Browns defense struggling as Bengals await

Injuries and youth result in challenges for defensive coordinator Dick Jauron.

BEREA -- There almost weren’t enough questions and topics to cover with Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron on Thursday.

Rapid fire came the queries, one after the other like the old Batman TV show. Bam! … Pow! … Zowie!

Or something like that.

Jauron had a lot to cover  and there hadn’t been a lot covered because prior to Thursday there has been so much asked about one third-and-one play in the loss to New York.

But when a defense gives up 41 points, 500 yards and 243 of them are rushing, well, there’s a lot to ask.

The defense has struggled this season. Cleveland ranks 25th in team defense, 26th in rushing, 26th in passing and 25th in scoring defense (27.8 points per game). Only once in five games have the Browns given up fewer than 23 points  and that was the opener against the Eagles, when Mike Vick led a last-minute 91-yard drive to win the game.

In a season in which so much focus has been placed on new offensive players, the defense’s struggles have been surprisingly ignored.

It doesn’t get any easier on Sunday, when the Browns get the Bengals and receiver A.J. Green, who is off to an historic start in his career.

But Jauron’s concerns may focus more on his defense. He may be without his starting defensive tackles. He has question marks at linebacker. His starting safety has a cast on his thumb. And his starting nickel back has his foot in a walking boot.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln … 

The one bit of positive news the Browns got was that middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson returned to practice on Thursday. Jackson said he was full go, though the Browns listed him as "limited." He left Sunday’s loss to the Giants with a concussion, but said he was only suffering symptoms for 10 minutes.

That being said, Jackson’s return is offset by the surprise appearance of linebacker Scott Fujita on the injury report. Fujita missed practice on Thursday with a shoulder problem. This could give rookie James-Michael Johnson his first start.

In the secondary, Joe Haden returns from a four-game suspension. He might be the defense’s best chance at success, as he will surely be assigned to cover Green.

“It doesn’t change a lot significantly,” Jauron said of Haden’s return. “But it does change some things.”

Safety T.J. Ward played last Sunday with a cast on a broken thumb that needed eight screws to fix. Ward said he couldn’t grab anything, but he’ll be back on the field against the Bengals.

“I don’t see why it should be a reason why he plays well or not,” coach Pat Shurmur said.

Nickel back Dimitri Patterson won’t play because of a sprained ankle. Which means Buster Skrine or Trevin Wade will be the nickel back, and both have struggled at different points this season.

Skrine was victimized often in New York, where for a time Eli Manning seemed to throw only at him. The same happened in Cincinnati, when Skrine admitted struggling. But Jauron remains in Skrine’s … ummm … corner. He called Skrine a hard-nosed, tough-minded player who will rebound.

“I have a lot of admiration for the way he plays, the toughness he plays with,” Jauron said, admitting Skrine has been “schooled” in some games.

Jauron added Skrine has to cut down on his penalties, but said some are the kind that come with playing aggressive, press coverage. Too, the Browns can’t say it or it will come off as an excuse, but some of the passes completed on Skrine in New York happened because Eli Manning was so accurate, not because Skrine’s coverage was that bad.

That being said, the Browns secondary on Sunday will be Haden, Sheldon Brown and whoever the Browns decide to use at nickel back.

The run defense is quite another story.

The team’s annual rite of fall is to fail to stop the run. This season, the Browns are giving up 142.4 yards per game. The Giants ran for 243  and Ahmad Bradshaw alone had 200.

Jauron said he can live with yards, but not with points. He said he wants to limit big runs, but that keeping teams from the end zone is most important.

As for Rubin possibly missing Sunday’s game, Jauron said: “You don’t want to lose Rub.”

If he does, it could be rookies Winn and Hughes at tackle.

“There’s not limitless options there" was the way Jauron described the situation at nickel back. He could have referred to tackle.

Or anywhere for that matter.

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