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'Miscommunications,' TD passes foiling a promising Browns defense

A week after a dominating performance at home, the Browns defense took a step back during a frustrating Sunday afternoon in Houston that saw a promising group struggle.

Rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson passed for three touchdowns and helped engineer several big plays that put the Cleveland in an early, insurmountable, all-too-familiar hole.

The week before, the Browns allowed a season-best 212 yards in a loss to the Jets and hoped the returns of first-overall pick Myles Garrett and Pro Bowl linebacker Jamie Collins to the starting lineup would offer another boost.

So what happened?

"I think whenever there is a big play that happens, we kind of shoot ourselves in the foot on the defensive side of the ball," rookie safety Jabrill Peppers said Monday.

"There's probably half of the plays where I would say the other team just really made that great play and beat us on that play. Other times, we're shooting ourselves in the foot with missed assignments or missed tackles, things that like."

The Browns allowed nine plays of 15 yards or more and five plays of 20-plus yards. Through six games, Cleveland's defense ranks eighth in yards per game (310.7) and has shut down opposing run games for the most part. The unit, however, has allowed a league-high 14 touchdown passes including the trio from Watson this past weekend.

"There are still some communication, fundamental things that we can do a little bit better. We have to continue to work at those things," head coach Hue Jackson said. "We don't want to be a team that's giving up 14 touchdown passes at this point. We're going to work at those things extremely hard. I think our players are doing that. I think (defensive coordinator Gregg) Williams is well-versed in understanding that this is an issue that we have to address."

Perhaps the most frustrating of those scores Sunday was Watson's 39-yard pass to Will Fuller, who split the Browns coverage and walked into the end zone untouched. Peppers, who took ownership of the play, described it as the kind of miscue that is holding back Cleveland's defense.

"That's one of the things I mean when I said we're shooting ourselves in the foot. All that is is a communication error," he said.

"I was playing one coverage, (DB Jamar Taylor) was playing another. When that happens, not too many good things stem from that. That was a touchdown and it just looked bad all around. As a safety, it's my job to correct whatever runs go on on the field."

The touchdown ignited a 30-point run that put the game out of reach by the third quarter.

"We just had a miscommunication and it turned into a touchdown. It was a big, explosive play," Peppers said. "That is unacceptable in our defense and that is unacceptable in this league. Like I said, we have to keep pushing and pushing, over-communicating, make sure that everyone is on the same page because when we are all looking at what we are supposed to be as a defense, we're really tough to move the ball on."

As they search for their first win against the Titans, the Browns know they'll have to curb those mistakes against quarterback Marcus Mariota and a Tennessee offense that rallied past Indianapolis on Monday night thanks to a 53-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter.

"We know what kind of defense we are. We haven't even really reached the surface yet," Peppers said.

"It's all about building and keep working toward that common goal. This is our first time being healthy in a while. We're definitely looking forward to Tennessee next week."​

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