The Cleveland Browns will be without two of their key defensive pieces, possibly for the rest of the season.
Inside linebacker Karlos Dansby suffered a knee injury that will sideline him for a month. Outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard hurt a bone in his foot.
The loss of Dansby stings. The 33-year-old was quarterbacking the defense, calling plays and being an instrumental leader off the field. After being overlooked by many for his career, Dansby set a goal of making the Pro Bowl and was well on his way to achieving that objective with 73 tackles, three sacks and one interception in 10 games.
"It's a shame that he'd been playing at a high level and that it is more than just – as you said – the playing, his ability on the field," said coach Mike Pettine on Monday. "It's how he's been in the meeting room, locker room, out on the practice field, just the intensity, the energy, the leadership. That's all part of it."
There's a chance Dansby returns in December for the final few games. For Sheard, it's more likely that his season is over. In 10 games, Sheard logged 36 tackles and two sacks. Pettine thought Sheard was a player who needed a period of live reps to get acclimated to the system, which is why the timing of this injury isn't good news for the Browns.
"As he became more and more comfortable with it, he improved, and his recent games were his best football," said Pettine. "That's why this is such a tough thing to deal with."
So in steps two players who are already playing critical roles on defense.
Craig Robertson will replace Karlos Dansby as the MIKE (strong-side) middle linebacker. He assumes the duty of calling plays. Robertson's made some splash plays in recent weeks and started most of last season at linebacker. Tank Carder will serve as a backup to both Robertson and WILL (weak-side) linebacker Chris Kirksey.
Barkevious Mingo actually started over Sheard and alongside Paul Kruger last Sunday against the Texans. He'll obviously see a rise in his playing time. The sixth overall pick in the 2013 draft, Mingo has 29 tackles and one sack so far this season. Mingo played 52 of the 86 snaps against Houston and logged a season-high seven tackles.
Other news and notes
- After reviewing the film, Pettine concluded the same thing we did in our game recap: the Texans beat the Browns at their own game. Houston ran the ball effectively, creating mostly third-and-short opportunities. And on defense, the Texans made the Browns one-dimensional, forcing Cleveland to abandon the run.
- "We're not going to make excuses," Pettine said. "I know we have some guys banged up, but that's life in the NFL. You've got to find a way. The big thing here is, as we talk about after wins and losses, that we watch the tape. We learn from it – what do we need to get corrected, to compartmentalize it, put it in a box and bury it, but make sure that we learn from it. That's the critical message that I had for the team."
- It wasn't Brian Hoyer's 20-for-50 stat line that concerned Pettine. It was how it happened.
- "I prefer not to throw the ball 30 times period yet alone have 30 incomplete. To me that's just indicative of that: A.) We got away from our formula and B.) We are more than likely in predictable situations," Pettine said. "You don't miss that many throws when it's first-and-ten or second-and-five."
- But to that point, Pettine didn't rule out the Browns having to alter their offensive strategy – because of all the injuries on defense. It might not be as feasible for Cleveland to control games with inconsistent efforts from the running game and the lack of firepower on defense. A reporter asked Pettine if the team will consider throwing it more – especially with Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron waiting in the wings – and Pettine didn't shy away from the style change.
- "That's something that we'll likely discuss tonight as we start to game plan and probably get into it a little bit heavier tomorrow," said the Browns' head coach.