Browns vow to tighten things up along defensive front after getting gashed by 49ers

A quick look at the box score or five minutes of game tape will tell you that Monday night’s performance wasn’t ideal for the Browns.

Allow defensive coordinator Steve Wilks to explain further.

“To say that we did not pay well Monday night is an understatement,” Wilks said Thursday. “Very embarrassing the way the defense performed. I take full blame and responsibility for that. It is definitely not indicative of who we are.”

Wilks is correct — that’s not who the Browns were through the first four weeks. Who the Browns were in their first four contests was a team with a defense that was allowing an average of 119.75 rushing yards per game, a number that included a matchup against the Baltimore Ravens, who gained 173 of their 395 total offensive yards on the ground but still fell well short of their league-best average of 217 yards per game. It was a minor victory for the Browns, who put up 40 points on Baltimore and coasted to a win with much credit due to their defense, even despite the seemingly gaudy rushing total. 

The 119.75 yards per game would put the Browns at 18th in the NFL in rushing defense right now after surviving a gauntlet that included games against Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell, Derrick Henry, Mark Ingram and Lamar Jackson.

Thanks to Monday night, they instead rank 29th, allowing 150.8 rushing yards per game. If in need of a culprit, one can point to the San Francisco 49ers’ 275-yard output.

It was a shocking result, if not demoralizing. The Browns’ defense lost at the point of attack all night and paid for it in a 31-3 loss.

Wilks detailed what went wrong when meeting with media members Thursday, again directing blame to himself.

“I think when you look at the identity of this defense -- each week you are going to tweak a few things,” Wilks said. “And the previous two weeks, I did that and we performed well. What I did, I got outside the fundamentals of what we do. What you saw Monday night, you saw a defense that was thinking too much. They could not get aligned. They played slow and when you see that as a unit, that is on me.” 

On the surface, it seems as if Wilks is simply falling on the sword for his players. But to anyone who watched the game, there was some clear truth in what Wilks said. Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson corroborated Wilks’ account of what went wrong.

“Got out-game-planned a little bit,” Richardson said. “They executed a lot better. They wanted it more. Everything that went into that game was losing, and we all had a hand in that from top to bottom.”

If football were as simple as one team wanting it more, well, it really wouldn’t be worth watching. So there has to be more than just desire in whatever it was that turned the Browns from a phalanx to a sieve.

“A little bit,” Richardson said when informed of Wilks’ admission the defense was thinking too much. “Going in (49ers coach Kyle) Shanahan had a lot of time to game-plan us. He had a template from when we played the Rams. Came back and we tried to run the same things, same scheme and it didn’t work and it backfired on us. You know, kudos to them. They won. On to this week.”

Therein lies the beauty of football. It can be painful, because there are only so many games to be played and won or lost. But as long as the season isn’t finished, there’s another contest to prepare for, and the Browns have had to do so on a short week. No time to dwell on the loss. 

They’ve spent much of the week reviewing the film, correcting the mistakes and crafting a gameplan for another team that might present an even greater challenge. Quarterback Russell Wilson looks like a legitimate MVP candidate, and the Seattle Seahawks are 4-1 as a result as they travel to Cleveland for their Sunday meeting with the Browns. 

It’ll be a familiar set of colors on the opposite sideline for Richardson, who spent one season with the team as a defensive mercenary before heading to Minnesota and eventually Cleveland. He knows what Wilson brings to the table — strong, accurate arm, mobility, and a threat to opposing defenses from snap to whistle on every down — and he’s ready to attack the Seahawks in concert with his teammates.

“How do we get back on track? Just going back to discipline,” Richardson said, “going back to what we do, back to basics, reteaching everything and getting that bad out of the system.”

The opportunity to expel the bad arrives Sunday at home, where the Browns are winless in two opportunities. They’re hoping that is no longer true come Monday morning, starting with the efforts of the defensive line. 

“We’re still a fierce D-line, we like to think,” Richardson said. “We had a rough week last week but we’re getting back to it.”

Check out photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Seahawks Sunday by team photographer Matt Starkey

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