After allowing another opponent to pile up points for the second consecutive week, members of the Browns defense had no choice but to be up front about the errors plaguing their unit and stopping them from reaching the standards they established before the season.
Miscommunication. Blown coverages. Lack of game-changing plays. All of those weren't supposed to be problems the Browns needed to emphasize after Week 6, but following a 37-14 loss to the Cardinals on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium, they have no choice.
The defense is not where it wants to be, and the Browns (3-3) are struggling because of it.
"We're not rushing like we're supposed to. We're not covering like we're supposed to," DE Myles Garrett said. "We've got to be on point at all times. We weren't where we were supposed to be."
Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray completed 20 of his 30 pass attempts for 229 yards and four touchdowns, the second consecutive week a quarterback has passed for four scores against the Browns. An additional 144 rushing yards paved the way for Arizona's big day, too. No interceptions were recorded, and no fumbles were recovered even though Murray fumbled four times.
Other than two sacks, the defense failed to create any big plays to swing the game — and their problems were evident from the first two drives.
Arizona built a 14-0 lead with two touchdowns and punctured the group with passes to open receivers. WR Christian Kirk caught the first pass after he zipped to the back of the end zone and created space from a defender to make a catch. Three-time All Pro WR DeAndre Hopkins grabbed the second score, made possible after a few juke moves around Browns defenders.
From there, the Browns faced an uphill battle.
"It's all just communication," CB Denzel Ward said. "Everybody's got to echo the calls and make sure we're on the same page."
Field goals on Arizona's next three possessions offered some hope of improvement — and the Browns offense scored two touchdowns in that span to close the gap — but two more Cardinals touchdowns in the final half erased any progress.
Hopkins was alone in the back of the end zone for a 9-yard score in the third quarter. A.J. Green got behind the defense for another touchdown in the fourth quarter. Busted coverages and poor execution were biting the defense again, and there wasn't enough time to bounce back.
"We've got to go back to the film and see what we have to correct," Ward said. "It's just communication. We've got to be on the same page, spread the call across the field and execute our assignment."
The defense has shown it can be a much more complete group before.
Just two weeks ago, the group ranked among the NFL's best after holding opponents to single digits in back-to-back games, the first time Cleveland had accomplished the feat since 1995. That achievement led to two wins against the Bears and Texans, and they were confident they could keep the strong play going against the Chargers and Cardinals — two of the best offenses in the NFL.
If the Browns could stop them, they could've placed a legitimate claim toward owning one of the NFL's top defenses.
Instead, the opposite happened, and losses have only revealed that the group has much more work to do.
"We're a 3-3 football team, and we played like it," Stefanski said. "Just very, very average. We're average across the board. We all have to get better."
The Browns' next opportunity to show improvement is only four days away.
Cleveland will host the Denver Broncos on Thursday night and look to prevent its losing streak from stretching to three games. There won't be as much time to review film, rest and game plan for the Broncos, who are on a three-game losing streak themselves, but the Browns are prepared to make the most of the 96 hours they'll have in the week to get better.
"We have to lick our wounds, we have to come in tomorrow and move on," Stefanski said. "That is just how you have to do it when you have a game Thursday night."