'Guys not on the same page': Miscommunication on defense opens door to Browns defeat

Chris Easterling
Akron Beacon Journal

CLEVELAND − The Browns are, in some kind of different universe, sitting at 2-0 for the first time since 1993 with two convincing wins. Instead, in the actual universe, they're 1-1 and have had two consecutive games in which they wasted double-digit fourth-quarter leads.

They were fortunate enough to get bailed out by Cade York's 58-yard field goal against the Carolina Panthers in the season opener. They weren't so fortunate Sunday in their home opener against the New York Jets.

The Browns took a 30-17 lead with 1:55 remaining on Nick Chubb's 12-yard touchdown run, although York missed the point-after kick. The Jets, though, managed to score 14 points in 93 seconds to turn the 13-point deficit into a one-point victory.

Part of the reason? The same reason why the Panthers were able to come back a week earlier to take a 24-23 lead late in the game.

"Defense, we got to hold each other accountable," cornerback Greg Newsome II said. "That's two weeks in a row and that's not acceptable. That's not the brand of football we play. That's not what we talk about being the best defense in the NFL. We gotta be better."

The catalyst to allowing the Panthers to get back into the game was miscommunication on defense, specifically the secondary, on a couple of big pass plays. Most notably, there was a 75-yard Baker Mayfield-to-Robbie Anderson touchdown to pull the Panthers within 23-21 with just over six minutes remaining.

What happened on Sunday to open the door? A 66-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Corey Davis to pull the Jets within 30-24 with 1:22 remaining.

On the play, Davis ran right between cornerback Denzel Ward and linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, with safety Grant Delpit not coming over to help out over top. That made it an easy pitch-and-catch for the veteran quarterback and the former first-round draft pick.

New York Jets running back Michael Carter gets past Browns safety John Johnson III on a run during the second half, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022, in Cleveland.

"Obviously, guys not on the same page," coach Kevin Stefanski said. "It was very, very clear what we were doing. We talked about it on the sideline before everybody went out and talked to the entire defense about what they were about to do, which was try and throw it over our head. We can’t let that happen. We have a young football team and, unfortunately, that youth at times has shown up here, and we have to grow up real fast.”

That's not even coach-speak. That's reality.

The Browns will essentially have one real day of work before they have to return to the scene of Sunday's collapse to play a crucial early-season AFC North showdown on Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers. That's not a lot of time, but the defense doesn't have a lot of time to waste trying to fix the massive communication errors which has plagued it through two games.

"We’ve got a little 24-hour rule, at least for me," said defensive end Myles Garrett, who had one sack, one tackle for loss and two quarterback hurries Sunday. "After that, you just let it roll off your back like water. Those things hurt, it stings but you’ve got to use it as motivation for the next one. You don't want that taste in your mouth with an L like this one. But fortunately enough for us, we get to have a short week and go against a division rival. If we go and get them, this one will be a distant memory."

New York Jets quarterback Joe Flacco gets off a late fourth-quarter pass as Browns defensive end Myles Garrett is in pursuit Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022 in Cleveland.

The most shocking part comes from the fact the defense isn't unfamiliar with each other. The Browns came into the season with nine of 11 starters back from a year ago, including all four in the secondary.

A week ago, it was a breakdown between Newsome and Johnson that led to Anderson's touchdown. On Sunday, it was one between a Pro Bowler in Ward and a third-year safety in Delpit.

All of it, according to Johnson, comes down to communication. It's about not only communicating a certain coverage, but that communication being reciprocated across the secondary.

“We have to find a way to rep it at practice," Johnson said. "Literally put it on tape. That’s what we gotta do. We should all be ... if it’s a hand signal, we should all be making the signal. We should see all seven guys on the back end making the signal so there’s no way that you could say, ‘Oh, I didn’t get the call.’ It’s sending and receiving."

Contact Chris at

On Twitter: @ceasterlingABJ