The Browns have allowed 183 points in six games, more than twice as many as Pittsburgh’s 78. There’s a problem.
It was hard to tell at first if defense was a serious problem.
Sure, Pittsburgh pummeled the Browns, 34-7, but turnovers set up Steelers scoring drives of 22, 9 and 40 yards. It was hard to denigrate the “D.” The Steeler offense produced 365 yards, not a horrible number from a Cleveland perspective.
It’s five games later. Since the Pittsburgh game, the Browns are allowing 418.6 yards a game. The season average is 413.0, worst in the NFL, which is certifiably horrible.
The Browns have allowed 183 points in six games, more than twice as many as Pittsburgh’s 78.
There’s a problem.
Yet the team has lived to talk about it, taking a 3-3 record Sunday to St. Louis. The Browns trail the Steelers by just a game in the AFC North, two weeks out from a rematch at Pittsburgh.
It falls on Defensive Coordinator Todd Grantham’s shoulders to fix the side of the ball that figures to make or break the season. Here’s how Grantham approached some key points in a Friday conversation:
Issue: The Browns rank 30th in run defense (149.5 yards a game), 29th in pass defense (263.3) and 30th in sacks with six.
Grantham: In the Baltimore game, we end up giving up one touchdown in the fourth quarter. In the New England game after that, with less than two minutes to go in the first half, we had held them to 13 points. Go to the Miami game. There’s less than two minutes to go in the half, and the score is 24-3.
In all of those games, there have been times that we’ve played well. We’ve got to develop more consistency. There have been times when we’ve played well. We have to play well the whole time.
Issue: Nose tackle Ted Washington, 39, is acting his age. Shaun Smith, who was supposed to help at nose, moved to end because Orpheus Roye is coming off knee surgery. Other members of the three-man line rotation aren’t scaring anyone.
Grantham: To be good on defense, you have to win at the line. When that doesn’t happen, it affects the linebackers, how you call the game and basically everything you’re doing.
The big emphasis to me, from the bye week to now, is securing those guys up front, talking about winning at the line of scrimmage, securing your gap, playing with your hands. With Orpheus, it’s just a matter of getting healthy. He’s done a good job of trying to get to where we need him. Moving forward off the bye, we might be able to get a few more snaps out of him.
Issue: Smith was signed on the thinking he eventually might replace Washington as the starting nose tackle. If Roye plays more at end, can Smith play more nose?
Grantham: That’s a possibility. We try to get our three best guys on the field. If that means moving a guy, then we’ll do it.
Issue: Outside linebacker Antwan Peek says he was a much better player in the preseason than before suffering a foot injury in September. He was supposed to take pressure off the other outside backers, Kamerion Wimbley and Willie McGinest.
Grantham: The bye week came at a really good time for Antwan. He is probably as healthy as he has been since the beginning of the season. I’m looking forward to him playing well from here on out.
Issue: Is anybody playing well?
Grantham: Look at the New England game, and Eric Wright played Randy Moss pretty well. He’s made plays, and he’s improved throughout the year. Kamerion Wimbley has flashed some. I think as we get going and with Antwan being healthy, getting Willie back, I think maybe you’ll see more production from him. D’Qwell Jackson has done a good job with commanding the huddle, making some calls he needs to make. Robaire Smith has played the most of anybody up front, and he is kind of the cornerstone right now.
Issue: Wimbley was in on a sack in seven of his last nine games in 2006. He has gone sackless in four of this year’s six games. Opponents are using backs and tight ends to help linemen chip the former Round 1 pick. Quarterbacks are sliding to the side of the field opposite where Wimbley is rushing.
Grantham: You keep on rushing, keep on fighting. Basically, it gets down to winning one-on-one matchups somewhere else.
Issue: Peek’s injury has kept him from being that “somewhere else” threat. What happens if he gets well?
Grantham: If (Peek) can beat the (blocker) on the edge, that gives you a counter-move to beat the guy inside.
Issue: Former Round 2 picks Sean Jones and Brodney Pool aim to be an elite safety tandem. So far, not so good.
Grantham: We want to see the consistency between Brodney and Sean. I really think Brodney has improved. He’s done a really good job doing the things that we are asking him to do. I expect him to be what we expected him to be.
Issue: The offense is scoring at a pace that could set a franchise record. Can the defense begin doing its part?
Grantham: There’s no question about that. The big thing for us is everybody being held accountable for their job. Everything else will take care of itself.
Finishing games and finishing plays. ... If we do that, we can be the kind of defense we want to be.
Reach Repository sports writer Steve Doerschuk at (330) 580-8347 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org