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Wilks: Browns rush defense must improve - News & Notes

When the Browns came out of the bye week, they rattled off four out of five games in which they surrendered fewer than 100 rushing yards. That stretch seemingly hit its peak Week 11 against the Steelers, when Cleveland allowed just 58 yards on 16 attempts in one of the defense's best overall efforts of the season.

The last two weeks, though, have been a big step back, and that's at the forefront of the group's focus heading into a Week 15 matchup with the Cardinals, who have a variety of options at their disposal in the running game.

The Browns allowed 124 rushing yards the second time around to the Steelers in a tough Week 13 loss and followed up by allowing a season-worst 179 to Joe Mixon and the Bengals, who rank in the bottom five in the league in rushing offense. For the season, Cleveland ranks 26th in the NFL with an average of 128.2 rushing yards allowed per game.

"A lot of self-inflicted wounds there, guys not executing and getting out of their gaps and also some things we were doing defensively with the man stuff put as at a disadvantage on the perimeter when we were playing man, so we got out of that a little bit and started playing a little bit more zone," Wilks said. "I thought Mixon did a phenomenal job and we talked about all week of trying to control him. It is not going to be any different this week."

The Cardinals use a three-man committee at running back with Pro Bowler David Johnson, Chase Edmunds and the recently acquired Kenyan Drake. On top of that, rookie quarterback Kyler Murray is one of the best runners at the position. Murray is second among quarterbacks behind Lamar Jackson with 448 rushing yards.

"He is a dual threat throwing the ball as well as having the ability to escape and make play with his feet, so we have to do a great job of really trying to keep him in the pocket and try to contain him," Wilks said. "Not a lot of teams have been able to do that this year, so again; it is going to be a difficult task on my part."

Check out photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Cardinals Sunday by team photographer Matt Starkey

-- Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer believes rookie punter Jamie Gillan is a Pro Bowl-caliber player, but his performance this season hasn't quite been Pro Bowl-worthy.

Priefer was frank in his assessment Thursday of Gillan, who has had a strong debut season that included winning AFC Special Teams Player of the Month in September.

"I am just going to be honest -- I would let you know if I thought he did," Priefer said. "I think Jamie is a very good punter. I think he is going to get better and better and better, and there are better punters than him right now out there that have performed better this year. He's just got to be more consistent. 

"Is he a Pro Bowl talent punter? Absolutely. Is he ready to be on the Pro Bowl roster this year? I do not think so. I think there is two or three out of AFC punters that have probably had better years than him."

Gillan is eighth in the NFL (third in the AFC) with an average of 46.2 yards per punt and 20th in the league in net average (40.7). He's put 24 punts inside the 20-yard line, putting him in a tie for eighth in the league.

-- How much does kicking into the Dawg Pound end zone at FirstEnergy Stadium matter? Priefer told a story Thursday to illustrate just how important it is when deciding how much range kicker Austin Seibert had in a critical moment during last week's game against the Bengals.

Leading 21-16 late in the third quarter, the Browns faced a third-and-3 at the Bengals 35 with 23 seconds left in the third quarter. They were driving toward the west end zone -- opposite from the Dawg Pound side of the field. Baker Mayfield’s pass to Stephen Carlson fell incomplete, leaving 20 seconds on the clock. Seibert trotted onto the field and nailed the 53-yarder, his longest as a pro.

It all worked out for Seibert to kick into a set of uprights at which he hasn't missed all season. But had Carlson come up with the catch short of the first-down marker, allowing the clock to likely run into the fourth quarter, Priefer said he would have requested a timeout.

"Man, I was proud of him," Priefer said. "Great protection. Snap, hold and kick were perfect and he played the wind perfectly. It kind of drew back in and went right down the middle, a big play for us."

Seibert is 22-of-25 on field goals this season and 25-of-28 on extra points. All six of his misses have come on kicks attempted toward the Dawg Pound end zone.