Browns hope defense steps up
BEREA, Ohio -- The struggles of the Cleveland Browns' offense has allowed the defense to escape criticism, but that is starting to change as focus for the game Sunday with the Jacksonville Jaguars at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland began in earnest on Wednesday.
The Browns rank 11th overall defensively, a vast improvement over their 31st ranking in 2016. A closer look at other numbers tells a different story, as the Browns are 30th in points allowed.
Cleveland has allowed 19 passing touchdowns through nine games, which puts them on pace to give up 34 through the air. That is only a slight improvement over the 36 allowed last season.
"They keep score, we're 0-9, so that's the way it is," head coach Hue Jackson said. "The heat is going to ratchet up or simmering hot or whatever you want to call it, but it doesn't faze me. I'm not worried about that. I'm worried about the guys in the locker room.
"That's what matters most to me -- the people in our organization and our building and our fans. I know our fans are disappointed, but I just keep telling them, hang in there. We just need to keep working and keep getting better."
If the Browns are going to play up to their ranking, this should be the week to do it. The Jaguars are 6-3 and on a three-game winning streak, but they are not winning on the shoulders of quarterback Blake Bortles the way the Patriots win on the right arm of Tom Brady.
Bortles' passer rating of 81.8 ranks sixth among starting quarterbacks. He has 11 touchdown passes and seven interceptions.
The Browns, along with allowing an average of nearly three touchdowns a game (they have given up six rushing touchdowns), are near the bottom of the league with 10 takeaways -- six interceptions and four fumble recoveries.
Still, the biggest issue confronting the Browns is the 19 touchdown passes allowed.
"It's a unit issue," Jackson said. "We have to cover better. We have to rush the quarterback better. We have to make sure we get the quarterback off his spot a little bit more. We have to make these quarterbacks uncomfortable. We just have to keep getting better."
The 11 players projected as starters at the beginning of the season were finally on the field for the first time last Sunday in the 38-24 loss to the Lions in Detroit, but that changed quickly when linebacker Jamie Collins suffered a season-ending right MCL injury with 10 minutes left in the first quarter.
The Lions took advantage of that and rushed for 104 yards on 19 carries -- a 5.5-yard average. Now the Browns have to contend with Jaguars rookie Leonard Fournette, who has 629 yards and six rushing touchdowns on 147 carries.
If the offense has to carry the day against the Jaguars, they will be up for a challenge of their own; Jacksonville has allowed opponents fewer than 10 points in five of nine games. They have allowed 12 touchdowns all season.
SERIES HISTORY: 17th regular-season meeting. Jaguars lead series, 11-5. The Browns lost the first six times they played the Jaguars. Since then they are 6-6, which, for a team that has had 10 straight losing seasons, is a major success.
--Wide receiver Corey Coleman is expected to be activated from the injured reserve list by the end of the week and start against the Jaguars. He hasn't played since breaking his hand in the second week of the season.
"It is tough (being injured), but you can't do anything about it," Coleman said. "Moving past it, and I'm just excited to get back on the field where I can help us try to get a win.
"One of my jobs - I look at myself as a leader - is keeping the guys going and keeping them confident. I felt like I had done a good job and I'm proud of the guys who stepped in and are giving it their all and trying to make a big impact to help us win."
Coleman caught 33 passes last year when he missed six games with a broken hand. He has six catches this season.
--The Browns have had some memorable games with the Jaguars, none more memorable than the game dubbed "Bottlegate" in Cleveland in 2001.
This happened when all play reviews came from an official in a booth upstairs from the playing field.
The Browns, trailing 15-10, were staging a late rally in the fourth quarter. Tim Couch took the snap from center to spike the ball following a fourth-down pass to Quincy Morgan deep in Jaguars territory. Referee Terry McAulay halted play after Couch took the snap so the pass to Morgan could be reviewed. The pass was ruled incomplete, so the ball went over to the Jaguars on downs.
Fans hurled bottles and other objects onto the field. McAulay stopped the game out of safety concerns. Eventually, the game concluded. The loss knocked the Browns out of playoff contention.
--Two years earlier in a game with the Jaguars, in the first year of the Browns' return to the NFL, referee Jeff Triplette inadvertently threw a penalty flag that sailed through the facemask of Browns 360-pound tackle Orlando Brown. The weighted part of the flag hit Brown in his open eye. Brown walked to the sideline and then stormed back onto the field and violently shoved Triplette to the ground.
Brown was ejected. He did not play again until 2003 with the Ravens.
--Right tackle Shon Coleman is in the concussion protocol. Zach Banner will start against the Jaguars on Sunday if Coleman isn't cleared to play. Banner played 24 snaps in the 38-24 loss to the Lions after Coleman was injured.
"If we had to (start Banner), I would," Browns head coach Hue Jackson said. "I thought he battled. There are some things he can do better. I thought he held his own for the most part, but when you are playing (24) plays as opposed to going out there from the first play on, that's different. I thought he battled well, but if that is what we have to do, that's what we have to do."
The Browns are already using backup Spencer Drango at left tackle in place of injured (triceps) Joe Thomas.
NOTES: LB Jamie Collins (knee) was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday. ... LB Deon King was promoted from the practice squad to fill LB Jamie Collins' roster spot. ... RT Shon Coleman (concussion) did not practice Wednesday. He was injured in the game with the Lions last Sunday. ... C JC Tretter (shoulder/knee/quad) did not practice Wednesday. Head coach Hue Jackson is hopeful he can play Sunday. ... QB DeShone Kizer (ribs) was listed as limited but had no problems practicing, head coach Hue Jackson said.