Browns DC Joe Woods takes criticism, including from Myles Garrett, in stride, makes changes, looks to rebound
BEREA — The flight back from Boston felt longer than usual to Joe Woods, and he didn't sleep well Sunday night.
A 45-7 loss to the New England Patriots left the Browns defensive coordinator disappointed and perplexed.
“When you play in a game like that and give up so many points, you’re just wondering what happened,” Woods said Thursday. “I don’t want it to happen again, but we’ve definitely made some adjustments and talked about things we can do better.”
Woods has been a magnet for criticism this week — and not just from outsiders.
In a postgame news conference at Gillette Stadium, All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett said a lack of in-game adjustments doomed the Browns (5-5) against the Patriots (6-4).
“We never had a chance, just because we didn't make any adjustments on the sideline or when we had time to,” Garrett said.
Woods is well aware of the comments, but he said he hadn't addressed them with Garrett.
“I have a great relationship with Myles,” Woods said. “He has the respect of all the players on defense. There’s nothing going on within the building or anything of that nature. I talked to him today, so everything’s good. It’s just frustrating losing the way we did.”
Does Woods wish Garrett would have kept his complaint behind closed doors?
“That stuff doesn’t really bother me,” Woods said. “If there’s anything that’s on your mind and you want to come talk to me, the guys know I’m there.
“I talked to Myles coming off the field at halftime, and we were walking in together and he’s like, ‘What do you think?’ So we had a conversation going in. … Again, if any player has questions, just come see me.”
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As for Garrett claiming no adjustments were made, Woods doesn't completely agree. Woods explained he ordered changes with the Browns trailing 24-7 at halftime.
“At halftime, we didn’t have as much time as we normally have because we had to talk about so many things,” Woods said. “We tried to fix it, but there were things I said I wanted to do in the second half, and on the first series [of the third quarter, the Patriots] went three-and-out. So, you know, when you lose that way, everyone is trying to figure out what happened as coaches, as players, and we just got to make sure we work together, communicate and get things fixed.”
The Patriots converted their first six third downs of the game. Woods pointed out those plays occurred on third-and-8, third-and-6, third-and-13, third-and-1, third-and-5 and third-and-9.
“So we're getting them into manageable situations,” he said. “We were just not able to get off the field.”
In the second half, the Browns only got the Patriots to third down twice. The Patriots finished 7-of-9 (77.8%) on third down. Rookie quarterback Mac Jones passed for all but one of the Patriots' third-down conversions.
“When you get beat like that,” Woods said, “everybody is looking for what went wrong.”
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Changes have been made this week as the Browns prepare to meet the Detroit Lions (0-8-1) on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.
“We went back and just looked at everything obviously from [the Patriots] game and things that we were doing earlier, specifically on third and fourth down,” Woods said. “You just go back and look at the things that you did well and you look at when you didn’t have success what were the reasons behind it, and there’s multiple things.
“I always start with myself as a coordinator. I believe that, ‘How can I fix myself? How can I put the guys in a better position?’ So from that standpoint, down to what we’re calling, down to the players eliminating penalties, executing better, we looked at it all and just made some slight adjustments in terms of what we’re going to do coverage-wise.”
Where the Browns defense ranks in key categories under Joe Woods
In September, Woods entered his second Browns season under pressure to guide a defense loaded with talented offseason acquisitions to new heights.
Among the NFL's 32 teams, the Browns finished last season ranked 17th in fewest yards (358.4) and 21st in fewest points (26.2) surrendered per game. They were 23rd in third-down conversion percentage allowed (43.9) and 14th in red-zone efficiency against (60.7). They tied for 18th in takeaways (21).
This season, the Browns are ranked fifth in fewest yards (323.9) and tied for 20th in fewest points (24.1) allowed per game. They are 28th in third-down conversion percentage allowed (44.4) and 27th in red-zone efficiency against (69.4). They are tied for 26th in takeaways (eight).
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Woods realizes many fans have placed the bulk of the blame on him.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself to make sure the game plan’s right, so I’m not saying I blame myself, but I always look in the mirror first,” Woods said. “And then whenever I grade the tape, as I’m grading the players, I grade myself.
“I always look at myself and what can I do better. From a players standpoint, it’s the NFL. There’s good players on both sides of the ball. The guys are going out there and trying to execute, but you’re not going to make every play. So as coaches – and I have a really good coaching staff – we try to address all the issues that show up, correct all the mistakes. We look at ourselves, we self-scout ourselves every week and then we try to run those plays in practice that we’ve gotten from teams where we haven’t had success.”
Browns special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said Woods is handling the adversity of the week well.
“I know he's getting some criticism for some games, but he has done a phenomenal job with our team,” Priefer said. “Without our defense, we probably wouldn't have won three or four of these games. At the end of the day, he's an outstanding coach. I have a ton of confidence in him, and I know our players do as well.”
Cleveland Browns' drop-off in third-down defense killed them vs. Patriots
Still, third-down failures are eating at Woods coming off the blowout loss to the Patriots.
In the previous three games, the Browns held the Cincinnati Bengals to 3-of-11 (27.3%), the Pittsburgh Steelers to 4-of-13 (30.8%) and the Denver Broncos to 5-of-11 (45.5%) on third down. The Browns crushed the Bengals 41-16, lost to the Steelers 15-10 and edged the Broncos 17-14.
“I feel like I can do a better job just in terms of our third-down menu,” Woods said. “... I think the last three games were our best three games in terms of third down – Denver, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati — and for us to drop off like that [against the Patriots] just caught me. I feel like I can definitely do a better job.”
Another Woods-centric topic stemming from Sunday's defeat is safety John Johnson III explaining after the game the Patriots simply used a bunch of plays the Browns defense had struggled against all season.
“Some of the stuff we stopped, but obviously the reverses, they did a good job scheming us up in terms of how they did it,” Woods said. “But everybody does it. Every week you’re watching the game like, ‘Oh, man, they copied that from this team,’ or, ‘They copied that from that team.’ But we try to eliminate those plays, and we work those plays into practice each week. We just didn’t do a good job stopping it.”
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The Browns defense oftentimes vacillates between aggressive and conservative approaches depending on the week. It's actually by design, and Woods disputes the notion the philosophy leads to inconsistency.
“Our identity is being multiple because [the offenses] don’t know what they’re going to get,” Woods said. “When your game plan is, ‘Who do we have to take away, who do we have to stop and how are we going to do it,’ it will change slightly week to week. It won’t be pressure all the time. It won’t be zone all the time. I just really believe in the mix.”
Despite Garrett's recent disapproval, Woods said the Browns have the unity among their defensive players and coaches needed to ensure they stick together down the stretch.
“You feel the chemistry. You feel the family, the brotherhood,” Woods said. “… It’s just one of those games. You hate for it to happen, but it was one of those games where we just didn’t play well.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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