In making their practice preparations for Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium, the Cleveland Browns have watched film and studied the way Dallas generates pressure on defense.
The Cowboys rank fourth in the NFC in total defense and against the pass and seventh against the run. Dallas allowed 204 points through its first nine games and opponents averaged only 318.8 yards of total offense per game against the Cowboys. Dallas’ defense has registered 18 sacks for 117 lost yards.
“I think they’ve got a good scheme and they’re talented at all levels of the defense,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. “They’ve got an outstanding front. The linebackers are active and the corners do a nice job of playing bump-and-run. They’ve got good players and the scheme is good.”
Under the direction of former Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, the Cowboys have used exotic fronts in which linemen and linebackers move around to disguise where the team will bring pressure.
“You count them up and if you’ve got a six-man protection, you block the most dangerous six,” Shurmur said. “If you’ve got a seven-man protection, you block seven. If it’s five-man protection, you pick out five and then, you let it rip. It’s that simple.”
In his eighth year out of Troy University, veteran outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware leads the Cowboys and is among the league leaders with 9.5 sacks for 56 lost yards. Sixth-year strong side linebacker Anthony Spencer has 3.5 sacks for 31 lost yards.
Combined between their defenders, the Cowboys have collected 86 quarterback pressures this season.
“In any 3-4 defense, the outside linebackers are the ones that create the most of the havoc,” Shurmur said. “Spencer and Ware are outstanding players. You find them on the outside of the defense in base and then, they’re the rushers in nickel.
“They are guys that can create pressure with just the three or four-man rush. That’s what starts to make this defense dangerous. Then, you add all the other components and I think that’s why they’re playing well.”
In addition to withstanding the Cowboys’ pass rush, Browns quarterback
In an effort to improve their secondary, the Cowboys drafted defensive back Morris Claiborne back in April and the rookie has registered 27 solo tackles, 32 total stops, six pass breakups and one interception.
“I see a guy that’s challenging,” Shurmur said of Claiborne. “I see a guy that plays very well in bump-and-run, plays well within their scheme. He’s a little bit like Buster (Skrine) from that standpoint. He challenges all the time. A guy that challenges and is very talented has a chance to be successful.”
Prior to the bye week, second-year defensive tackle Phil Taylor returned to the field and registered one tackle in a loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Taylor missed the first eight games while rehabbing from a torn pectoral muscle.
During the bye week, veteran defensive tackle
“What we have now is -- hopefully, things can play out like we think -- we’ll have our two starting defensive tackles from last year back,” Shurmur said. “When you have more healthy guys on the defensive line, and guys that you feel can play, that allows you to get more good snaps because you can rotate them all in there.”
In the absence of Taylor and Rubin, the Browns have relied on rookie tackles
Kitchen made 16 total tackles and six solo stops in a reserve role for the Browns before the bye week.
“Ishmaa’ily’s done a good job for us,” Shurmur said. “He’s one of those guys that goes in there. He gives us good snaps. He doesn’t get as many as some of the other guys, but when he’s in there, I’m glad he’s here. He was a good pickup for us and he’s played good football. He’s a young guy that I think has got some upside and development there that will maybe help him be around here longer.”
During his rookie season in 2005,
An undrafted free agent out of Kent State University, Cribbs is now the NFL’s all-time leader for kickoff return yards with one team. He has returned 370 kickoffs for 9,638 yards and an NFL record eight touchdowns.
In addition to the returns, Cribbs has collected 119 special teams tackles in his eight-year career with the Browns.
“What he does on special teams, he does more than just the average punt returner and kick returner because he’s involved in all the other coverage units and he’s an outstanding competitor in that phase,” Shurmur said. “I really appreciate it.”
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