Cleveland Browns: Dissecting The Browns' Defense In Loss to Ravens
Other than perhaps those terrible flashbacks of The Drive that we all still have, there is nothing worse for a Browns fan that getting the opportunity to stick it to the Ravens...and squandering it. The Browns played well enough in week three to make it appear that they might actually pull of a huge upset in a game no one was expecting them to win, but ultimately, they fell short.
This was caused by problems in many different parts of the Browns' performance, but the most glaring problem was the defense.
The Browns' dismal defensive performance this week left many wondering what had happened to the squad that performed fairly well the first two games of the season.
With the vaunted Baltimore defense looking far shakier than usual and being repeatedly victimized by Peyton Hillis, it seemed that if only the Browns' defense could play well enough to contain a team not traditionally known for its offensive prowess, they might pull of a huge upset.
But it was not to be, as Joe Flacco and Anquan Boldin repeatedly got the better of the Browns defense and Cleveland fell to a disappointing 0-3.
It wasn't all bad, of course, but it will force the Browns to really examine their defense, particularly when it comes to handling the opponents' passing game.
Following is an examination of a few key points regarding the performance of the Browns defense in their week three loss to the Ravens.
1. Eric Wright Vs. Anquan Boldin
If ever a guy had the Browns' secondary's number, it was Anquan Boldin on Sunday afternoon. Boldin logged 142 yards on 8 receptions, averaged 17.8 yards-per-carry, and scored three touchdowns.
On most of these plays, you could see Eric Wright looking confused and downtrodden in the cloud of dust that Boldin left behind. If there was one mismatch in this game that cost the Browns a chance to win, it was unquestionably this one.
No one should envy Wright's finding himself burdened with the task of covering Boldin; that's a tough job for any defensive back on any day. But this wasn't just an example of a lesser player getting beat by a better one - Wright played one of his worst games ever, and Boldin and the Ravens made him pay.
There was nothing good about Wright's performance on Sunday, though he did at least handle the situation appropriately and professionally after the game by taking the full brunt of the blame, expressing how disappointed he was in his own performance, and vow to improve.
Still, as much as it was good to see Wright take responsibility for his failure and handle it admirably, I think we'd all have preferred he turn in a good performance and act like a jerk about it afterwards instead if that was the other option.
Letting Joe Flacco Off Easy
Eric Wright couldn't handle Anquan Boldin to be sure, but he's not the only member of the defense to blame for the opportunities Boldin had. Boldin would not have been able to do what he did if the Browns defense had been able to contain Joe Flacco.
The defense completely failed to pressure Flacco, giving him ample time to find Boldin over and over again. What's worse, if there was EVER a time to truly capitalize on pressuring an opposing quarterback this was it: Flacco was coming off a terrible game last week, maybe the worst of his career.
The Browns should have been ALL over him. Take advantage of a chink in his self confidence coming off a horrible performance. Instead of seizing the opportunity to rattle a quarterback who likely came into the game already a bit rattled after his terrible game last week, the Browns achieved the opposite by giving him such an easy time of it that they actually restored his confidence.
This obviously didn't help us in the game, and it's even worse because Baltimore is in our division. Not only do we not want to allow a mistake like this to cost us a specific game, we also don't want to be helping out a division rival going forward.
Failure To Make In-Game Strategic Adjustments
Expanding a bit on the issues of the Browns failure to control Boldin, Flacco, and the passing game as a whole, it is important to note that the players on the field weren't the only ones who failed to do their jobs here.
Much of the blame has to be placed on the coaching staff as well for failing to find a way around these issues once they became apparent. The Browns failed to call for their defense to blitz even after it became very apparent that Flacco had way, way too much time to throw.
They also didn't give Wright adequate help dealing with Boldin after it became clear that he couldn't handle it by himself.
All of this relates to the Browns pattern this season of looking good for the first half only to fall apart toward the end of the game. Their initial game plans seem to work, but then the other team adjusts where they do not, and it costs them in the end.
This is true on the offensive side of the ball as well, but this week it was the defense that made this issue stand out. The Browns have to adjust their playcalling in-game strategy better. They also have to start making adjustments much sooner in the game, adapting as soon as problems begin to show rather than after things have spun so out of control that they can't fix it in time.
The Browns Must Get The Offense and The Defense Working at The Same Time
The first two weeks of the season, the Browns' offense struggled while the defense did its job well (yes, that absolutely includes Eric Wright). This past Sunday, the offense finally got it together, and the defense collapsed.
