BEREA: Browns offensive coordinator Brad Childress rarely comments on the team’s defense, but his eyes have been opened by its tenacious attitude the past couple of weeks.
“They’re like a bunch of fire ants,” Childress said Thursday. “They take the ball off people, and people aren’t readily wanting to have the ball taken off them. That’s what I see. I see lots of guys in on the pile, and it’s like a feeding frenzy, which is the way you want [it]. You want all 11 guys to show up in the screen.”
The defense showed up in a big way Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The Browns became the first NFL team since 2001 to get eight takeaways in their 20-14 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“Our guys did a great job,” defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said. “I thought they played hard and they tackled well, knocked the ball out and stripped the ball a number of times. It was a rare occasion to get eight.”
Now the defense is hoping to feast again when the Browns (3-8) visit the Oakland Raiders (3-8) on Sunday.
“We’ve been very aggressive,” defensive end Frostee Rucker said. “Coach Jauron has been calling great games, putting guys in position to make plays and everyone is just playing their role. We’re playing as a group, one unit, and we’re playing on fire.”
The week before they compiled eight takeaways, the Browns had a season-high seven sacks in a 23-20 overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys. It was the first time all season starting defensive tackles Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin were healthy enough to be in the lineup together. The Browns have allowed fewer than 65 rushing yards in back-to-back weeks for the first time since 1989, and their league ranking against the run has improved from 27th to 19th in that span.
“Those are two dominant dudes,” cornerback Joe Haden said of Taylor and Rubin.
Haden’s return from an injured oblique muscle also gave the defense a boost against the Steelers. He missed four games this season because of a suspension and one because of the injured oblique, which he said he suffered while scooping up a fumble in practice. This season, the Browns are 0-5 without Haden and 3-3 with him.
“I would say we’re one of the top five defenses, for sure,” Haden said. “We have people who can play their position, are really good at it and everybody’s established now and they understand what’s going on. Our defense, we have playmakers that can make plays at every level. And when we’re all healthy and everybody’s doing their thing, we’re up there with the best.”
As for Childress’ fire ants description, Rucker thinks it’s appropriate.
“We’re a scrappy group,” Rucker said. “Everyone wants to make a play and they want to make a play the right way. The right way means being in the right position and being very coachable, and that’s what this group is. They’ve got a lot of good guys here that are smart and good ballplayers. I’m glad I’m a part of it.”
As rookie special teamer Tank Carder spoke to reporters Wednesday and apologized for using an anti-gay slur on Twitter last week, rookie defensive tackle Billy Winn was nearby mocking the situation by laughing and making comments. Winn wasn’t the only young player who poked fun at Carder for the predicament in which he found himself, but Winn was by far the most vocal.
Winn conceded a member of the team’s media relations department reprimanded him for his behavior. On Thursday, he was asked if he crossed the line.
“It’s all how you take it,” Winn said. “It was taken out of context. If there were gay jokes made, it wasn’t coming from me. I didn’t say anything about anybody being gay or using the word because he was giving an interview on it at all. It was totally taken out of context.
“It’s a very serious issue. [Carder is] deeply sorry for it. I’m deeply sorry for being myself around him in the locker room.”
Winn often jokes around in the locker room and interjects himself into teammates’ interviews. However, he understands why some believe he should have backed off as Carder spoke.
“It may have been inappropriate, but that’s just my personality,” Winn said. “It’s after practice in the locker room with the boys. That’s all it is. I understand it’s a very serious issue, and it’s something that wasn’t taken very lightly. I didn’t mean anything by it.”
Heavy rain is expected to hit the Bay Area on and off until Sunday afternoon, and the Browns are heading right into a potential downpour as they visit O.co. Coliseum.
“Yeah, what are they calling it?” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. “Pineapple Express? I guess there’s a fancy name for the storm. … I think it started in the Hawaiian Islands. I’m not a meteorologist. I’m going to handle that in the offseason. The reports are that it’s supposed to rain throughout the week, so we’ll prepare for it. Our guys do a pretty good job of holding onto the football. The challenge will be the same for both teams, and then we’ll just see what the field conditions are like.”
Shurmur and Childress said the forecast won’t affect their game plan, though the play calling could be altered depending on the weather.
“You really factor in trying to beat the defense that you think you’re going to see,” Childress said. “I don’t think they’ve got a typhoon defense or something like that they’re going to play in certain situations. While our special teams coach may have a typhoon return, I don’t think we have a typhoon offense.”
If there’s one player paying close attention to the weather, it’s Browns kicker Phil Dawson. Footing could be the most important issue for him, so he’ll bring several cleats.
“It’s going to be a pretty extreme challenge,” Dawson said. “That’s a baseball field, so it doesn’t have a crown. So any rain it does take on, it’s just going to sit there and not drain like other fields would. So it’s going to be a factor. We’ll just show up Sunday and figure it out.”
Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden (concussion) fully participated in practice Thursday, according to the injury report. Shurmur said Weeden “looked good” and indicated that he took all the first-team snaps in practice Wednesday, even though he was listed as limited.
Wide receiver/returner Josh Cribbs (shoulder/chest) and free safety Usama Young (concussion) did not practice.
Cornerback Dimitri Patterson (ankle), fullback Alex Smith (chest/ribs) and special-teams ace Ray Ventrone (calf), who practiced for the first time since Nov. 14, were limited.
“I feel good, good enough to play,” said Patterson, who’s missed the past six games with a high-ankle sprain and a torn ligament. “But I don’t know if I’m going to play. You’re going to have to ask Shurmur that.”
Shurmur said “it’s too early to tell” whether Patterson will play Sunday.
Blackout in the Bay
The Raiders announced the game will be not be televised in their market because not enough tickets were sold. The blackout will end a streak of 13 consecutive televised Raiders games.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.