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Browns Mailbag: What can defense do to bounce back during pivotal stretch?

Senior Writer Andrew Gribble answers your questions every week

Is it Week 15 already? Time has flown during what's been a thoroughly enjoyable season of Cleveland Browns football.

We've got four of your questions to handle before another PRIMETIME kickoff.

Several current members of the Giants organization have previous ties to the Browns. Do you think that the likes of Colt McCoy, Jabrill Peppers, Kevin Zeitler and Freddie Kitchens (who will be calling plays for NY) will provide their current team with an added level of insight and/or motivation during Sunday night's primetime showdown? And, if so, are we prepared to match that increased intensity in such a critical matchup with enormous playoff implications? — Nick D., Wayne, West Virginia

Two things can be true. 

Will these former Browns players/coaches bring a little extra juice for Sunday's primetime matchup? Sure. That's natural, and Browns players and coaches have expressed similar feelings when they faced their old teams (See: Jarvis Landry vs. Miami in 2019). And don't forget: The Browns have a couple of guys facing their old team Sunday. DE Olivier Vernon was traded by the Giants to the Browns in March 2019 and LB B.J. Goodson was traded from New York to Green Bay in Sept. 2019. Also, the Browns have A LOT to play for Sunday. Intensity shouldn't be an issue.

But will there be any actual, schematic advantage for these players? That's hard to say, especially when you consider the Browns are running completely different systems on both sides of the ball under new head coach Kevin Stefanski. The Giants, too, are operating under a brand new head coach in Joe Judge and new coordinators. In the days leading up to the team's matchup with Jacksonville, for example, Baker Mayfield said LB Joe Schobert likely wouldn't have much of an advantage because of the different terminology.

It was pretty evident against Baltimore that our defense has some issues. How much will the return of Denzel Ward help our defense and what else can be done schematically to help the defense thrive? — Brooks P., Cincinnati

Let's start with Ward. His return will be significant for a Browns defense that just hasn't been able to stay fully healthy in the back end of its defense. The Browns had something really good working for them with Ronnie Harrison Jr. taking over as an every-snap starter at strong safety while Ward and Terrance Mitchell played the outside cornerback spots and Kevin Johnson handled the slot. Losing both Ward and Harrison for the past three games has been tough to overcome, no question about it, but the expected return of Ward on Sunday certainly helps. Harrison is eligible to come off injured reserve after Sunday's game and the Browns are hopeful he can be back before the end of the regular season.

"It would definitely give us a boost," defensive coordinator Joe Woods said, discussing the return of Ward. "He has been a big playmaker for us this year. He has played really well. For me, it is 'All right, we have another guy back. Let's keep rolling.'"

One player, though, can't fix everything, and the Browns have been hard at work this week trying to right everything that went wrong in allowing 47 points (2 came from a safety) to the Ravens on Monday night. Cleveland had been better in recent weeks on third downs, but it struggled in that area against Baltimore, allowing the Ravens to convert 6-of-11.

Woods said his message to the team this week was simple: "Focus on doing your job, make the plays you are supposed to make and play fast and physical."

"If you do that and you concentrate on that, then you will put yourselves in the right position in terms of executing within our defense," Woods said. "Now, if they make a great play, they make a great play. I just think when we played them, we were not always executing. It was different guys at times. I always look at myself. I wish I could have a couple of calls back, but you would probably say that every week. I just feel like we did not play as well as we could have played."

Check out exclusive photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the New York Giants

So your next two games after Baltimore are both in New York. Do you guys just stay there for a week or do you guys fly back? — Dakota W., Lake Stevens, Washington

The team will handle the next two games at MetLife Stadium just like it would any other short road trip, departing the afternoon of the day before the game and flying back a couple of hours after its conclusion. These are relatively short flights that just happen to be to the same place. It'd be no different than playing back-to-back road games against, say, the Bears and the Ravens.

I am enjoying the season. My question to you is why doesn't Cody Parkey get any love? He has been consistent all year in all phases of the kicking game. He has the perfect demeanor for a kicker. GO BROWNS! — Joe S., Avon

Even after Monday night, when he missed a short field goal and an extra point, Parkey sits in the top half of the league in most kicker rankings. He's 17-of-20 on field goals with nine of his makes coming from 40 yards or longer. It also should be noted a number of those makes have come in some pretty adverse conditions. He's missed just two extra points. Most importantly, Parkey hasn't looked rattled, something special teams coordinator Mike Priefer likes to see, especially after a disappointing performance like Monday's.

"He does not miss a beat," Priefer said. "He is very calm and very collected. He has a very even keel about him, which I really like about him. Great kickers do not miss two in a row, and he had a bad night and he knows it. He is going to grow and get better."

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