Browns' coaches focus on 4th-quarter improvement

Posted Feb 12, 2014

Senior Editor Vic Carucci says new Browns defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil and the rest of the team’s coaches are determined to make the team better in the fourth quarter.

Among the many large chores facing the Browns’ new coaching staff is finding a way to close out games.

In five of their 12 losses last season, the Browns allowed leads to vanish in the fourth quarter. For the year, they were outscored in the fourth quarter, 145-76.

With the hiring of former defensive coordinator Mike Pettine as their head coach, the Browns clearly have set out to vastly improve on that side of the ball.

One way to get there is to figure out how to get the defense to perform at its highest level through those final 15 minutes.

That’s where the mantra of Pettine and his newly assembled coaching staff comes in: “Thrive, not survive.”

“And I think that’s a big part in learning how to win in the fourth quarter,” new Browns defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil said.

Pettine, O’Neil and the rest of the team’s defensive coaches have assumed the challenge of not only driving home the importance of playing their best in the fourth quarter, but also showing them how to do it.

The key is making certain that everyone on defense is thoroughly prepared to handle whatever the opposing offense does. That means not only being ready for what they see from its game plan, but especially for adjustments that often are made in the second half and in the latter stages of the game.

It also means allowing players to eschew any sense of hesitation to try to make a big play when the game’s outcome hangs in the balance. The idea is to encourage and prepare them to find success while taking calculated risks.

“I think it comes down to preparation,” O’Neil said. “When you get into those critical moments, are you prepared? Do you trust yourself enough, are you confident enough to go make a play? And I think, as coaches, you’ve got to give the guys green lights to go make those plays.

“You can’t coach your guys to play scared. You’ve got to allow them to be play-makers. So when that situation does come up, your guys aren’t hesitating. They’re pulling the trigger, they’re going right now, and they’re making the play that they should make.”

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O’Neil has been excited about watching video of the Browns’ young defensive talent. He is particularly anxious to begin working with second-year outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo, whom O’Neil studied closely before last year’s draft.

At the time, O’Neil was the linebackers coach for the Buffalo Bills, working for Pettine, who was their defensive coordinator. O’Neil said he watched more than a dozen of Mingo’s games at LSU and also spent time with him at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

O’Neil was so determined to convince the Bills’ top decision-makers to select Mingo, he had his wife make “Mingo” cupcakes that he delivered to the team’s facility before the draft. Of course, the Browns wound up choosing Mingo with the draft’s sixth overall pick … and O’Brien now has his chance to coach him after all.

Pettine, O’Neil and the rest of the defensive coaches plan to set a “thrive-not-survive” tone with Mingo, Paul Kruger, Jabaal Sheard and the rest of the Browns’ defense that will factor heavily in their efforts to become a much better unit in the fourth quarter.

“We’re going to create that atmosphere through the spring and into training camp,” O’Neil said. “That’s all part of learning how to win, is thriving in those critical situations.”

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