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.