By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: The last thing Browns coach Rob Chudzinski needs is a divided locker room, so when he read quotes from strong safety T.J. Ward directing blame at the offense for committing four turnovers Sunday in a 27-11 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers that virtually dashed the organization’s playoff hopes, Chudzinski was compelled to address the entire team about the subject.
“I talked to the team about the importance of us sticking together,” Chudzinski said Monday afternoon during a news conference. “This is the time when those frustrations come out, when you don’t have as much success in a game that you want to have. We have a lot of football left to play this season. It’s a team sport, and we need to stick together in that way.
“I saw what [Ward] said. It was in a context of being frustrated about losing, which I understand. Guys who aren’t frustrated or like losing, we don’t want here anyhow. I think that what T.J. said was in frustration. I know as he came in today, he’s looking at his own performance, and there’s a lot of things that we all can do better. That’s the approach it’s been with the team.”
Defensive captain and inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson believes Ward got caught up in the heat of the moment when he made the comments.
“T.J., he was frustrated with the game,” Jackson said. “I understood his frustration. Everybody was disappointed. We put a lot into these last two weeks and to come up short it affects us all, but he’s got to do a better job of controlling those emotions, and this is the time where we don’t need any division amongst any of us.
“I’m sure he regrets it. We haven’t spoken personally, but he was speaking out of frustration. T.J. is a team guy. He wants everyone to do well, and we’ve struggled in certain areas. And we understand that in order to win, in order to be successful as a team, we can’t, like he mentioned, turn the ball over, and we have to do better on the defensive side of the ball. But at the end of the day, we win as a team, and we all lose as a team. And that’s what’s most important, and I’m sure T.J. understands that.”
Neither Jackson nor outside linebacker Paul Kruger plan to speak to Ward about the comments. Jackson added that Chudzinski has done a great job of handling the situation.
Kruger does not consider it a problem.
“Is there division among the team?” Kruger said. “Not at all. We’re all brothers. We’re all here working hard together every day. We’re good teammates, and we’re loyal to each other. Do we want turnovers and things like that to happen? Obviously not. I don’t think there’s division. Those turnovers obviously hurt us, and they’re not helping us in any way, so it’s not something we can dwell on. It just doesn’t do us any good.”
Issues with sacks
The Browns have surrendered nine sacks in the past two games but haven’t had any of their own.
They gave up four sacks Nov. 17 in a 41-20 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals and five Sunday against the Steelers, including cornerback William Gay’s hit that knocked quarterback Jason Campbell out of the game with a concussion in the third quarter. The Browns have allowed 39 sacks this season, second-most in the NFL behind the Miami Dolphins’ 44. They’re on pace to finish the season with 56 sacks allowed, 20 more than last season.
“As I look at the season, I think we’ve made strides in the protection area,” Chudzinski said. “There were some physical breakdowns and a few identification breakdowns [against the Steelers] that we have to get corrected. We have to protect our quarterback and have to keep our quarterbacks upright and healthy.”
After the game, left guard John Greco suggested Campbell should’ve gotten rid of the ball quicker when he realized Gay was going to blitz on his blindside. Without being blocked, Gay sprinted to Campbell, whacked him in the facemask with his left hand and forced a fumble that set up a touchdown.
“We had an identification issue there and miscommunication,” Chudzinski said. “So that’s something we need to get fixed.”
The defense failed to register a sack against the Bengals and Steelers and slipped to 14th in the league with 31 sacks. The Browns are on pace to finish with 45 sacks, eight more than they had last season.
“We had some one-on-one opportunities, and when we get those opportunities with our four-man rush, we have to generate pressure and beat the guys across from us,” Chudzinski said. “We’re pressuring and blitzing and when we are, we’re getting chances to get guys. We had some chances to get [Steelers quarterback Ben] Roethlisberger down and weren’t able to do that.”
During a postgame show Sunday on WEWS (Channel 5), former Browns wide receiver Reggie Rucker and former Browns coach Sam Rutigliano said they thought receiver Josh Gordon should not have been in the game padding his stats during garbage time against the Steelers.
Gordon tied Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome’s single-game franchise record for catches with 14 and broke Newsome’s previous single-game team record for receiving yards with 237. Gordon caught seven passes for 158 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter with the outcome basically sealed.
“Production is production at the end of the day,” Chudzinski said when asked about the opinion that Gordon should’ve been out of the game. “He was able to get those yards in an NFL game. He was out there. I thought he played one of his better games in terms of he’s just getting better and better as a route runner and really making plays.”
Chudzinski said the Browns will wait and see how inside linebacker Tank Carder (sprained shoulder) and cornerback Buster Skrine (bruised ribs) progress this week before determining their status for Sunday. … Jackson said he did not speak to reporters after the game Sunday because he “needed medical attention from the training staff,” not because he couldn’t bear to talk about the result of the game. … According to ProFootballFocus.com, the Browns missed 11 tackles against the Steelers, including four by free safety Tashaun Gipson.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.