The defensive game plan against the Saints
- How in the world do you slow down Drew Brees? Defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil thinks the Cleveland Browns have devised a plan. Now, can they execute it?
- "You've got to have a mix of four-man rush, three-man rush, simulated pressure where you bring in an unconventional four guys and then you blitz him," said O'Neil. "If you give an elite quarterback the same look over and over and over again, he's going to dice you up. He's obviously proved that throughout his career. That's why he has as many wins as he does."
- Nothing has been off limits in the Browns' preparation for the Saints offensive spread. Donte Whitner told us yesterday that he's suggested some methods of defending tight end Jimmy Graham that worked for the safety with the San Francisco 49ers. O'Neil and Pettine even leafed through their old New York Jets game plans to get an idea of how to defend New Orleans.
- "We went back to 2009 when we played them the first year when we were in New York and have looked back to the past three or four years with defenses that are similar to us that have had success against this offense," said O'Neil. "I don't think that there's…the research never stops when it comes to figuring out how to attack an offense or what's the best way to defend them."
- Part of the game plan will be getting rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert right. Read more on that subject here.
Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is thrilled with the running game
- It's rare for a team to comeback and tie a game when the score is, 27-3 at halftime. It's even more rare for a team to comeback from 24 points down, and primarily use the running game to score points quickly.
- But that's exactly what the Browns did. Their 183 yards rushing was the most since November of 2010. The Steelers had no answers for all three of Cleveland's running backs, who averaged a beyond healthy 6.1 yards per carry.
- "We're not just calling runs to get three yards and stuff," said Shanahan after practice on Thursday. "We're trying to be as explosive in the run game as in the pass game. I was excited for the guys because they made a big commitment to it – to working hard in the run game. I was excited for them to have some success and see it work. Hopefully we can work off it this week."
- As trivial as it may seem on paper, the Browns running game actually has a ton of room for improvement. There may be some growing pains for portions of the Saints game, but overall, both Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell have enough talent to help the Browns win football games.
- "[Terrance] West had one where we blocked it for about negative three and he picked up 20," said Shanahan. "We did a hell of a job making some guys miss. They didn't hit every hole right. They had a couple that they miss. That's expected from rookie backs. It's expected from any back. I just hope they get better this week and learn from some of the success they had last week and some of the mistakes they made also."
Special Teams must improve
- Perhaps the most interesting portion of the day came when the media spent time with special teams coordinator Chris Tabor.
- Much has been made about the Browns decision not to kick a 52-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter. The team thought it was a tad out of kicker Billy Cundiff's range. But Tabor brings up and even better point: there was still a ton of time left in the football game.
- "I think it was a great decision by coach," said Tabor. "We were just on the cusp there. 4:26, I believe, was what was left. That's a lot of football. We were playing great defense, and we really felt like we could pin them down there. Unfortunately we fell just slightly in the end zone there. We didn't make the play at the end of the day. Had we been able to pin them down and put them on the half-yard line and make them go a long ways that's, you know, 'could of, would of, should of' type deals. There's no question. That was the right call."
- Tabor has all the faith in the world in return man Travis Benjamin, who looked a little rocky in his first full game back since ACL surgery.
- "I still look at a young man that still holds the franchise record for the longest return, franchise record for the most yards in a game," said Tabor.
- But that doesn't mean Benjamin will get every return this season. Tabor wants to have a stable of "horses" to strike fear into the other teams, and flip field position. There have been discussions about using Justin Gilbert as a return man. Gilbert returned a Big 12 record six kickoffs for touchdowns during his career at Oklahoma State.