BEREA - It was back to the basics for the Browns on Wednesday.
In previous Wednesdays, the players weren't required to wear shoulder pads. That changed this week because of one simple problem - poor tackling.
The defense had done a good job of tackling for most of the season until recent weeks. Then came the swings and misses by several defenders on a short pass play that New York Jets receiver Santonio Holmes turned into a game-winning touchdown in overtime. A week later Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew broke multiple tackles on a 65-yard play on a screen pass to set up a game-winning touchdown.
"That was a point of emphasis (Wednesday) during team meetings," linebacker David Bowens said. "We have to get that corrected because last week (against the Jaguars) it costs us a game. This week (in a win over the Carolina Panthers) it could have cost us the game.
"We can't sit here and say we won the game and be satisfied with that. We have to self correct."
Strengthening the run defense will be important for Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins, who feature two power backs in Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. The two have combined for 1,035 rushing yards (539 for Brown and 496 for Williams).
"It starts with tackling," Browns coach Eric Mangini said. "Then we have to wrap up more effectively. Those yards after catch or yards after contact will go a long way to getting the average to what it should be. To eliminating drives to improving our third-down conversion percentage.
"It's too hard to block tackle against backs in this league. When you get to the quality of back, that style of tackling decreases dramatically. If you're going to try to block tackle Ricky Williams, it's not going to work. It's the same thing with Ronnie Brown. This is a group that's committed to running. If they get it going, they'll keep it going."
Rookie safety T.J. Ward has been at the center of some of the missed tackles. He went for the strip against Holmes and Jones instead of making the stop.
"I don't think we're a bad tackling team," Ward said. "It's fallen off a little. I don't want to say it's been blown out of proportion, but we have that under wraps and it's going to be corrected.
"It's not a big issue right now. We're focusing on it. I think because we were so good early in the season and it hasn't been as good the last couple of weeks, it's become a big issue."
Ward was impressive early in the season with his aggressive, sure-tackling style. He still leads the defense with 77 tackles, but he's had less of an impact recently. He said he hasn't hit the rookie wall, nor has he played differently since being fined for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Cincinnati Bengals receiver Jordan Shipley earlier this season.
"I don't think I've hit it (the wall)," Ward said. "I'm having a lot of fun, and every week is a new challenge and a new team. I'm excited every week."
The challenge Sunday against Brown and Williams could be the stiffest this season.
"Other than Atlanta, we won't face a tandem like this," Bowens said. "These guys are tough and physical, and the offensive line is physical. That's the thing that allows them to be successful. We have our work cut out for us."
INJURY UPDATE: Cornerback Eric Wright (knee) returned to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday's session. Receiver Joshua Cribbs remained absent with injuries to his left toes. Quarterback Colt McCoy was a no-show again.
BIG AWARD: Cornerback Joe Haden has been named NFL rookie defensive player of the month. In November he had 17 tackles, seven passes defensed and three interceptions.