A point of pride quickly turned into a source of frustration.
The Browns entered last week against the Bengals allowing a league-low 3.1 yards per rushing attempt. Cincinnati’s last-ranked run offense ripped off 152 yards and a 5.1 average.
“Our players are very tired of the butt chewing that I have given all week long on knockback,” defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said Friday on a conference call before the team left for Los Angeles. “I don’t think we knocked the line of scrimmage back the way we have all year long. That is a credit to Cincinnati. For whatever reason, there was some type of maybe a hesitation in our guys. That is the first time since I have been here, and I think everybody here understands that the next time that happens, they are going to be your all’s interns and not playing for me because we have to knock the line of scrimmage back.”
The Bengals game knocked the overall run defense from sixth to eighth in the NFL at 97.2 yards per game. The Browns fell to second in yards per attempt at 3.3, behind Denver with 3.2.
“There are no excuses. It is my fault first,” Williams said. “Evidently, I didn’t get the message across. I think the message was listened to this week.”
Outside linebacker Christian Kirksey said the problem wasn’t just at the line.
“A lot of times we were misaligned or ran out of our gaps,” he said. “That was just us not doing our job.”
Chargers running back Melvin Gordon will test the Browns to see if they’ve fixed the problems. Gordon ranks ninth with 698 rushing yards, with a 3.7 average and five touchdowns.
Middle linebacker Joe Schobert played with Gordon at Wisconsin and said he has elite acceleration and balance. Schobert said the performance against the Bengals left a scar.
“We were so surprised as a defense. We don’t want that to ever happen again,” he said. “It has been a huge motivational tool this week. GW is never going to let you live it down if it happens. He has been pressing us to be better this week and we are putting in the work.”
GONE TOO SOON
Sean Taylor is never far away from Williams’ thoughts, but the 10-year anniversary of his shooting death gave Williams occasion to recall one of his all-time favorites.
“It’s been a tough week,” Williams said. “I miss him — a lot. He is the best player I ever coached in my life, and I’ve already got some Hall of Fame players. By far he was the best player and I love him like a son.”
Taylor was Washington’s safety when he was killed. Williams was the defensive coordinator.
“When he passed I mentioned, and I believe in this with all my heart, that I saw him that morning when I was the first one they called and I cried like a little baby,” Williams said. “He was there up in the corner of my room telling me that, ‘Coach, get on to the next play. I’ll always have your back.’
“So our players at that time went out and spent a ton of money on this beautiful crystal statue that is lighted and sets in my office wherever I’m at behind me, because he always has my back. I speak to him often but I wish I had a chance to coach him one more time.”
THE LOW STRIKE
Williams said free safety Jabrill Peppers tried to do the right thing on his hit of Bengals receiver Josh Malone that drew an unnecessary roughness penalty and $24,309 fine but must adjust moving forward.
“We approach it by now even taking the what-if out of the people who make that decision and get lower. Just get lower,” Williams said. “But don’t be afraid of making the play that the game of football is about.”
Peppers was visibly upset about the fine Thursday, and Williams understands.
“I’m very proud of Jabrill of paying attention to what we coach on strike zone,” he said. “And he’s doing everything he can just like Major League Baseball to make sure it’s from the tip of the shoulders to the top of the knees. He’s leading with his shoulder, he’s not even leading with his helmet.”
A GRAND GOAL
Running back Isaiah Crowell hasn’t had the season he envisioned but believes a milestone remains in reach. He has 554 yards with five games left and is aiming to hit 1,000 yards.
“Yeah, it’s still there. I’m definitely looking at it,” he said. “I’m just trying to get the ball in my hands as much as possible and take advantage of the opportunity as much as possible.”
Crowell set a career high last year with 952 yards. He seemed poised for a huge follow-up year but hasn’t gotten the desired opportunities (145) or had the imagined success (3.8 per carry, two touchdowns).
He and the running game have found a rhythm in two of the last three games. He rushed for 90 yards, a 5.6 average and a touchdown in Detroit and for 95 yards and a 5.9 average last week in Cincinnati.
“If you stick with it, soon things will get better,” he said. “I don’t feel like it’s nothing really different going on.”
The Chargers have the NFL’s worst rushing defense, allowing 133.5 yards a game.
“It’s a very big opportunity, and I’m looking forward to it,” Crowell said.
After Peppers dropped one interception and defensive back Briean Boddy-Calhoun two last week, Williams said he put them on the injury report with “bruised and broken hands.”
** Receiver Sammie Coates (knee/ankle) was ruled out. Everyone else is expected to play.
** For the Chargers, receiver Mike Williams (knee) was ruled out. Cornerback Casey Hayward (calf/personal), defensive tackle Corey Liuget (toe) and kicker Nick Novak (back) were listed as questionable.
** Receiver Bryce Treggs was fined $12,154 by the league for taunting against the Bengals.