BEREA — For all the shortcomings ailing the Browns this season, their run defense has been a bright spot and point of pride as they search for their first win.
Cleveland hopes the unit returns to form after struggling in Sunday's loss to the Bengals, which saw it surrendered a season-high 152 rushing yards, including 114 to rookie running back Joe Mixon.
"We didn't execute the plays that were called," linebacker Christian Kirksey said. "As a defensive leader, you take full responsibility in not executing. They had our card."
The performance came after the Browns had similar issues at home against Jacksonville. In that game, the Jaguars leaned on rookie Leonard Fournette (who became the first player to eclipse the 100-yard mark against Cleveland) and a typically-dominant run game in a narrow victory.
The Bengals, meanwhile, entered this past weekend with a historically ineffective rushing attack that was averaging 68 yards a game. Because of that, it was a surprise how Cincinnati controlled the line of scrimmage.
"Our guys can play better. I think they'll tell you that. That's not who we are or who we have been all year against the run," coach Hue Jackson said. "We have to continue to get better."
Indeed, the Browns will face Chargers running back Melvin Gordon this weekend in Los Angeles. Gordon, a first-round pick in 2015, ranks ninth in rushing yards (698), fifth in touchdowns (five) and sixth in rushing first downs (36). Facing a focal point like Gordon in a powerful Chargers offense, Cleveland knows it can't have another below-par performance in Southern California.
Kirksey, a team captain with 93 tackles, said the Browns were out of place throughout the game against the Bengals. Both he and Jackson also shrugged off season-ending injuries to starters in linebacker Jamie Collins Sr. and Emmanuel Ogbah as a cause for the slump.
"We just have to make sure we play sound on our part and do our job, every individual being in the right space at the right time.," Kirksey said. "If we do that, I think we will take care of ourselves."
Added Jackson, who believes the group can and will bounce back: "We just have to play better."