Denzel Ward's 99-yard Pick 6, along with the play of Greg Newsome and others, is earning the trust of defensive coordinator Joe Woods to play more aggressive, press coverage. (Cleveland Browns)
Browns cornerbacks earning more press coverage
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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland.
Takeaways from Browns practice and interviews …
The best NFL cornerbacks prefer playing press man coverage over soft, off coverage. It looks like Denzel Ward and Greg Newsome took to it in Cincinnati and earned more of what they want.
After the secondary’s best game of the season -- in which it forced three turnovers, influenced Ja’Marr Chase into two costly drops, and held the Bengals’ terrific trio of wideouts to 138 yards and no touchdowns -- Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods conceded he was too “soft” earlier in the season.
“Part of it is opponent,” Woods said of calling press v. off during games. “My nature is to be more aggressive. I think early in the season I looked at it and I was like, ‘I better change it up a little bit.’
“I think it’s always about the mix of calls. You never want to have somebody have a bead on you where they know exactly what you’ll be in because they’ll find a way to scheme up and beat you. We do play a lot of man. I like to play man. I like for the guys to get in their face and play press coverage, but at the same time we have to give the offense just a little change up.”
Blown coverages and miscommunication in the secondary resulted in six uncontested touchdown catches – and eight overall -- in losses to the Chargers (47-42) and Cardinals (37-14). In the three games since, the Browns have surrendered just three touchdown passes and held Denver, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati to 14, 15 and 16 points, respectively.
So … has the Joe Woods defense finally turned the corner in a season with so many new faces on it?
“For us, there’ve been games we’ve played really well and games where we didn’t,” Woods said. “For me, it’s more about the consistency. The last [three] games, we’ve done a good job in terms of points allowed, but there’s still things we need to fix. Last game we were on the field the first two series for 20 plays. We have to find a way to get off. So there are still things we are trying to fix. But I feel it is definitely starting to come together.”
Football's most annoying penalty
The Browns committed three defensive offsides penalties in their first two series in Cincinnati. That gives them a league-high eight on the season; three have been declined or offset.
Individually, Jadeveon Clowney has three (with one declined), tying him with Dee Ford of the 49ers for league-worst.
Other violators on the Browns have been Myles Garrett with two; and Malik McDowell, Jordan Elliott and Greedy Williams have one apiece.
Here’s Woods’ take on this maddening penalty:
“I think everybody’s trying to cheat [on the neutral zone],” he said. “We’re trying to get tighter and [offensive linemen are] trying to get further off the ball.
“But pre-snap penalties are totally unacceptable. We talk to our guys all the time about don’t beat yourself. We addressed that. It’s as simple as seeing the ball and getting lined up. I know the guys were juiced up, ‘cuz it’s a division rival, all that stuff, but we have to make sure we do our job and not put ourselves in those situations.”
The last two games might be remembered as the worst back-to-backers in Jarvis Landry’s four years with the Browns, if not his entire NFL career.
In the 15-10 loss to Pittsburgh and 41-15 win over Cincinnati, Landry has 8 catches on 15 targets for 76 yards, has dropped two balls and has been credited with two fumbles. The ill-fated pitchback to Nick Chubb in Cincinnati was recorded as a fumble by Landry.
Landry missed four games with a knee injury and then played through three games after aggravating it.
Is there anything more beneath the surface to account for the last two games?
“Nope. Not that I’m aware of. Not at all,” Van Pelt said. “[He] had a rough spell against the Steelers. Did what he was asked to do against the Bengals. I love Juice. You know how I feel about him, so I expect him to help us throughout the course of the year in a leadership role and in a production role.”
Van Pelt said Landry was probably “a little late” in making the decision to pitch back to Chubb, and then it hit the ground and was covered up by Chubb.
“We ran a similar play last year v. Philly, and he made a huge play with it. Feel great any time we put the ball in his hands.”
Entering the season’s 10th game, Landry is still looking for his first touchdown, though he missed four. He did not get his first receiving touchdown last year until the 11th game.
Linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah increased his participation at practice, increasing the likelihood of him returning to action after missing three games with a high ankle sprain. “I’m very optimistic he can play Sunday,” Woods said prior to practice. After practice, JOK said, “It responded well. Still taking it day by day, but I’m definitely looking forward to playing, if I can. Not sure yet.” …
Baker Mayfield’s sore foot was tightly wrapped, enabling him to take his usual throws after cutting back on Wednesday. High winds, however, made for some adventurous throws “on air” for all the quarterbacks in brief period open to media …
The following eligible players did not practice: defensive end Myles Garrett (foot), defensive end Takk McKinley (groin), center JC Tretter (knee), receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (personal).