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Browns Mailbag: How can the secondary adjust without Denzel Ward?

Senior Writer Andrew Gribble answers your questions every week

On this Black Friday, we're hoping for yet another Victory Sunday for the Browns.

We're answering three of your questions before we look for the best deals at the Pro Shop.

With some of our defensive firepower sidelined (Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward) do you think it is now on the offense to break out and outscore opponents? I know our passing game has been lackluster but I really think we are going to break out soon. Thoughts? — Brooks P., Cincinnati

If there were ever a week for an offensive revival, you'd think this would be it.

Not only are the Browns escaping the Cleveland Weather Machine for Sunday's game in (relatively) tropical Jacksonville, but they're also facing a depleted Jaguars defense that has struggled to stop most teams, no matter how healthy they are. Jacksonville has lost nine straight games and allowed at least 24 points in all of them while surrendering 30+ in six of them.

Still, the Browns can't take anything for granted. As Kevin Stefanski said Monday, the Browns aren't good enough to just show up and play and expect to win. They'll need to be crisper in the passing game, especially in the red zone, where a big opportunity was missed last week against the Eagles.

"We have to be able to go out there and handle it like we always do," Browns QB Baker Mayfield said. "We want to have success on each drive. It is not ideal to have two of your best guys on defense [out], but our defensive line played unbelievable filling in those shoes for Myles. We are going to trust the secondary to do the same thing without Denzel. Hopefully, it is not an extended period of time because we love having Denzel out there to lock down whoever he is guarding or whatever half of the field he is covering. 

"We trust those guys wholeheartedly, but like I said earlier, the next man up mentality, we have to have guys be able to step up."

Check out exclusive photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Jacksonville Jaguars

A strategic move for the Browns game in Jacksonville would be to get Tavierre Thomas, and Javonte Moffatt more involved. Did you see the play of Jamal Adams and how he plays like a linebacker? We need to find someone to fill that void in the secondary? — Rob M., Charleston, West Virginia

First off, the kind of player you're describing sounds a lot like Grant Delpit, who was lost for the season with an Achilles injury. The Browns had big plans for him in 2020 but had to call an audible when he went down with his injury. Ronnie Harrison Jr. has filled in nicely and continues to make his presence felt as Cleveland's starting strong safety. It'll be exciting to see him back in action against his old team this weekend.

As for how the Browns adjust in the wake of Ward's calf injury, that remains to be seen. Earlier this year when Ward dealt with an injury during the team's win over Washington, Cleveland moved Kevin Johnson into his spot while Thomas continued playing in the slot — a spot he occupied for the first two games while Johnson recovered from an injury. A lot of football has been played since then, though, and the Browns could go with some different lineups as they look to fill the massive void left by Ward. Robert Jackson, for example, is a full-fledged member of the active roster now but wasn't earlier in the season.

"Disappointed for Denzel, but really no different than we have talked about with all the guys. They are out, and the next man has to step up," Stefanski said. "I think you have seen our guys do that throughout this year. Excited for the guys that we will have available to us."

I'm not sure if the Eagles offensive line is that bad or does the rest of our defense let up when Garrett is playing and relying on him to make plays? — Brian R., Thompson

I definitely don't think the Browns D-linemen "let up" when Garrett is on the field, so let's eliminate that as a point of discussion. I simply think the unit had a phenomenal game against a vulnerable Eagles offense, which features a struggling line and a quarterback that holds on to the ball, that has allowed more sacks than anyone on the season. Olivier Vernon had his best game as a Browns player and more than earned his AFC Defensive Player of the Week award. Adrian Clayborn was also a beast off the edge while Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi were stout in the middle. It all added up to a much-needed performance from the group, and the Browns will be looking for more Sunday in Jacksonville.

"I am happy for OV," Stefanski said. "We mentioned, people have to step up. He stepped up, and I am counting on him this week to do the same. I think he understands that it does not matter where he is rushing, how he is rushing and how he is playing the run, we need him out there, and we need him to make plays. That is what he did in this last ball game."

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