Cleveland Browns: Jordan Poyer

Defensive backs

Then: Joe Haden, Buster Skrine, T.J. Ward, Tashaun Gipson, Leon McFadden, Jordan Poyer, Julian Posey, Johnson Bademosi, Josh Aubrey (injured)

Now: Haden, Justin Gilbert, Skrine, Pierre Desir, McFadden, Poyer, Isaiah Trufant, Donte Whitner, Gipson, Bademosi, Aubrey.

The Browns signed Haden to a contract extension, drafted two corners and signed another in free agency. Oh, they also added a veteran safety, which should pretty much indicate what the new coaching staff thought of the old group. Haden is the bedrock of the defense, and if Gilbert can come in and play press-man coverage, Pettine will have his ideal pair. His defense is based on pressure that requires man coverage from corners. Gilbert has a ways to grow in camp, though. In the offseason results were mixed on him. At safety, Whitner takes over for Ward, bringing leadership and attitude. He's hard not to notice. Gipson is one of the more underrated players on the team. He and Whitner should complement each other well.

The positives: Whitner is a leader and a hitter, Haden should be a perennial Pro Bowler and Gipson is very talented. Add a fourth player and this group should be productive.

The negatives: The Browns seem to want Skrine to be a nickel back and cover the slot receiver, but that can't happen until Gilbert shows he can handle the starting job. The eighth pick in the draft is a key player on the team.

Previously: Quarterback, running back/fullback, wide receiver, tight end, offensive line, defensive line, linebacker.

Coming: Coaching staff, front office.
The two late flags thrown on the Cleveland Browns in New England have been the topic of much criticism, in Cleveland and nationally.

Ryan
Alford
Cameron
But the Browns also wondered about a no-call on the play before Billy Cundiff’s missed field goal.

The team privately wondered if Patriots defensive back Logan Ryan should have been penalized for launching into Jordan Cameron on Cameron’s catch at the Patriots 41. Had that been called -- the video is available at the 3:55 mark on the highlights here -- Cundiff’s attempted game-winning field goal would have been from 43 yards, not 58.

Whether it’s a penalty appears to be up for interpretation. The NFL Rule Book states that unsportsmanlike conduct takes place “if a player illegally launches into a defenseless opponent.”

Section 2-8-j of the NFL Rule Book defines it further by stating: “It is an illegal launch if a player (1) leaves both feet prior to contact to spring forward and upward into his opponent, and (2) uses any part of his helmet (including the top/crown and forehead/”hairline” parts) to initiate forcible contact against any part of his opponent’s body.”

Clearly, Ryan left his feet. Whether he aimed his head at Cameron and only missed because Cameron was being tackled is the debate.

ESPN officiating expert Gerry Austin, a two-time Super Bowl referee, said there was no penalty because Ryan turned his back to avoid a hit to the head.

“He does leave his feet, but he doesn’t do it in a targeting manner,” Austin said.

He stressed the penalty is two parts: A player has to launch and target, and Ryan “just launched,” Austin said.

Because he turned his back, “The fact he left his feet has no significance.”

Less blatant hits have been flagged -- including two against the Browns on Sunday in the final minute. Jordan Poyer neither launched, nor hit Patriots receiver Julian Edelman in the head, but he was flagged. Other players also have been flagged when they aimed for the body but wound up hitting the head of a receiver who ducked.

The Browns' case no doubt would center on the fact that Ryan, a rookie from Rutgers, left his feet so aggressively, and that he did have his helmet heading upfield when he jumped.

It’s safe to assume the Browns submitted the play to the league for clarification.

And it’s also safe to assume any explanation they receive will leave them still wondering.

Did Tom Brady outwit Browns' defense?

December, 12, 2013
12/12/13
3:55
PM ET
What did in the Cleveland Browns' defense at New England?

Penalties and Tom Brady.

Brady
That’s what defensive coordinator Ray Horton said.

Horton did his best not to complain about the officiating, but he did say that Brady audibled three times on the last two drives to take advantage of the Browns' coverage.

“He put them in the right play for what we had,” Horton said. “That’s the dilemma -- how do you protect against a guy who changes the play? You hope you stand up.”

Horton said Brady’s hand signals were as simple as a nod and a two-thumbs-up signal.

“You don’t have time after two-thumbs-up to get it across the formation,” he said.

In some instances, Brady would wave a receiver lined up wide to move inside to a stack formation. That was when Brady saw man coverage. In that formation, teams run “rub” routes, where they cross and effectively rub out the defender. The Pats scored the game-winning touchdown to Danny Amendola on a rub route.

