By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: The Browns’ pass rush has been disappointing for most of Ray Horton’s first season as defensive coordinator, but it hit rock bottom Sunday in a 24-13 loss to the New York Jets.
Even more stunning than the offense running 20 plays in the red zone and scoring only one touchdown is this: For the first time this season, the defense failed to deliver a single quarterback hit.
Never mind a sack, the official statistics don’t credit Horton’s 3-4, multi-front, attack-style defense with one hit on Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith. No wonder he was able to throw scoring strikes of 6 and 5 yards, run for a 17-yard touchdown and avoid adding to his 25 turnovers (21 interceptions and four lost fumbles).
“We actually pressured quite a bit blitzing,” coach Rob Chudzinski said Monday. “We weren’t able to get pressure. We had a lot of one-on-ones we didn’t win. That was a key to the game — the line of scrimmage and our inability to get pressure on him. We did bat a few balls down, but we didn’t get enough pressure to make a difference.”
The defense has 77 quarterback hits this season. Its average per game dipped to 5.1 after it couldn’t get to Smith.
“I didn’t see it as an effort thing,” Chudzinski said. “I think they did a good job. It just came down to the one-on-one battles.”
But the pass rush falling short of expectations is not an isolated incident.
This past offseason, the Browns dedicated more than $94 million to signing outside linebackers Paul Kruger, Barkevious Mingo (the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft) and Quentin Groves and defensive ends Desmond Bryant and Armonty Bryant (a seventh-round pick in this year’s draft). That’s a lot of money for 39 sacks, only one more than the Browns had last season under former defensive coordinator Dick Jauron.
The Browns (4-11) have only one game left — Sunday at the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8) — to increase their sack total.
Mingo leads the group of newcomers with five sacks, but he has just two in the past 11 games. Kruger (4½), Desmond Bryant (3½, played only 12 games before undergoing a season-ending cardiac ablation to correct an irregular heartbeat), Armonty Bryant (2) and Groves (2, played only five games before landing on injured reserve with an ankle injury) haven’t been able to catch defensive end-turned-outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard, a holdover from the previous regime, for the team lead with 5½.
A learning curve was expected because Mingo converted from defensive end at Louisiana State University to outside linebacker in Horton’s system, but a top-10 pick is expected to produce more.
“Barkevious is going through a lot of things as a rookie making the transition to the NFL as well as making a position change and learning to play that position, the multiple things you have to do at that position that come up,” Chudzinski said. “So he’s working his way through that. I think the production will come up.”
The Browns could be in trouble for years to come if their investments in Mingo and other key pass rushers don’t start paying off.
Chudzinski commented on the status of wide receiver Davone Bess for the first time since the Browns put his season to an end Saturday by placing him on the reserve/non-football illness list.
“I have reached out to him,” Chudzinski said. “With Davone, he’s going through a family, personal matter, personal issue. We’re going to give him all the support we can through this. Beyond that, I’m not going to go into any detail. That’s up to Davone to talk about.”
Chudzinski weighed in on quarterback Jason Campbell conceding after the loss to the Jets that he pressed too much once the Browns squandered a 10-0 lead late in the first half. He threw both of his interceptions in the second half and finished with a horrific passer rating of 37.3.
“I think pressing is good to some degree,” Chudzinski said. “It means guys want to do well and are doing everything they can, and I think that sometimes is an issue when guys try to do more than their job or try to do too much. You have to, at that position, let the game come to you, and I think when Jason has been in his best rhythm and playing at his best, he’s doing that.”
Left guard Jason Pinkston was diagnosed with a concussion Monday, Chudzinski said. Pinkston started the past two games in place of John Greco (sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee). If Greco can’t return for the season finale and Pinkston isn’t medically cleared in time, rookie Garrett Gilkey will start. He rotated with Pinkston Sunday and played 24-of-65 snaps (37 percent). … Nose tackle Phil Taylor also suffered a concussion Sunday, and tight end Jordan Cameron remains in the concussion protocol after suffering one Dec. 15, Chudzinski said. … Defensive backs coach Louie Cioffi will have surgery this week to repair a bone in his right leg after being injured on the sideline Sunday, Chudzinski said. … Cornerback Joe Haden (hip pointer) aggravated his injury against the Jets. “We’ll see how it is in the next couple of days to move forward on that,” Chudzinski said. … Chudzinski reiterated that defensive end John Hughes suffered a sprained knee Sunday, but he offered no new information. … Chudzinski pointed to personnel and substitution issues as reasons for burning timeouts Sunday. “It’s not acceptable,” he said. “It’s something we’ll fix.” … The team did not meet Monday, a Browns spokesman said. The players will practice Tuesday, which is normally an off day, so they can have Wednesday off for Christmas.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com.