DETROIT, Michigan – You could feel it coming Sunday at Ford Field when the Browns faced Buffalo.
Confession time: I hate writing stories like this. But if you follow the Browns, I bet you felt it, too.
Cleveland had been playing well. Jacoby Brissett was hot. The Browns should have had at least another TD. Tight ends Harrison Bryant and Pharaoh Brown dropped TD passes on the same drive. The Browns settled for a field goal.
That was when the uneasy feeling began.
The Browns had a 10-6 lead with 1:54 left in the first half. Buffalo had the ball on its own 22-yard line.
I said to the guy sitting next to me, “Watch Buffalo score and take the lead at the half.”
I have zero faith in the Browns defense when it matters and have felt that way for months. As Browns fans know, the Bills marched 78 yards on 11 plays … touchdown.
STATES: OHIO PRE-LAUNCH BONUS
+ LAUNCH PROMO
Making it even worse, the Browns left the NFL’s leading receiver Stefon Diggs wide open in the end zone for a 5-yard TD pass.
At that point, the uneasy feeling turned into a sense of doom. Buffalo got the ball to start the second half, producing a field goal. On their next possession, the Bills went 73 yards on four plays for a TD.
Just like that, Buffalo had a 22-10 lead in the middle of the third quarter.
Beginning with the late first-half drive, Buffalo scored on its next seven possessions. Buffalo would score whatever was needed to win.
The final score was Buffalo 31-23. The Browns have now lost six of their last seven games.
This is beyond embarrassing.
THE JOE WOODS QUESTION
The defensive problems aren’t all the fault of defensive coordinator Joe Woods.
But something is wrong with the coaching. As I wrote this weekend, the Browns defense this season is statistically worse than 2020. That was the first season of Woods, when he had a crazy-quilt of players quickly assembled to plug some holes. The talent on this defense is superior to that group.
Why replace Woods with seven games left?
It’s much like when the Browns fired offensive coordinator Todd Haley and head coach Hue Jackson in the middle of the 2018 season. Rookie QB Baker Mayfield and the offense were struggling.
By replacing Haley, the Browns were able to see if there were any schematic problems on offense. Gregg Williams replaced Jackson and brought some discipline and organization to the head coaching job.
Freddie Kitchens called all the plays on offense, and it made a significant improvement. The team went from 2-5-1 before the change to 5-3 after.
I’m all for coach Kevin Stefanski returning next season. But is there any reason to believe Woods will be back in 2023? The Browns came into the afternoon allowing 26.4 points, that’s 31st in the NFL. Points allowed is the bottom line in the NFL.
WHO TO TAKE OVER?
The only member of the Browns defensive staff who has been a defensive coordinator in the NFL is Jason Tarver. The current Cleveland linebackers coach, Tarver had that job with Oakland from 2012-14.
I have no idea if Tarver would be a good choice. Perhaps there is a younger coach on the staff who deserves a shot at the job.
The bigger point is the Browns need a fresh approach to the defense. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe the entire defense needs a talent overhaul. Or maybe there are some flaws in the coaching.
A change will help answer some of those questions.
Meanwhile, Jacoby Brissett tried to carry the team on his back. He was 28 of 41 passing for 324 yards and three TD passes. Buffalo shut down Nick Chubb (19 yards in 14 carries) and the running game.
Yes, it would have been nice for the Browns to score more. But you knew it was coming. You knew the Browns wouldn’t stop the Bills – and they didn’t.
The Browns are now 3-7. They have allowed at least 30 points in five of 10 games this season. Since the bye week, they have coughed up 70 points to Miami and Buffalo.
The numbers scream for a change. The record says there is nothing to lose in this season that is already lost. Now, what will the Browns do?
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