This situation was beyond frustrating, and absolutely has to be fixed. The Browns simply cannot have only half the team showing up every week, no matter which half it is.
It was painful to finally see the offense put together a good showing, only to have it undermined by the defense, which had been doing just fine prior to this week.
The Browns absolutely must start demonstrating consistency on both sides of the ball week in and week out in order to win football games. The fact that the team has now lost three games where one side of their squad actually was working well is clear proof that we need a solid performance out of both groups if we ever want to mark anything down in the win column.
A Word on The Opponent
It was bitterly ironic that in a week where the Browns offense finally started working and their defense sunk them, things shook out for Baltimore in a similar way.
The vaunted Ravens defense failed to show up and was absolutely shredded by Peyton Hills with the help of Lawrence Vickers, which should have given the Browns a huge opportunity to win by taking advantage of a team whose strongest component seriously floundered.
Instead, the somewhat suspect Baltimore offense decided to show up and bailed out their defense when it was having a shaky outing.
Certainly the Browns offense capitalized on the Ravens defense's mistakes also, but the Ravens offense did a better job of it against the Browns defense, and it allowed them to win the game despite their defense failing to perform at its usual level.
Key Point #1 For The Browns Defense Going Forward: Wright's Need To Rebound
Eric Wright not withstanding, it isn't as though the defense's performance this week was a total disaster. The key for the Browns going forward will be to address glaring defensive issues that have cropped up this week or that have been lurking around all season.
Still, the first of three key points for the Browns defense going forward is that Eric Wright must bounce back.
Up until this week, Wright has been excellent. He's been a huge part of the success of the Browns secondary thus far, perhaps at times even its greatest contributor. The Browns secondary cannot afford to have Wright melt down going forward due to being rattled by a bad performance this week.
Wright needs to bounce back immediately against the Bengals next week and get back on top of his game. Every player at some point has a bad week. Wright had his, and that's OK, but it has to end there.
Key Point #2 For The Browns Defense Going Forward: Improve Pass Defense Overall
Last season, the Browns had a terrible time defending against the run. This season, it's the passing game that is tripping them up.
Obviously, this was a far bigger problem in this Sunday's loss to the Ravens than it was in the first two games, but the issue has been hovering around all season.
It's good to see the Browns not being run over by opponents' ground games as they were so often last season, but that doesn't change the fact that the secondary is routinely getting beat on passing plays.
Baltimore had 16 passing first downs on Sunday. Yes,16. That should never happen.
Given that the team seems to have figured out how to adequately cover rushers, they now need to focus intensely on controlling opponents' receivers. Quit getting beat down the field. Stop getting turned around and confused by opposing receivers' routes. Break up passes cleanly. And most importantly, make more effort to be around the ball on every play.
Key Point #3 For The Browns Defense Going Forward: Improve The Pass Rush
There is nothing more devastating to an offense than an opposing defense that can repeatedly and effectively get to their quarterback.
Pressure him. Force him to make poor throws. Take him down. Rattle him such that he'll have nightmares for the rest of the season about being mauled by your pass rushers.
Scared and rattled quarterbacks make terrible decisions under pressure, and it is the job of the pass rushers to put opposing quarterbacks in such a state.
As discussed above, the lack of pressure the Browns put on Joe Flacco demonstrates their failure to achieve what a successful pass rush will. Flacco had too much time to throw, wasn't rattled or afraid, and thus didn't make many mistakes.
The Browns have to start going after quarterbacks more aggressively and relentlessly. It will allow them to effectively take a bad or mediocre quarterback figuratively out of the game, and would at least force a talented and tough-to-rattle quarterback to work harder.
The Browns' At 0-3 in 2009 Vs. The Browns At 0-3 in 2010
Three games into the 2010 season, the Browns find themselves exactly where they were in 2009: 0-3.
But even if the numbers look the same, the good news is that the Browns actually have come a long way since this point in the season last year.
This is obviously true on both sides of the ball, but in terms of the defense, it's especially notable how much the Browns have improved their run defense. This team is far, far better than the 2009 squad at stopping opponents' ground games.
Even if they need to improve their pass coverage, the secondary is still infinitely better across the board. As discussed, the pass rush needs improvement as well, but again, the defensive line does look better than they did last season.
Unfortunately, 0-3 is still 0-3 no matter how you slice it. The Browns still have a lot of work to do, but there have been some definite bright spots this season, and certainly the potential to succeed in the future is evident.
Hang in there Browns fans -- it's going to be a long road, but we'll get there eventually.