Browns plug holes in rushing defense
The Browns have the NFL's top-ranked passing defense. That's because everyone runs on them.
Last week, the Houston Texans steamrolled the Browns for 261 yards rushing, a punishing performance that exposed some gaping holes in Cleveland's defense - gulfs and gaps the Browns spent the week trying to plug in preparation for Sunday's game against the St. Louis Rams and their powerful back, Steven Jackson.
''I think last week was an aberration,'' Browns linebacker Scott Fujita said. ''It's about coming back and just getting back to what we do.''
Trouble is, before the Texans gashed the Browns with their intricate zone-blocking scheme, the San Francisco 49ers amassed 174 yards rushing the previous week and Cleveland's defense is allowing 144 yards per game. Only Indianapolis and St. Louis are worse.
It's enough to keep any defensive coordinator up at night, and Dick Jauron said this week he hasn't been happy with Cleveland's run defense most of this season.
''We're giving up too much in the run game,'' said Jauron, a 26-year NFL assistant in his first season with Cleveland. ''It's not total yards. It's never total yards, its yards per carry. That's the deal. Last week it got out of hand, the yards per carry was just too big.
''I'm not concerned with total yardage, but the yards per carry, when that gets consistently out of whack then you got issues.''
The Texans averaged 6.5 yards per carry, and the Browns are allowing 4.4 yards per attempt this season. Jauron would like it to be a lot lower.
''I'd like to see it at zero,'' he joked. ''Up in the 3's, 3.7-3.8, in that area you're OK.''
The Browns were not OK last week. To offset Houston's blocking scheme, Jauron moved his defensive linemen back off the line of scrimmage, figuring it would give them more time to analyze blocks and allow Cleveland's linebackers to get to the ball carrier.
While the theory may have sounded good during meetings and even worked in practice, it failed miserably against the Texans, who drove over the Browns at will.
''It wasn't the best idea because it didn't work out,'' Jauron said. ''They did a really nice job and we didn't. They're a really good team that played well and we didn't play particularly well on that day.''
Jackson has rushed for over 100 yards in the past two games, and the Browns are bracing themselves for a heaping helping of the Rams star, who picks up yards with a violent running style.
''It's another one of those guys that are real difficult to prepare for,'' Fujita said. ''I played him quite a few times and if you let him get going, he's one of the best backs in the league. He's different than some of the backs we've faced the last couple weeks. He's not like the Frank Gore-type who can kind of hide, slip between gaps and then burst.
''This is a guy who's like a train, who wants to get rolling. If you let him get a full head of steam, he's tough to bring down.''
Jackson has rushed for 579 yards, ranking him 12th in the league. He's averaging 5.1 yards per attempt, a number the Browns can't afford to let him sniff.
Another of Cleveland's problems last week was poor tackling. It was bad enough that Houston's Arian Foster and Ben Tate ran through gaping holes, but when the linebackers and defensive backs had a chance to bring them down, they didn't - or couldn't.
Foster ran for 124 yards and Tate had 115 as the Browns allowed two 100-yard rushers in the same game for the first time since 1956.
''That left a bad taste,'' said safety Usama Young, who will start this week in place of injured T.J. Ward. ''You never want to give up that many yards on the ground or in the air. We want to bounce back this week. We worked hard and went over the corrections we needed to and now we've got to execute.''
Notes: Injured RB Peyton Hillis said his left hamstring was improving. Hillis will miss his fourth straight game since getting hurt on Oct. 16 at Oakland. Browns coach Pat Shurmur said earlier this week there were no plans to put Hillis on injured reserve. ... Browns K Phil Dawson practiced Friday after missing one day with a migraine. Dawson was able to do all his kicks and said he was feeling better. .. Starting WR Mohamed Massaquoi will not play this week as he's still bothered by symptoms from a concussion. Massaquoi attended meetings and told Shurmur he was feeling better.