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Browns fire defensive coordinator Joe Woods after third year following season 7-10 outages

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CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Browns Barely waited for the bus to drop them off the 28-14 loss at Pittsburgh Sunday night for a 7-10 result before firing defensive coordinator Joe Woods.

Woods, the Browns’ third-year coordinator, took the fall early Monday morning for an underperforming, injury-ravaged unit that hasn’t lived up to expectations all season.

“I would like to thank Joe for his hard work and dedication over his three seasons as defensive coordinator,” head coach Kevin Stefanski, who will speak to the media this afternoon, said in a statement. . “I will always have the greatest respect for Joe, the person and the coach. Unfortunately, we haven’t performed enough to live up to our standards this season, and we all share that responsibility. We all wish Joe and his family the best for the future.

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The new defensive coordinator, who will likely come from outside the building, a league source told cleveland.com, will have a say in the 2023 staff. Some of the current assistants will be retained. It will be a careful and deliberate process.

Two possible early candidates are Patriots inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo and former Browns assistant Jim Schwartz, a senior defensive assistant for the Titans. The Browns must interview at least one minority candidate from outside the organization to comply with the NFL’s Rooney Rule.

Browns players will clean out their lockers and meet the media Monday morning on the day of the getaway, then Stefanski and general manager Andrew Berry will speak to the media in the afternoon.

Early Monday morning, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, who also came under intense scrutiny, still had his job.

Woods’ shot came the morning after the Browns gave up 148 rushing yards to the Steelers — their 10th yield of 130 or more rushing yards — and lost to a rookie quarterback in Kenny Pickett (13 of 29, 195 yards, 1 TD). , rating of 79.0), whom they have fired only once.

They were without Pro Bowl defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, benched for speaking out on cleveland.com, and Pro Bowl cornerback Denzel Ward, who aggravated his shoulder injury early in the game. .

The Browns, who lost four starting linebackers to season-ending injuries and failed to invest in a top-notch defensive tackle to stop the run, also lost to unheralded quarterbacks this season such as Joe Flacco of the Jets, Marcus Mariota of the Falcons, Bailey Zappe of the Patriots and Andy Dalton of the Saints.

The defense had strengthened over the past six weeks, forcing 12 turnovers in that span, but that wasn’t enough to save Woods’ job. The Browns have averaged 331.5 yards allowed per game this season, which ranks them 14th in the league. They finished fifth in the league in passing defense (196.2 yards allowed per game) and 25th against the run (135.2 yards allowed per game).

At his regularly scheduled press conference on Thursday, Woods – who has known all season that he was in the hot seat – said he hoped he would come back.

“I hope it is,” he said. Right now I’m still focused on the Steeler game. It’s a big game for us. I hope to have the opportunity to return. I know things didn’t go the way we’d like this year, but I feel like the first season is going into the playoffs and winning a game for the first time in 26 years or something; The following year we didn’t win many games and that’s what it’s all about, but we improved defensively to become No. 5; And again, until the end of the season, I think we are playing better.

He walked out of his press conference saying with a smile, “I hope I can talk to you again.”

Woods blamed the defense’s woes — blown early covers, missed assignments and poor defending — largely on the youngsters in the unit.

“These are the guys who gain experience playing together,” he said. “I feel like the guys we have in our squad because we have a young squad, they all come back next year and we’ll have a full offseason. Long story short, I hope to get the opportunity, but it’s not my decision.

Woods, who had to recall his game plans early on to minimize mistakes, said he had no regrets.

“You have to solve the problems,” he said. We never know. There’s some things I don’t do under pressure that I’d like to do, but when I look back I just think it’s a learning process because you get new guys, and you try to understand who they are as players and what you are capable of doing defensively. I think we’ve learned that throughout the season, but there’s nothing I go back and regret.

Defensive end Myles Garrett, who finished with 16.0 sacks to tie his team record last season, backed Woods but was willing to accept no matter what.

“I’m always ready to roll with the punches and I have no idea what the future will be like,” Garrett said after Sunday’s loss. “It’s above my pay grade and I don’t make those kinds of decisions, so I’m trying to do my best to recover in the offseason and be ready when the time comes.”

Garrett, the undisputed leader of the defense, said he will step in on defensive issues this offseason.

“I don’t make too many decisions up there, but if they want my opinion on things, I’ll definitely give it to them,” he said.

Garrett wasn’t sure the presence of Clowney, at least the fourth defenseman to miss snaps this season for disciplinary reasons, would have resulted in a different outcome on Sunday.

“I’m sure if (Clowney) comes in he makes big running plays, but they also play most passing plays on both sides,” Garrett said. It is therefore difficult for anyone to manage. And I know he was going to do his thing regardless and it’s hard not to see him there, but we have to know who we have and I think the guys who played definitely stepped up and made a difference.

Have the problems with Clowney affected the team in recent days?

Cleveland Browns vs.  Tampa Bay Buccaneers, November 27, 2022

Joe Woods congratulates Myles Garrett after a sack against the Bucs in November.John Kuntz, cleveland.com

I don’t think so,” Garrett said. “I think everyone just kept their heads down and really kept it in that circle of trying to focus on the task at hand and I don’t think anyone had been too too (caught up) by this situation. We knew we had a big game ahead of us.”

Other defenders on the bench for some or all games this season were rookie defensive end Perrion Winfrey, safety Grant Delpit, Garrett and possibly Greedy Williams. Winfrey was benched for the Jets game in Week 2, Delpit missed the Dolphins game opener, Garrett was benched for the Saints game opener and Clowney was suspended for the game of the Steelers.

Clowney declined to play first and second downs in Baltimore, a 23-20 loss, after the Browns knocked him down with Garrett before the game and placed him on All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley. After the game, loud cries about leadership could be heard coming from the dressing room before it was opened to the media, but it may have come from the secondary zone, where there were also problems this season.

But Garrett believes defense attrition is to blame for poor performance throughout the season. In the Finals, the Browns were without key injured players such as Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Anthony Walker Jr., Jacob Phillips and Sione Takitaki.

“We have the injury bug right now,” Garrett said. We suffered from that and it’s hard to have that kind of chemistry and make those big plays. There’s a lot of guys coming in and out, different guys playing with each other and it’s a lot of uncertainty with all the injuries. So we’re just trying to do our best with who we have there and making the plays we need to make, and we haven’t done enough.

That’s why Garrett thinks the future of defense is bright.

“We’ll get a lot of guys back,” Garrett said. “When you go through things like that and especially the young guys, you see what it takes to be a good team. You see what it takes to really get over this hump. We got there once and we had some personnel changes and new players came into the team and I mean it’s not easy.

We play in a difficult division. It’s disjointed, it’s tough, and now everyone really has to taste it. You are now ready. Now you’re ready to take that leap.”

Safety John Johnson III had no idea after the game whether Woods would be back or not.

“I think every season you’re going to assess that,” Johnson said. Take a step back from the game. Obviously you don’t have a match the following week, so you can really get a good look at things, but I’m not sure, I guess we’ll see.

Was he hoping Woods would return?

“No matter what’s going on, they’re good people, they’re good coaches, and it’s all supposed to be what’s going on,” Johnson said. “So I guess we’ll see.”

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