Cleveland Browns: Is there a problem in the secondary?
The Cleveland Browns have struggled at times in the secondary so far, with two players in particular standing out.
The Cleveland Browns entered the 2017 season knowing that the offense was going to struggle with a rookie at quarterback and an unproven group of wide receivers.
The defense was a different situation, however, as defensive coordinator Gregg Williams brought a sound plan to town and the Browns added a pair of first-round draft selections to the defensive side of the ball.
Three weeks into the season the offense has performed as expected, but the defense is starting to show some cracks, leaving many to question if the team has a problem, most notably in the secondary.
A casual look at the stats would seem to support that narrative as Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (11 receptions for 182 yards) and Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (7-153 and a touchdown) have had their way with the Cleveland secondary.
Throw in Pittsburgh tight end Jessie James (two touchdowns) Baltimore tight end Benjamin Watson (eight receptions for 91 yards) and it has been a rough start to the season.
But a deeper look shows that it may not be fair to blame the entire secondary as there are two players who stand out.
The overall player grades at Pro Football Focus put a spotlight on the current culprits:
- Cornerback Jason McCourty has an overall grade of 87.8, making him the site’s No. 3 player at his position
- Cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun is at 82 and No. 16
- Safety Derrick Kindred is at 83.2 and No. 10 among safeties.
So far, so good, but here is where things take a turn in the wrong direction:
- Cornerback Jamar Taylor has an overall grade of 36.5, making him the site’s No. 102 ranked cornerback
- Safety Jabrill Peppers has a grade of 38.8 and a rank of No. 70 among safeties
(Before anyone starts bleating about Joe Haden, he is currently carrying around an overall grade of 52.8, ranking him at No. 68 among cornerbacks, after facing the dynamic quarterback trio of DeShone Kizer, Case Keenum of the Minnesota Vikings and Mike Glennon of the Chicago Bears.)
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Taylor had a solid first season with the Browns in 2016 after struggling his first three seasons in the league with Miami Dolphins. By the end of the season Taylor was Cleveland’s best cornerback and was rewarded with a new contract.
But so far this season Taylor has been more the player he was in Miami and that was on full display against Hilton, who caught four of the five passes thrown his way with Taylor in coverage, good for 125 yards and a touchdown.
Speaking of Hilton’s 61-yard touchdown catch, once he shook free from Taylor, Hilton made Peppers miss badly on a tackle attempt before scooting into the end zone.
It has been a rough transition to the pro game for Peppers, who has been playing deep off the line of scrimmage to help shut down the deep passing game and has yet to make much of an impact on defense.
Contributing to the problems in the secondary is that the Browns have not established much of a pass rush. Williams has been sending extra rushers on passing downs and since they are not able to get to the quarterback, that puts pressure on the secondary and Taylor and Peppers have struggled to respond.
That particular part of the problem will presumably be fixed when defensive end Myles Garrett returns to the field. Hopefully his talent will be enough to open things up for the other pass rushers and they can start making opposing quarterbacks work for their yards.
Garrett is still likely another week or two away from returning, however, and relying on one player to fix everything is a bit dicey, which means that the defense needs to figure things out and quick.
Next: Browns: 3 offensive takeaways from loss to the Colts
With A.J. Green of the Cincinnati Bengals, who has 52 receptions for 824 yards and six touchdowns in 11 career games against the Browns, coming to town on Sunday, figuring things out needs to start immediately.