Check out six Browns special teams misadventures that drove Hue Jackson to Cincinnati. Read a fascinating observation from Amos Jones about how the reshaped coaching staff is doing business.

BEREA The tainted threads that wove an 0-16 season often spooled from special teams.

Fans grew sarcastic. A punt would be returned into decent field position. "Where's the flag?" There would be the yellow hankie, helping to wipe out hope.

Things have come around under interim Head Coach Gregg Williams, whose first big job in the NFL was special teams coach of the Houston Oilers.

Better late than never. Special teams helped wreck the first part of 2018. Six examples:

1, On a punt with 1:29 left in regulation against Pittsburgh, Jabrill Peppers might have gone a long way through a gaping hole. He stunned the stadium with a fair catch. The Browns took over on their own 29 and didn't get far enough to stay out of overtime.

With 13 seconds left in OT, they couldn't execute a 43-yard field goal. Tie.

2, Zane Gonzalez missed a field goal that would have extended a fourth-quarter lead at New Orleans to 15-3. With 1:16 left, Gonzalez missed an extra point that would have provided a 19-18 lead. Drew Brees used the deflating miss to his advantage.

3, After the defense's second straight three-and-out at Oakland, Baker Mayfield was poised to start a drive in decent field position after a punt rolled dead. Coverage man Briean Boddy-Calhoun was caught holding. Gareon Conley soon gave the Raiders a pick-six.

The Browns led 31-28 in the fourth quarter when they punted. Dwayne Harris' 49-yard return set up a short TD drive.

4, Early on against the Chargers, Britton Colquitt's 54-yard punt was spoiled by Desmond King's 32-yard return.

Trailing 7-0, the defense made a stop and got a nice punt return from Peppers. It was erased by a holding call on Damion Ratley. The game got away.

5, Late in overtime at Tampa Bay, the defense delivered a three and out. Peppers was approaching his own 40-yard line on a punt return when he fumbled. Instead of emerging with no worse than a tie, the Browns lost on Chandler Cantanzaro's long field goal.

6, Despite a holding penalty on Orson Charles on the opening kickoff return at Pittsburgh, the Browns drove to a 3-0 lead. Despite an illegal block by Dontrell Hilliard that erased good field position off a punt return, they pulled ahead 6-0.

Greg Joseph's missed 41-yard field goal field goal prevented a 9-0 lead. The Browns had a chance to close to within 16-13 in the third quarter when Joseph missed an extra point.

There was time left to cut into a 26-12 deficit when a holding call on Hilliard during a punt return backed up Mayfield to his own 8.

Hue Jackson got fired after the game with the Browns at 2-5-1. They since have gone 4-2, partly because special teams stopped getting in the way.

They are finishing the year with two coordinators who spent recent years working for Bruce Arians in Arizona. The popular one is Freddie Kitchens  on offense. The other one is Amos Jones, who was Arians' special teams coordinator from 2013-17.

Chris Tabor had been Cleveland's special teams guy under head coaches Pat Shurmur, Rob Chudzinski, Mike Pettine and Jackson. Tabor's units suffered amid constant roster and coaching turnover. The Bears didn't hold it against Tabor, hiring him this year.

Jones became the Browns' special teams coordinator on Jan. 24. By November, he wasn't very popular. With his unit and the team coming around, it is becoming clearer why Arians liked him.

On Friday, Jones offered his overview on what took so long to whip Cleveland's special teams into decent shape.

"The roster changed on us," he said. "I do not think we've had the same punt-team guys we started with other than (long snapper) Charley (Hughlett), Peppers and Britton.

"I do not know if there is a guy that even went to training camp with us other than maybe Hilliard. Guys are now having to step in roles. That was a maturation we had to go through.

"Then, when you have the coaching change, I think the players quickly bought in. They knew they had a pretty good coaching staff."

Linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong is a prime example of changing faces. In October, he was playing for the Giants, who cut him. His first game after getting claimed by General Manager John Dorsey was the second Pittsburgh game (Jackson's last). Armstrong hasn't played a down for on defense,but has been fully engaged on special teams.

D'Juan Hines is another example. Eight days after Dorsey signed him off the Chargers' practice squad, he gave the Browns 22 special teams plays at Oakland. He enters Sunday's game against the Bengals with 204 plays, all on special teams.

In Williams' first game as interim pilot (Chiefs), the Browns had only four penalties, none on special teams. In the last two home games (Falcons, Panthers), Colquitt has punted seven times, and opponents have a grand total of 11 return yards. Placekicker Joseph has stabilized. Peppers seems dangerous as a return man.

"We are attention-to-detail kind of guys," Jones said. "Freddie is. Gregg is. I try to be. We were able to show our guys continuity and consistency.

"I credit the players and obviously our coaching staff. Gregg does a good job of having meetings with Freddie and me in terms of how we are going to see the game together. That has been a big help.

"Hopefully, we finish strong. The goal is to get this thing to 8-7-1 and let the chips fall.”

 

Reach Steve at 330-580-8347 or steve.doerschuk@cantonrep.com

On Twitter: @sdoerschukREP