BEREA: The Browns’ defense gave an extra inch last week. It only felt like the Houston Texans ran for a mile.
With that miserable performance behind them, the Browns’ run defense will again be tested Sunday by the St. Louis Rams and tailback Steven Jackson. It’s fair to say they won’t deploy the same scheme they tried against the Texans.
In order to combat the Texans’ unique zone-blocking schemes, Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron backed his linemen off the line of scrimmage slightly in order to give them more time to analyze the blocks. It sounded good in theory, but the Texans gashed the Browns for a season-worst 261 rushing yards. While some of the Browns’ defensive statistics have looked impressive, Jauron hasn’t been happy with the run defense most of the season.
“We’re giving up too much in the run game,” he said Thursday. “It’s never total yards, it’s yards per carry. Last week it got out of hand.”
The Texans averaged 6.5 yards per carry last week, and the Browns are allowing 4.4 yards per carry this season. Jauron said anything under 3.8 is acceptable. There are only six defenses in the league right now allowing 3.8 yards per carry or less.
Jauron conceded that part of last week’s problems might have been that rookie linemen Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard had never faced an offense that zone-blocks as much as the Texans do. He also said Taylor’s play has leveled off the last couple of weeks, but the Browns will need Taylor and the rest of the defense to be at their best against Jackson.
Jackson’s career has been hampered by injuries, but he started all 16 games last year and has managed to stay healthy this season to serve as the lone bright spot on an anemic Rams offense.
“He’s a very powerful back,” Jauron said. “He’s probably as big and strong as anybody that we’ve seen to this point. He’s got good breakaway speed and when he gets to the secondary, he can go. He can give you issues.”
Jackson’s 579 yards rank 12th in the league, but he has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of his last two games and is averaging 5.1 yards per carry this season. That typically means trouble for the Browns, who are 0-4 when a running back rushes for more than 100 yards against them this season and 1-5 when one goes over 90.
“I don’t know too many other teams that are going to survive if they give up 90-plus yards rushing [to one running back],” Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “That’s Football 101 in terms of defense. You always want to keep a guy under 100 yards.”
The Browns’ offense has been ravaged by injuries, but now they’re starting to trickle over to the defense, too.
Usama Young hasn’t practiced all week because of a hip injury and T.J. Ward’s right foot remains in a cast, likely leaving the Browns without two key safeties.
“I don’t want to rule him out yet,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said of Ward, “but there’s a very good chance that he won’t play.”
Young replaced Ward at strong safety last week and struggled, missing a key tackle on the Texans’ first touchdown — a 27-yard run by Ben Tate.
If Young and Ward are unavailable, rookie seventh-round pick Eric Hagg would start alongside Mike Adams. Hagg hurt his knee during training camp and missed more than two months following surgery to repair torn cartilage.
The Browns briefly considered ending Hagg’s season by placing him on injured reserve following surgery, but Shurmur said the rookie showed enough in camp to keep him around.
Hagg was drafted in the seventh round out of Nebraska, where he developed the reputation as a ball hawk. That quickly translated to the Browns. Shurmur said the night before Hagg was injured, the coaches were praising his work.
“He got his hands on a lot of balls in training camp when we were competing against one another,” Shurmur said. “That’s really an important skill for a safety and we’re hoping that he’ll do it Sunday.”
Hagg was concerned after the injury he would be cut, since he never even played in a preseason game for the Browns, but now believes he can play in the NFL. He just might get his chance this week to show it.
“Whenever you get your opportunity, you’ve got to make the best of it,” he said. “We’ll see this week what happens. I’m praying and studying and working hard to see if I can play.”
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