It was a hot and sticky afternoon in Charlotte, NC, for Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods. (USA Today)
Joe Woods had a message for Cade York after the kicker bailed out the Browns’ defense
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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland. He has covered the Browns since 1984.
Takeaways from Browns practice and interviews …
You think you had a hard time watching Baker Mayfield make up a 20-7 deficit and take a 24-23 lead with 1:13 to go in Carolina on Sunday?
Imagine being defensive coordinator Joe Woods.
He sweated out potentially one of the worst meltdowns in his three years with the Browns. So that when Cade York’s 58-yard field goal went through to save the day, 26-24, Woods said he tracked down York on the field, hugged him, “and I was like, ‘I love you.’”
All’s well that ends well.
“Sometimes it happens like that,” Woods shrugged of the heart-pounding finish.
For nearly three full quarters, the Browns were painting a defensive masterpiece – four sacks of Mayfield, five passes tipped or batted, one interception, six first downs surrendered, 93 total yards and only seven points. The touchdown was set up by a late defensive call that Woods blamed on himself, resulting in a 50-yard completion to tight end Ian Thomas.
But at the end, starting with a possession that began with 2:35 to play in the third quarter, Mayfield tacked on nine first downs, 168 yards and 17 points to take the lead for the first time.
The defensive collapse included two broken plays – a 28-yard run by Christian McCaffrey after he picked up a fumbled snap, which led to a Mayfield 7-yard TD scamper, and, of course, that 75-yard Mayfield-to-Robbie Anderson completion for a touchdown.
The latter play was Exhibit A why some coaches switch to the dreaded “prevent defense.” It’s designed to prevent a long play from happening behind the secondary. Critics say all it prevents is victory. Woods is in the latter camp.
“All our calls are built not to give up big plays,” Woods said. “I want to stay aggressive. When you have guys like Myles [Garrett], JOK [Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah] and guys that can cover, I think you have the ability to be aggressive. We just didn’t execute.”
The ramifications of a loss to Mayfield are left to the imagination. So what was Woods thinking when the collapse was taking place?
“I really, really focus on trying to stay calm during a game,” Woods said. “Try to block out the noise and don’t let the circumstances of the game affect the decisions I’m trying to make.
“After each series, I go down and I go through everything, but I get away from everybody because you are trying to get your thoughts together. When things start going bad, you don’t want to panic. You want to just make the adjustments within your gameplan that the guys understand, and at some point, you will make a play and get off the field. I don’t want to get into that emotional roller-coaster situation mentally.”
Woods said experience enabled him to keep his cool.
“Honestly, you get tight sometimes,” he admitted. “I am not going to lie about it, you get tight sometimes. At the end of the day, you have to trust the players and you have to trust the calls that you make.
“I think earlier on in my career … it was just going through that experience the first time when I was at Denver. But as you learn getting the trust of the system and trust your players, then you build more confidence, and it makes it easier to make those calls.”
And if you need a 58-yard field goal to get a road win, you take it and move on to the next game without apologizing.
Demetric Felton will stay as the lead punt returner after a shaky debut. “We will keep working with Demetric,” special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said. “I have a lot of confidence in him. I think he is an outstanding athlete that is still learning as a punt returner. That was his first game. You just can’t put the ball on the ground. Other than that, he was fine.” …
Chester Rogers, who was signed to the practice squad, is a new candidate to return punts if Felton doesn’t turn it around. Rogers, 28, is a six-year NFL veteran with 90 career punt returns for 844 yards (9.4 average) in stints with the Colts and Titans. “We are working with him. I am not sure we are there yet,” Priefer said …
Priefer, a native Clevelander and lifelong Browns fan, was asked his feelings about the giant, painted Brownie the Elf that will adorn the middle of the field in FirstEnergy Stadium. The insignia stretches between the 45-yard lines. “Ball security, it is bad,” Priefer scoffed, jokingly. “He is not covering up the tip of the ball. That is the first thing I think of.” …
Mindful of the quick turnaround to play the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night, coach Kevin Stefanski has shortened practices this week and given a few veterans extra rest. Offensive tackle Jack Conklin and receiver Amari Cooper were given Thursday off. Tight end David Njoku was excused for personal reasons. Offensive tackle Chris Hubbard (elbow, illness) was the only player out with an injury …
Cooper was asked if he might take a leap into the Dawg Pound if he were to score in his first home game with the Browns. “I’ve never done anything like that before,” he said. What about a simple spike of the football? “Naw, I’ve never spiked the ball either. I don’t feel I need to, I guess.” …
Offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt on backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt: “Those guys are awesome. They are supermen to me. They are both just superheroes. It is really fun to watch them.” …
Joe Thomas has been commonly referred to as a Browns legend even before he retired after an 11-year career at left tackle. On Sunday, it’ll become official. Thomas and the late Darrel “Pete” Brewster will be inducted into the Browns Legends Program at halftime of the Jets game. Thomas was honored by the Browns in 2018 when the number of his consecutive snaps streak -- 10,363 -- was added to the team’s Ring of Honor. Thomas is eligible this year for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which is the ultimate football honor. The elaborate vote process begins this month and ends in January. The Class of 2023 will be introduced the night before the Super Bowl.