BEREA: The only team in the NFL that has given up more passing touchdowns than the Browns fired its defensive coordinator 11 days ago.



After finishing eighth in the league in pass defense in 2014, the Browns have slipped to 26th with 268.5 passing yards allowed per game.



The secondary’s highest draft selection in the past two years, cornerback Justin Gilbert, has played just 31 snaps on defense and might not be included in the post-bye-week youth movement.



Of their top four defensive backs, only 32-year-old cornerback Tramon Williams has started all 10 games. The three others, all Pro Bowlers, have missed a total of 10 games because of injuries. The most highly regarded of the group, cornerback Joe Haden, has been sidelined for five games with two concussions and a broken finger and didn’t perform well before he was hurt.



The ongoing issues prompted Browns coach Mike Pettine to say last week, “If you look back to the preseason and going into this year, the two groups we thought were going to be anchors for us were the offensive line and the secondary, and both have underperformed for a variety of reasons up to this point.”



Pettine, defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil and secondary coach Jeff Hafley had much to discuss during an extended break thanks to Sunday’s bye. Going into Monday night’s home game against Baltimore, the Browns (2-8) know their pass defense must improve, even though two of their remaining foes, the Ravens (3-7) and 49ers, have lost their starting quarterbacks for the rest of the season.



Strong safety Donte Whitner returned to practice last week from a concussion suffered against the Arizona Cardinals. Free safety Tashaun Gipson has played two consecutive games after missing three with an ankle injury. Haden remains in the league’s concussion protocol.



So it’s possible that the Browns defensive backs who have been pressed into service by the rash of injuries, players like Pierre Desir, Charles Gaines, Johnson Bademosi and Jordan Poyer, may not have to carry as big a load the rest of the way.



Pettine discussed the effect of Haden’s injuries on the secondary last week. The Browns have allowed 300 passing yards in four games, with the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger throwing for a season-high 379 on Nov. 15 despite a knee injury. The Cardinals’ Carson Palmer’s 374 yards was his second most of 2015.



“I know it’s been a frustrating year for Joe, and that’s had a ripple effect,” Pettine said. “You look at a guy like Pierre who is forced now to be your [No. 2 corner], it essentially pushes Tramon to the No. 1 corner, pushed Pierre or even we had Gaines out there, Bademosi to the No. 2. That’s not what their role was intended to be, but when they get pushed up and they’re out there in those roles probably sooner than they should be, that’s the effect that it has.



“I don’t want to lay all of our defensive struggles on not having Joe Haden, but that’s certainly a part of it.”



Hafley said the impact of playing without Haden has been “obvious.”



“You have one of the best corners in the National Football League who means a lot to that group, and he has been hurt a lot,” Hafley said last week.



Hafley said on-field communication has suffered because of the lack of continuity.



“[If] I look at you a certain way after we have played together for so many games, you know what I am going to do,” Hafley said. “If a guy motions and we have to check to a coverage and it is loud, there is verbal and nonverbal communication. Donte may look at Joe, and they know exactly what to do.”



Hafley blamed Haden’s early struggles on the fact that he missed much of the preseason with a strained hamstring. He sat out the final two preseason games in 2014 with foot soreness.



“At the corner position, guys need to get in a groove. Guys need to play and they need to practice,” Hafley said of Haden. “The same thing happened to him last year. He didn’t play in the preseason. He started off a little slow, and then he caught fire. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to have the continuity of playing and practicing to catch fire yet. Not making an excuse for him, but I think that is what we need.”



Marla Ridenour can be reached at mridenour@thebeaconjournal.com. Read her blog at www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.