1) Run defense
The problems: Cleveland, which has allowed 155.7 yards per game, has given up six rushes of 20 yards or more, tied for the most in the NFL. The chunk plays are hurting. Part of that was by design against New Orleans to limit Drew Brees, but coach Mike Pettine said the performance thus far has been unacceptable. Not being able to stop the run has a trickledown effect on everything the Browns do defensively. The linebackers can't blitz as much if the defensive line can't be counted on to contain gaps. More notably, third-downs have been of the shorter variety, instead of obvious passing situations. Third-down and four is a major advantage for the offense. They can be more creative and make the Cleveland defense account for both the run and pass.
The remedy: Paul Kruger said against Pittsburgh the problem was missed tackles and against Baltimore it was more missed assignments in gap control, as well as going against a stout offensive line. Pettine said the Browns evaluate all explosive plays the team allows in three different ways – scheme, technique and talent. The staff grades out each big play from their opponent and develop charts to figure out where the problems are coming from. What Pettine took away: there is no glaring schematical or player issue in stopping the run. Everything just needs to be tightened up.
The quotes: "If it's scheme, you either fix the call or take it out," said Pettine. "If it's technique, you address it on the practice field as far as making sure you get that technique worked, repped, perfected. Then if it's talent you could replace a guy or not put him in a position to have to make that play. Just in broad terms, we look at all the negative plays we give up that way. In the run game [so far], it's a combination of a lot of different things."
2) Finishing games
The problems: Pittsburgh and Baltimore saved their best plays for after the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter. Both used clutch passing plays down the field to kick game-winning field goals. As we detailed in our column following the loss to the Ravens, Cleveland has to learn to handle the pressure of the fourth quarter.
The remedy: *Remaining confident will be what matters for Pettine and the Browns. *"We feel that we can compete with anybody in this league – and not compete with – beat anybody in this league and that's important that our guys have that confidence coming out of the bye (week)," said Pettine on Monday. "For us, we can only worry about the next one and make sure and take steps that doesn't happen. We're a mix of veteran guys and young guys and we've got to get those young guys veteran experience in a hurry, and you want to play your young guys to get them experience but it's a catch -22. We don't want to be 'hey, we're looking to next year. We're just going to play our young guys.' We feel that we can win now, we want to win now and that is one of the reasons we're so disappointed about yesterday that we felt that we let them off the hook."
The quote: "It's a learned mentality," said Kruger. "As you create more competitive desire within yourself and you realize how hard it is to win in this league, you really can't make mistakes, you can't lose your cool, just really basic things. As you start to create that mentality, you'll start to notice that the games are going your way towards the end. People start to fold, guys get tired on the opposite side of the ball."
The problems: Pettine thought he didn't manage the game as well as he could in the fourth quarter and he and the Browns' staff were cluttered on some of their substitution packages, leading to penalties, timeouts and confusion.
The remedy: Over the course of the bye week, the Browns are doing something quite interesting: evaluating themselves like they are an opponent. So Kyle Shanahan and the offensive staff will pretend to prepare for Jim O'Neil and the Browns' defense, and provide open and honest feedback on the unit. Pettine's hope is that the dialogue will create improvements for how the staff coaches together. As for the procedural items like substitutions, Cleveland will begin practicing running in and out of the sidelines more often during the week.
The quote: "I will always be my toughest critic and the toughest critic of the staff, and like I said after the game, I wasn't good enough yesterday," said Pettine. "We had a lot of the players put forth a winning effort, but it's on all of us. We have to clean up, as a staff, a lot of the procedural stuff."
4) Special teams
The problems: Missed field goals, bad snaps, blocked kicks, not knowing when to fair catch punts, lack of big spark in the return game – you name it, the special teams has seen it. To some observers, the unit's mistakes arguably cost the Browns the game against the Ravens.
The remedy: Pettine said he and special teams coordinator Chris Tabor will review the performances of long snapper Christian Yount, return man Travis Benjamin and the entire unit. The special teams could see a big shuffle in terms of who is playing where. Some have suggested Benjamin going to the stadium with the other specialists so that he can do a better job of evaluating the winds.
The quote: On specifically getting Benjamin right, one of the NFL's most explosive return men: "We'll make sure we have a plan for it," said Pettine. "But whatever we need to do or get him coached up or put him in the best position to be successful. It's probably a better question to be asked of him but just (to) do something to get his confidence back."