Linebacker Mack Wilson won't be able to duplicate this pose on a game day until the Browns' new-look defense turns around its early performance. (Cleveland Browns)
Browns believe new defense will take time to mesh
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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 …
Because most of the new player investment was on his side of the ball, Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods figured to be under the microscope if his defense struggled early. And that has been the case.
With seven new starters – and the whole unit not playing together in preseason because of injuries – it figured to take a while for the defense to mesh.
“It is progressing,” Woods said. “It is the NFL, so they are not going to wait for us. We are working hard to get better in areas that we are not playing well right now. That was the emphasis we have had all week.
“It really comes down to all of us just really playing together as a unit. For us as coaches, just making sure that we are game planning and putting the guys in the positions they need to be in to make plays. We are going through that process. It looks good at times, and at times, we know there are things that we need to fix.”
In training camp, Woods says he measures his defense in four major categories – scoring, third-down efficiency, red zone efficiency and turnovers.
An early scorecard:
Scoring: The Browns have allowed 54 points. The 27.0 per game average ranks tied for 21st.
Third-down efficiency: The Browns have allowed 17 of 27 third-down conversions. The 63 percent conversion rate ranks dead last.
Red zone efficiency: The Browns have allowed 5 touchdowns in 7 trips inside the 20 by opponents. The 71.4 touchdown percentage ranks tied for 20th.
Turnovers: The Browns have recovered one fumble and made one interception. Two defensive takeaways rank tied for 17th.
The overall start is not pretty. But Woods is not discouraged and expects things to improve as the games roll on.
“It definitely will because within the game, you see it,” he said. “There are moments where guys execute, we are making plays and we are doing what we are supposed to do. And then you see the inconsistencies. You are just trying to eliminate those, and now, you are playing at a higher level. We are doing it. You see it. We just need to do it more often and better.”
Safety John Johnson was a key player on a Los Angeles Rams defense last year that ranked 10th in scoring, third in third downs, 12th in red zone and tied for 10th in turnovers.
“We have a lot of new starters and it’s Week 2,” Johnson said. “I don’t think anybody remembers the first two weeks of any season. It’s usually that stretch in November and December and that playoff push that people remember. So I think it’s early on. We’re still building chemistry and I think we’re moving in the right direction, and we’ll be fine.”
On OBJ and Baker
If Odell Beckham Jr. does make his 2021 debut Sunday against the Bears, the chemistry between Baker Mayfield and him will be scrutinized on every pass target.
In 23 games with the Browns, Beckham has caught 97 of 176 targets for a catch percentage of .517. In five years with the Giants, Beckham’s catch percentage was .627 (390 catches in 622 targets).
On the subject of Mayfield forcing the ball to Beckham, coordinator Alex Van Pelt said, “That can happen at times. I don’t know if we saw much of it. That’s one thing we as quarterbacks can’t do. We have to run the system. The ball will find him. Can’t expect him to come out and have a huge day the first time back. We just have to ease him back into it. I think he’s aware of that, as well we are as coaches.
“That is obviously Baker’s decision, where the ball goes, but the reads will take him there. When the read takes him there, that is when we will find O.”
The Browns have league-leading seven touchdowns on the ground – three by Nick Chubb and one each by Mayfield, Kareem Hunt, Jarvis Landry and Andy Janovich. The Ravens are second with five …
The Houston game was an encouraging improvement for the special teams. What got lost in the 31-21 win was that M.J. Stewart deflected a 41-yard field goal try by Joey Slye with 2:02 left in the game. The kick was wide left. Had Slye made it, it would have closed the score to 31-24 and forced the Browns to recover an onside kick to seal the win …
The Browns will welcome more than 80 former players on their annual Alumni Weekend. At halftime, four players will be honored as new Browns Legends. From the 2020 class are receiver Webster Slaughter and return specialist Josh Cribbs. From the 2021 class are quarterback Bill Nelsen and linebacker D’Qwell Jackson.