No need for panic
CLEVELAND – There are times when short memories can be a good thing in football.
What member of the Browns defense would want to remember what happened last Saturday against the St. Louis Rams? The train that hit them piled up 472 yards of offense as the Browns lost for the third time in the preseason, 33-14.
Returning to the practice field Monday, you’d never have known how poorly the defense played by the way some players talked. There was a feeling that things will be different when the regular season starts.
Lack of confidence? What lack of confidence?
“It might be for your (the media’s) confidence,” linebacker Karlos Dansby said of the need to play better Thursday against the Chicago Bears in the final exhibition game. “Our (confidence) is high. We’re ready to play Pittsburgh (in the opener). I can say that right now. That’s where are focus is.”
Among the certainties entering training camp was the defense. There were concerns about the offense because of the quarterback competition and the potential loss of receiver Josh Gordon to a suspension, but the defense appeared solid.
That was until the Rams took it apart. The concerning thing was that much of the offense generated by the Rams came after quarterback Sam Bradford suffered a season-ending knee injury on the opening possession. Backup and now starter Shaun Hill, along with Austin Davis, moved the ball well. Hill was 2-of-6 for 45 yards with one touchdown in limited action, while Davis was 14-of-22 for 198 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
The offense is expected to have growing pains with Brian Hoyer and potentially Johnny Manziel at quarterback, but the defense was being counted on to make it all feel better. After the events of last Saturday, nothing appears to be a sure thing.
Coach Mike Pettine’s specialty is defense. He might be spending more time on that side of the ball as preparations intensify for the Steelers. His first task is to improve upon what was terrible play on third down the Rams were 12-of-19 (63 percent) on third-down conversions.
Getting cornerbacks Joe Haden (foot) and Buster Skrine (thumb) back from injuries in time for the opener will help. Leon McFadden, who struggled throughout camp and could be a cutdown casualty, and rookie Justin Gilbert started against the Rams. McFadden wasn’t picked on because the Rams had a field day working on Gilbert.
“Getting those guys back will definitely help,” Pettine said. “That group knows that they didn’t play to our standards the other night, and they’re looking forward to bouncing back on Thursday.”
Gilbert probably wasn’t told that there would be times like this during his time at Oklahoma State. Gifted with great speed and the quick feet needed to excel at cornerback, Gilbert looked tentative and a bit overwhelmed by the challenge.
“He’s bounced back before,” Pettine said. “He needs to test his limits more. He kind of played off, and that hurt us in some of those third-down situations. Of all times in the preseason go ahead and challenge and see where you stand with guys.”
Hoyer stressed the need to avoid pushing the panic button with the offense. Dansby said the same thing without using the panic-button reference about the defense.
“I can’t give you that,” Dansby said of what changes will be made defensively. “I can’t elaborate on that right now. We’re focused. We’re ready.”