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Cleveland's defense must stick true to scheme vs. Titans

Jim O'Neil walked into his weekly Thursday press conference with Cleveland reporters and was understandably peppered with questions about his run defense.

In the first half, Cleveland was fundamentally sound against the run, allowing just 42 yards. But when turnovers and short fields flooded the Browns in the second half, the Jets poured on an additional 112, finishing the afternoon with what the team considers an unacceptable 4.3 yards per clip. 

"In the second half, there were some technique problems that we had that were similar to last year," O'Neil said. "I think guys started to press and they got outside of themselves."

Safety Tashaun Gipson agreed. When the Jets defense was locking down the Browns offense, the backbone of Cleveland's team tried to rise up and save the day and wound up playing out of the scheme.

"After one turnover, two turnovers the mindset is, 'Hey, before the score gets out of hand, we have to go out there and do something and put the ball in our hands and take care of everything,'" Gipson said. "Reaching for plays? Probably so. There were a couple of plays, don't need to say any names, myself included. We were all out there playing out of whack at some time, but that was us just trying to go out there and make a play for this team."


The result caused some concern in the Dawg Pound, considering Cleveland's investment in the defensive line – two new starters in Randy Shelton and Danny Shelton and third-round pick Xavier Cooper.

"To me, it's tackling or set an edge or play a little bit lower," O'Neil said. "Guys just have to execute the technique they're being asked to do. As coaches, we have to put them in a better position to do that."

To Cleveland, though, the Jets game is now dead and buried. The focus had already shifted to the Titans on Monday. Rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota is garnering all the headlines from Tennessee's 42-14 blowout win over the Buccaneers, but running back Bishop Sankey also had himself a day. On just 12 carries, Sankey produced a career-high 74 yards and scored two touchdowns.

"He was impressive," coach Mike Pettine said. "I think he runs low. He's gaining positive yardage. They used him as a receiver, as a kick returner, but it's clear that he's elevated his game from his rookie year."

Coming off a season-opening loss, the Browns need a defensive performance at FirstEnergy Stadium that'll set the tone for the game. O'Neil has developed signature game plans in 2014 – think the Steelers and Bengals – that catapulted Cleveland to triumphant wins.

Last season the Browns ranked 9th in the NFL in allowing 21.5 points per game at home. They'll have to channel that effort against Mariota, Sankey and the Titans running game to even their record to 1-1.

"I think that they were a little embarrassed by what happened on Sunday. I was embarrassed, but it's a resilient group," O'Neil said. "They have a lot of pride. They compete. Had a great practice yesterday so I love where we're at. I love how they've come back. I'd be shocked if we didn't play well on Sunday."

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