Joe Woods has delivered honest answers about the state of the Browns defense each week this season.
Most of the answers have been about disappointing results, and they didn't change Thursday after the defense struggled to contain a Patriots offense led by a rookie fourth-round pick last Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium. The loss was another tough blow to a Browns defense that ranks 31st in the league in points allowed and needs to find answers quickly as it prepares for the next two games against AFC North opponents.
"I think for us as a whole defensively, we're underperforming," Woods said. "From a players' standpoint and from a coaches' standpoint, we have to perform better. Just not happy with the results, whether it's the run game or pass game. Collectively as a group of players and coaches, we all have to get better."
The defense hasn't been able to consistently stop the run or the pass as the halfway point of the season nears, which are problems Woods admitted he didn't see happening with his group at this stage of the year after the defense retained nine of 11 starters from last season. The Browns rank 19th in the league against the pass (229.8 pass yards allowed per game) and 24th against the run (131.5 yards allowed per game).
Most of the Browns' starters are young — five of them are 24 or younger — although Woods said age can't be used as an excuse, especially when the group also has several established veterans.
Woods has simplified the defense in the last month in hopes of finding a spark but the adjustments so far have yet to halt the three-game losing streak.
"I thought there would be more things we could do at this point," Woods said. "Not that more means better, but we do have some young guys in there playing for us at all three levels of the defense, and they're learning too. I thought we would be further along, obviously. There are a lot of things we're trying to clean up, and we just have to clean them up in a hurry."
The Browns' playoff hopes will still be very much alive if they pick up wins in their next two games. With matchups against the Ravens and Bengals, the Browns have an opportunity to push their record to a manageable 4-4, including a 3-0 mark in the division, if they can correct the defensive issues.
It starts with stopping Lamar Jackson on Sunday in Baltimore. The defense did exactly that a year ago with many of the same players still on the roster now, and their results from that game — which was a 16-10 loss but featured four interceptions by the defense — provides some confidence that they can do it again.
"Is it possible? Of course," LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah said. "It's also possible that hey, we may make some mistakes. The key is to make sure we get our fundamentals down and our communication the right way, try to do some of the similar things that we did last year and make sure that we contain those playmakers that they have over there with No. 8 (Jackson) and No. 17 (RB Kenyan Drake). They have a lot of playmakers and a lot of people who are emerging."
Check out photos of players and coaches working to prepare for the teams regular season game against the Baltimore Ravens
Jones, Clowney could play Sunday
Woods echoed what head coach Kevin Stefanski said Wednesday about the prospects of newly-acquired LB Deion Jones making his Browns debut against the Ravens. Jones, a seventh-year veteran, was added in a trade with the Falcons last week.
"We're taking it day-by-day because he's learned the system, getting comfortable with the techniques," Woods said. "Hopefully he plays, but we'll see."
The Browns could receive any big boost up front if Jadeveon Clowney, who missed last week's game due to an ankle injury, is able to return as well. Clowney returned to practice Thursday and was a limited participant, so he's heading in the right direction.
"It's the same thing — day-by-day," Woods said. "We'll get JD back on the field today. See how he does."
Notable absences from practice Thursday also included CB Denzel Ward (concussion) and RG Wyatt Teller (calf). Stefanski said Wednesday that Teller was doubtful to play against the Ravens.
A decision to make at punt returner
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said the Browns are working multiple players out at punt returner this week, and it "remains to be seen" who will handle the role Sunday in Baltimore.
Chester Rogers, a receiver on the practice squad who's handled the responsibility the last two weeks, is out of eligible practice squad elevations since he's been called up three times, which is the league's maximum for practice squad players. He would have to be signed to the active roster to play for the Browns again.
He's one of three players Priefer mentioned as punt return candidates for Sunday. WR Donovan Peoples-Jones and RB/WR Demetric Felton Jr. are also in the mix.