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Defensive line fails to dominate against depleted Titans line, contributes to dysfunction in ugly defeat

CLEVELAND — The season opener against Tennessee was supposed to be a showcase for Cleveland’s defensive line.

The Browns’ front four, which includes three Pro Bowlers, was set to face a Titans offensive line that was missing a pair of starters — left tackle Taylor Lewan was suspended and right guard Kevin Pamphile was on the inactive list with a knee injury.

Not only did the defensive line not dominate as expected, the quartet played a major role in the Browns’ dysfunctional first half en route to a 43-13 defeat Sunday afternoon.

“We couldn’t stop the momentum,” defensive end Myles Garrett said. ” The lack of discipline we had coupled by (Tennessee) gaining traction … we just beat ourselves. You learn more from a loss than you do from a win. So we have to look at the film, learn what we need to correct — and there’s a lot to correct — make those adjustments and focus on the next game.”

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Garrett was selected No. 1 overall by the Browns in the 2017 NFL Draft and was a Pro Bowl selection last season, as was defensive end Olivier Vernon, who was obtained during an offseason trade with the N.Y. Giants.

The defensive tackles are Larry Ogunjobi, who was selected in the third round of the 2017 draft by the Browns, and Sheldon Richardson, a 2014 Pro Bowl selection the Browns signed as a free agent during the offseason.

The defensive linemen did show flashes of brilliance — Garrett finished with five tackles and a pair of sacks; Ogunjobi had three tackles and a sack; and Richardson had four tackles and a pass defense — but they couldn’t maintain it for a stretch and were instrumental in allowing Tennessee’s first touchdown drive.

Trailing 6-3, the Titans put together an 11-play, 87-yard drive that was capped by Derrick Henry’s 1-yard dive into the end zone.

A potential third-and-4 was turned into a first down early in the drive when Garrett was hit with a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty. A third-and-8 on Cleveland’s side of the field was converted when Richardson was called for roughing the passer (15 yards) and the Titans didn’t have to run a play on third-and-4 from the Cleveland 11-yard line when Richardson jumped into the neutral zone.

“(It’s) very (fixable),” Richardson said. “Small things we did — staying onsides, not getting the PI (pass interference), me not getting a roughing the passer. Things change and it is what it is. You’re used to being aggressive when quarterbacks hold onto the ball. They bait you into tackling them. I pushed (Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota) with two hands and they still threw the flag down.

“We just want (the officials) to make it a two-way street. If you’re going to let them do it, let our O-line do it, too. Guy got tackled on the (Titans’) screen play (that went for a touchdown) and they didn’t call that. But you can’t put it in the referees’ hands anyway.”

Titans 43, Browns 13: Another opening debacle, as Cleveland crushed in Freddie Kitchens’ coaching debut

The infractions were glaringly one-sided. Tennessee was called for six penalties totaling 54 yards while Cleveland was hit 18 times for a whopping 182 penalty yards.

“It was just kind of odd, to be honest,” Ogunjobi said. “I felt like the flags were just coming out. Sometimes I didn’t even know what the flags were for. We’ve just got to be disciplined … those are things you can control and clean up. I don’t think it’s time to panic or hit the panic button.”

While the penalties were an obvious problem, the defensive line didn’t put together the complete game it was hoping for when the fantasy lineup was constructed. Vernon, who declined to talk after the game, failed to register a stat in his Browns debut.

“We’ve gotta make sure we work together, the DBs and D-line,” Garrett said. “They give us enough time, we gotta get back there. We were going back and forth. They were locking up and we weren’t getting there, and we were getting there and (the Titans) were making short throws and were making plays off of that.

“We just have to get on the same page, and I know we will.”

Shaun Bennett is a sportswriter for the Chronicle-Telegram. Contact him at (440) 329-7137 or [email protected] Like him on Facebook and follow him @ShaunBennettct on Twitter.

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