Every Wednesday, we'll identity one Browns player, coach, position group, executive or aspect of the team under the most pressure in the coming week. This week, the pass defense is in focus.
Last week, the Browns' defense had the tall order of stopping Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, and for a half, Cleveland fared relatively well, holding him just 80 yards passing. But in the second half, Roethlisberger got the better of the Browns, throwing for 177 yards and a pair of TDs. Roethlisberger had completions of 50, 36 and 26 yards in the final 30 minutes. While he completed just six of his 13 other attempts, two were scoring passes — an eight-yarder to WR Hines Ward and a 14-yarder to TE Heath Miller.
On Ward's touchdown, the Browns blitzed on 3rd-and-goal, and Roethlisberger found Ward short of the endzone. If CB Eric Wright makes the tackle, Pittsburgh likely has to settle for a field-goal attempt, but Ward broke free and scored. Instead of the Steelers potentially leading 10-3, they took at 14-3 lead with 3:13 left in the third quarter.
Wright, who also gave up a 29-yard TD to Mike Wallace in the second quarter for Pittsburgh's first points of the game on Sunday, has not played well recently. With rookie CB Joe Haden intercepting his first career pass last week and earning praise from head coach Eric Mangini for his practice play leading up to the Pittsburgh game, there will be some who want Haden to move into Wright's spot in the lineup. However, that probably wouldn't totally fix the Browns' coverage issues; Wright likely would see quite a bit of playing time against teams employing three-WR sets as is, and Cleveland has just four cornerbacks on the roster.
The Browns have to hope Wright plays a little better, and the same goes for Sheldon Brown, who was beaten for long TDs in Weeks Four and Five. Haden, for his part, needs to continue improving, too.
Pass defense can't just be pinned on the cornerbacks; the safeties must do their jobs, too, and pass-rush pressure can make secondaries look a lot better. The Browns' blitzes too often have not gotten to the quarterback this season, leaving the corners in tough spots.
Facing a Saints offense led by QB Drew Brees, who's completing 70.6 percent of his passes and a healthy 7.2 yards per completion, the Browns need a strong all-around effort for their pass defense. Brees likely will complete a high percentage of his passes; it's up to the Browns to force short throws and to be sound tacklers.