Jabrill Peppers believes it because he’s seen it.
That’s the biggest difference from last season, when Cleveland’s defense was searching for a complete performance that never surfaced. This year, though, the Browns know they can play at a much higher level than they did last week against the Chargers because they’ve done it -- more than once at that.
Peppers, Cleveland’s second-year strong safety, exuded confidence about the unit when he sat down with ClevelandBrowns.com after Friday’s practice.
CB.com: Coming off a performance like the one you guys are trying to get past, what have you seen from the team focus-wise and mentality-wise going into this game?
Peppers: It was a sense of refocus and getting back to the basics, things we know we do well that we didn’t do well against the Chargers. We had assignment errors, not setting the force as fast as we should, getting out of gaps on plays. It was things we do well that we kind of got away from for whatever reason. It was just a sense of refocus, getting back to basics and playing like one of the most dominant defenses in the NFL because we believe we are one.
CB.com: Is that what makes it different than last year because you’ve seen it happen?
Peppers: Absolutely. When you have tape to validate everything you feel, it definitely makes you want to put that next foot forward and come out here and do better than you did the last time. Keep trying to make a name for yourself.
CB.com: What’s the biggest difference between this year’s defense and last year’s?
Peppers: It’s just experience, man. Last year we had a lot of guys who hadn’t played much in their first year or first couple of years. We had a sprinkle of a couple of vets. We got a lot of vets out of here with trades or how else the business works. This year, we’ve got a lot of guys who have improved and proven themselves in this league. We’ve got a lot of three-plus year players who have been around winning coaches, played in big games, made big-time plays and that just helps us. That allows everybody to just play fast, trust each other. We all know what we’re supposed to do, especially guys that are in the second year of the scheme. People don’t understand that last year was the first time running that defensive scheme. From Year 1 to Year 2, the knowledge you gain and comfort level you feel with the scheme, it just elevates you and lets you play fast.
CB.com: You guys are without Joe Schobert and have some injuries in the secondary. How do you see the group adjusting?
Peppers: Next man up. We understand what kind of business this is when injuries happen. You’ve got to stay ready and prepare like you’re the starter, every guy from the top of the roster to the bottom of the roster. You never know when it’s going to be your shot. And when it is your shot, you have to take full advantage of it and help the team come out with the win.
CB.com: You’ve moved around a bit on defense this year. How do you feel you’re playing?
Peppers: I definitely feel I can be playing way better. I think I’ve been solid, but solid’s not good enough for me. I feel as though I had chances to make plays on the ball that I didn’t. Missed a couple of tackles and just really missed a lot of chances where I could have impacted the game, whether it’s when I scooped up the fumble and got tackled at the 1. I’ve got to get that in there, regardless, if I’m cramping or whatever I’m feeling. That tipped ball against the Ravens, I’ve got to come up with that. Maybe the game doesn’t even get down to that if I catch that. It’s not that I’m not making the plays. It’s when I make the plays, I have to MAKE the plays and give this team a boost.
CB.com: You guys are among the league leaders in takeaways but you’re still itching for the first defensive touchdown. Is that something you talk about? Is there an extra step you need to take?
Peppers: Oh yeah. Now that we’ve got the first part of it down, put it in the end zone, score on defense. That’s the next point of emphasis. Coming into the year, takeaways were a big point of emphasis for us. We only had 13 last year, minus-20 something in turnover ratio. We already surpassed the 13 takeaways. We’re trying to double or even triple that and score some points on the board. That’s what’s going to take this defense and this team to the next level. When we start scoring on defense, scoring on special teams and taking the load off our rookie quarterback and letting him be comfortable and not be in such pressure situations, I think that’s definitely going to be a great asset for us.
CB.com: It seemed like special teams took a step forward last week. What did you see?
Peppers: Just finally getting the leverages right, finally hitting the holes the way I’m supposed to hit them, making the cuts I’m supposed to make and making guys miss. I was getting frustrated because even though there’s guys in my face, I’m supposed to make them miss as a punt returner that is blessed to play at the highest level of football. You’ve got to make at least two guys miss. Some coaches say one, I say two, especially at this level. I think we were able to do that. I still had a muff because of the sun but I get paid to catch that ball. I definitely think, besides the muff, we definitely took a step forward. Could have cleaned up some things on the punt and kick return, but as a collective unit and based on everything else we’ve put on tape, that was definitely one of our better games. We just have to build on that.
CB.com: Was your 33-yard return the closest you’ve felt that you were going to break one?
Peppers: There’s been times where I’ve only been one block away. If people really watched the film rather than think they know everything, they would see that. When you have a big run like that that gets you in opposing territory, that’s definitely a big boost. For me, I definitely feel I could have scored on that one. I got caught from behind. That’s just me. I’m trying to do too much with the cutting. Once I see daylight, I’ve got to hit it. We’re still building on it. There’s definitely more in the tank, especially once the weather starts to break the ball is not going to carry as far. You’re going to get a lot of returnable balls. We’re going to keep our foot on the pedal, keep grinding, keep cleaning up the mental assignments and give this team a boost.
CB.com: Is this Tampa passing attack one of the more daunting attacks you’ll see this season?
Peppers: We’ve faced a lot of teams with a lot of weapons. We know what they have, we know what they do well, we know the guys. We’ve just got to go out and do what we do well. If we play the way we’re supposed to play and know we can play, it doesn’t matter what the offense does.
CB.com: Is that kind of an answer an example of the kind of confidence you have in this year’s defense?
Peppers: It’s not even about confidence. Of course you want to be confident in this league. You have to be. When you’ve proven it, when you’ve gone against potent offenses who have put up numbers and you hold them to 20, 21 points, it definitely makes you feel like, ‘OK, if we really stick to what we do -- we just played one of the better offenses in the league and they couldn’t do a thing with us -- it definitely gives you that confidence and want-to that makes you want to keep the game clean and keep the mistakes limited.