The trends, the statistics, the film is alarming through 3 preseason games.
The Browns defense hasn’t mounted much of one in 3 preseason games against the Packers or Falcons and it looked even worse Friday night in a 30-13 loss to the Buccaneers.
But it’s just preseason and the Browns defense is not panicking after allowing Jameis Winston to throw for 259 yards and 2 touchdowns or seeing Tampa Bay’s offense carve them up for 305 total yards at 20 points in the first half.
That’s the point that inside linebacker Christian Kirksey, who enters his third season, drove home in a conference call with reporters Sunday.
“When you give up 259 passing yards in one half, that is not a team that we want to be,” Kirksey said. “It is definitely frustrating, but this week, we are just striving on getting better. It is still preseason so we are not going into panic mode, but we definitely have some things to clean up.”
Ray Horton’s defense has lacked just about everything through 3 preseason games but Kirksey and head coach Hue Jackson chalk it up to Horton mixing and matching personnel groupings while evaluating what is or isn’t working. Jackson conceded on Saturday that it’s time for the experimentation to end as they prepare for the opener in Philadelphia which is now 2 weeks away.
“I think what is important now is that we really start putting our units together and let them go play together because I think it is so important that those guys play together, be together, be able to make calls,” Jackson said. “When we are talking about communication issues, that is where some of that comes from. You have a lot of young guys maybe playing at a time, and they hear something and don’t react very quickly. We have to make sure we take the opportunity for error out as much as we can. Now, I think it is about time we put units together and let them play and get these guys ready for the opener.”
In the 3 games combined the Browns defense has allowed 31 plays of 10 or more yards – 25 passes and 6 runs. Winston had 10 of those throws Friday night that accounted for 235 yards and a TD.
“We just have to dig deep and look at ourselves and say, ‘What do we want to be as a defense and how do we want to play,’” Kirksey said. “We are not in panic mode or going crazy saying, ‘Oh man, Jameis had this great game’ or ‘He exposed us’ because it is preseason. We are not going to get too hyped in that.”
Deep Ball Dependency – Robert Griffin III has made the highlight reel a few times this preseason for the deep ball – arguably his strongest asset – but Jackson doesn’t want his offense to become dependent on it for survival.
Griffin has completed passes of 49, 50, 29, 44 and 43 yards with 3 of them going for touchdowns against the Packers, Falcons and Buccaneers.
“I love the big plays but I feel like we can’t be a team that just relies on big plays offensively,” Jackson said. “We need to sustain drives. That gets back to running the football.”
The Browns’ have run 37 times for 192 yards combined in the first halves of the 3 games with 72 of those yards coming on 5 of those carries. Be it run or pass, there’s plenty to work on in the next 2 weeks.
“We are going to have to run the ball better than we have and we understand that. We are going to have to throw the ball better than we have,” Jackson said.
Attitude Adjustment – Even with the Browns 0-3 on the preseason and the team being outscored 71-37, the typical doom and gloom that tends to emerge within the locker room and organization is nowhere to be seen.
For the first time in a long time, there appears to be a singular vision that stretches from the front office through the coaching staff and into the locker room and left guard Joe Bitonio credits Jackson for that.
“I think the whole attitude of the team is much improved,” Bitonio said. “The preseason hasn’t gone win and loss the way we want it to, but we see signs of hope. It takes time to put your stamp on a team, but Coach Jackson has really done a good job of stressing the little details, the important things, the way we work as a team, the way we practice. There are just so many improvements in that aspect, and it seems like the team is a lot closer. We are ready to take the next step. Is it going to be Week 1? Is it going to be Week 2? That is our goal. We want to win as soon as possible. There is hope around this team. There are guys that are working, guys that are doing everything possible to put the Cleveland Browns in the best spot we can. I know this team goes out every week expecting to win, and we are doing everything on our part to do that.”