These pass routes are effective against man, not as effective against zone. Horton went into no detail about the coverages, but the pass interference penalty on Leon McFadden and the touchdown to Amendola both looked to come against man coverage.

The Browns could combat the offense with a change of their own, but as Horton said, changing the entire coverage would be tough given the time limitations after the audible. About the only things the defense can do is have the ability to change quickly from man to a predetermined zone, or cover better.

Horton tried not to criticize the officials, saying the game is fast and he’s sure they do their best. But pressed on the Jordan Poyer hit he said the Browns teach their players never to launch (leave their feet) or hit a receiver in the head. He admitted neither happened with Poyer.

As for the pass interference and the team’s anger at the call after the game, he talked more generally. But in doing so he said a lot.

“There were 45, 44 yards of penalties on two plays, I think, within 30 seconds,” Horton said. “That’s a lot of yardage in penalties for a team that has a pretty good quarterback.”
Cleveland Browns fans joined the loud chorus protesting the work of NFL officials after two less-than-questionable calls went against the Browns in Sunday’s loss to the Patriots.

But their coach refused to join the chorus.

Rob Chudzinski said he did not agree with the calls, but he said complaining about them or focusing on them is not wise.

“The things that are important are the things that we can control,“ Chudzinski said one day after a brutal 27-26 loss to New England. “We had opportunities to win that game and make the plays to win that game and do the things to win that game that would have been able to change the outcome.

“That’s what we have to focus on.”

Not that Chudzinski didn’t think the Browns were shafted by the flags thrown by the field judge -- though it should be pointed out he never said that. He merely said he did not agree with the calls.

He said the official told him Jordan Poyer made contact with the head on his tackle of Julian Edelman after New England’s second-to-last touchdown.

“It was tough to see,” Chudzinski said after watching the tape.

After the game, he said the pass interference penalty on Leon McFadden that set up New England’s winning score was not a call he agreed with.

He said he feels the same a day later, a position ex-NFL referee Gerry Austin, now an ESPN analyst, agreed with. Austin said there should have been no call on the play.

But Chudzinski is not going down the excuse road.

“If we focus on what we can’t control then we’ve given up our ability to do what we can do,” Chudzinski said. “We’ve put it in somebody else’s hands, or we’ve blamed somebody else. We’re just not going to operate that way.”

Chudzinski did not detail specific plays, but the Browns did have chances to win the game. New England drove 82 yards for a touchdown with 1:01 left. Then the Patriots recovered an up-the-middle onside kick that seemed to flummox the Browns.

For the second week in a row, the Browns followed a huge Josh Gordon touchdown reception by giving up a touchdown drive. And for the second week in a row, the defense had the chance to stop New England after the Browns had taken a 26-14 lead with 2:39 left.

“When you have a game in your hands, we want to close it out defensively,” Chudzinski said.

Too, there might not be a team in the league this season -- including the Patriots -- that doesn't feel it was jobbed at one time or another by the officials. That doesn't make the calls any more palatable; it just shows the human element involved.

For whatever reasons -- Tom Brady, breakdowns, penalties -- it simply didn’t happen for the Browns. Again.

For that reason, Chudzinski would not even admit he was angry about the penalties.

“I don’t because I can’t control it and we can’t control it,” he said. “We can only control the things that we can do. We had opportunities in all three phases to make plays and make a difference in the game and we weren’t able to get that done.”
The flag that penalized Cleveland Browns defensive back Leon McFadden for pass interference late in the loss to New England should not have been thrown.

That’s the word from ESPN officiating expert Gerry Austin, a two-time Super Bowl referee.

“The best answer on that play would have been no call at all,” Austin said Monday.

The flag was thrown by field judge Dyrol Prioleau, though, which gave New England a first-and-goal at the 1 with 40 seconds left. New England scored the game-winning touchdown on the next play.

Austin said both McFadden and rookie wide receiver Josh Boyce were hand-checking as they ran down the field, but the key phrase is in Austin’s mind is whether either “materially affected” the other’s ability to catch the ball.

“From what I saw on television, I do not think either did,” Austin said.

Thus, any contact was not a penalty.

“Both the defender and receiver were hand-checking each other all the way down the field,” Austin said. “I did not see anything on that play that was beyond that.”

Prioleau also threw the flag on Jordan Poyer for a hit after Julian Edelman caught the Patriots second-last touchdown with 1:01 left.

Referee Jerome Boger said the call was for a hit on a defenseless receiver, and Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said he was told it was for a hit to the head.

“It was hard to see,” Chudzinski said when asked if the tape showed a hit to the head.

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