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BEREA, Ohio (AP) — The defense was expected to be the Browns' strength this season, their backbone.
So far, it's been busted.
Cleveland enters this Sunday's game at Tennessee with the No. 30 overall defense — 29th in yards rushing and 27th in yards passing — with only Atlanta and winless Jacksonville ranked below the Browns, who spent their bye week trying to patch holes in a leaky line and surprisingly suspect secondary.
Starting with an atrocious first half in the season opener at Pittsburgh, the Browns have had issues with poor tackling, over pursuit, blown coverages, sideline communication and top players — high draft picks like linebacker Barkevious Mingo or Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden — not living up to reputations or playing to their potential. It's been one thing or another.
The offense was supposed to struggle early on with the defense holding things together, but the opposite has been true.
"That was the good thing about the bye week," linebacker Jabaal Sheard said. "We had a chance to fix all those plays we did miss."
The statistics are ugly. The Browns are allowing 153.7 yards rushing and giving up an NFL-high 7.31 yards per play on first down. It's not like they've been much better or second and third down either. Opposing teams have been putting long scoring drives together, including several over 80 yards.
Linebacker Karlos Dansby, in his 11th season, believes all the problems can be easily fixed.
"It comes down to technique," said Dansby, who signed as a free agent in March and has been one of the few Cleveland defenders playing well. "If you don't play sound technique, you're going to get beat. You've got to be able to come together as a unit, and if one guy is out of his gap, then another guy should be there to cover for him.
"But if you're expecting a guy to be there and he's not there, you'll have a breakdown in a play."
That's happened far too often through three games.
Some of the Browns have been guilty of trying to do too much and gotten themselves caught out of position. There have been times when Cleveland's failure to stay true to defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil's scheme has resulted in big gains. There's a fine line between being aggressive and overaggressive.
Sheard believes he and his teammates need to understand their assignments and perform them.
No more. No less.
"Guys got to get more in tune with their playbook," he said. "We have to count on one and other. Everybody is trying to make a play, but you have to let other guys make plays and let your play come to you. You've got to just do your job. We got 11 dudes out there getting paid to do their job, so you've got to understand that and let guys make their plays."
O'Neil used last week's break to address the Browns' defensive woes. Coaches love to say "the film doesn't lie," and the Browns had to endure watching replays of their many misses this season.
"It was good for the coaches to see it. It was good for the players to see it," O'Neil said. "I think that went a long way in everybody's minds."
In Dansby's mind, the Browns' defense can be dominant.
"It's early, man," he said. "We're ironing out some wrinkles and we should have some success coming up."
NOTES: Suspended WR Josh Gordon has been at the team's facility while serving his 10-game ban for violating the league's new substance-abuse policy. Gordon is allowed to attend team meetings but he lifts alone and his interactions with teammates has been limited. "He's kind of on the opposite schedule of everybody else, but he has been here," coach Mike Pettine said. ... Pettine said RB Ben Tate is "on course to play" on Sunday against Tennessee after missing two games with a sprained knee. ... Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said backup QB Johnny Manziel may still be part of the game plan. "Nothing is off the table," he said. ... The Browns have lost seven straight road games, are 3-21 the past three years on the road and 33-89 since 1999.
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