The Cleveland Browns will face the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium in the second meeting of the teams in five weeks.
Earlier this season, the Browns fell to the Bengals, 34-27, at Paul Brown Stadium and found themselves playing from behind for more than 58 minutes. The Bengals got the scoring started early when defensive back Adam Jones avoided six Browns tackles and ran back
“That wasn’t a very good play for us,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said Thursday. “I think it’s important that, No. 1, you improve and I think we have. The last two weeks, our coverage units have done a fine job and I anticipate that we will not punt the ball in a way he can return it and I anticipate we won’t miss six tackles this time.”
The Browns allowed an average of 30.0 yards over three returns but held Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones and New York’s Reuben Randle to a combined total of two returns for just eight yards. Against the Buffalo Bills, the Browns surrendered two punt returns for 53 yards.
Hodges -- who returned to the field after missing all of the 2011 season due to a ruptured Achilles’ tendon -- has averaged 43.6 yards over 29 punts for a total of 1,264 yards. He has placed nine inside the 20-yard line and had just one touchback through five games this season.
“I think he’s improving,” Shurmur said of Hodges. “It’s all coordinated. You need the proper punt and first, you’ve got to protect. The coverage unit needs to protect. You’ve got to punt the ball properly and then, you’ve got to cover in a way where you get the returner on the ground. I think we’ve made improvements in all those areas.”
The challenges of facing the Bengals do not stop with the punt return unit.
Once the coverage team brings down the returner, the defense has to contend with second-year Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green. Green leads the Bengals with 36 catches for 493 yards and four touchdowns. He has a long reception of 73 yards, which was a pass from fellow wide receiver, Mohamed Sanu, in a 38-31 win over the Washington Redskins on Sept. 23.
“What’s important is you cover the guy as well as you can and then, when the ball goes up, you make a play on it and you fight for it,” Shurmur said. “The physical nature of who’s playing against who, you’ve just got to battle. That’s just the way it works and you count on a lot of things. You count on the pass rush maybe disrupting the throw. You count on you reacting to the ball quicker than the receiver. You may have to jump a little higher than him, but it starts by making sure you’re tight with coverage.”
Shurmur said he has seen progress in the team and that he and his coaching staff are inspired by it.
“I see young players getting better,” Shurmur said. “I’m inspired when
“We’re teachers and you try to help guys do certain things. They’re individuals and human beings working with one another and you try to put out there a winning product.”
CLEARING THE WAY
The Browns rushed for 84 yards against the New York Giants and running back
Shurmur credited the ability to run on the outside of New York’s defense with the way his offensive linemen handled a stout Giants front four.
“I think our guys can block any type of run,” Shurmur said. “You run it inside, you run it off-tackle and you run it on the perimeter. We felt like there were ways where we could attack the Giants’ perimeter and so, we called plays designed to do that. I think our guys can zone block; they can gap block and then, they can obviously, run those sweeps.”
Browns defensive tackle Phil Taylor has not played through the first five games of the season due to a torn pectoral muscle suffered during an offseason workout. Since that time, rookies
“We’re hopeful he’ll be back soon,” Shurmur said of Taylor. “I think he’ll be right on schedule.”
While Taylor continues his rehabilitation, linebacker
Johnson played in his first NFL game last Sunday at the Giants.
“He looks good in practice,” Shurmur said. “I thought he looked good last week in practice and we used him primarily on special teams, but he’s ready to play outside or inside linebacker if we need him to.”