By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
Extra Points …
MVP talk: The Browns’ defense continues to maintain an impressive standing in the league rankings – fifth in total yards, sixth vs. the run, 10th vs. the pass, third in sacks and 11th in points allowed.
So who might you think the coordinator would nominate for most valuable player of the defense? Is it Joe Haden? Phil Taylor? Desmond Bryant? D’Qwell Jackson? T.J. Ward?
None of the above.
“My biggest surprise and probably the MVP for me is (free safety) Tashaun Gipson,” coordinator Ray Horton said on Thursday.
Biggest surprise? Sure. Right up there with Buster Skrine. But MVP?
Horton explained: “Because he was a former corner that played limited snaps last year, going to a position that requires a ton of smarts and you can never be wrong at the position, and he’s a much better tackler than I ever envisioned, he’s got fantastic hands, is tough and makes very few mistakes. He’s protected some guys that may have been out of position.”
Gipson, an undrafted free agent signee from Wyoming in 2012, started three games a rookie. In his second season, Gipson made the transition to Horton’s defense and has been a stalwart in the back end. Gipson is fourth in tackles (62) tied for first with two interceptions and is third in passes defensed (11).
Gipson also has personally taken out Buffalo QB E.J. Manuel and Green Bay TE Jermichael Finley with clean hits. Gipson was flagged, unjustly, for the hit on Finley.
“He’s just been a fantastic player and is really, to me, a comfort because I know he’s going to be at the right play at the right time,” Horton said.
Defending the run: The Browns’ running game has been a source of concern to many (not Joe Thomas) much of the year. But offensive coordinator Norv Turner termed it “effective” and gave a concrete example from the Baltimore game. The Browns won despite averaging 2.6 yards a rush.
“Our running game isn’t where we want it to be, but it’s been effective in this manner: when we run play-action passes, guys are open down the field,” Turner said. “Early in the game, we went hard play-action pass and threw the ball to Josh (Gordon) for … a (27-yard) gain to the 5-yard line. If we can still do that, and they honor our run, then our run is being effective.”
The coaches put emphasis on the running game during the bye week and believe the week off helped freshen backs Willis McGahee (knee) and Chris Ogbonnaya (ribs).
“We’ve stressed we need to run the ball more. That’s a no-brainer,” said McGahee. “It’s going to depend on how we start the game and end it.”
McGahee carried 21 times for 31 yards against the Ravens. He ripped that performance as “not a good show at all.”
“You’ve got the good and bad,” he said. “It’s not always going to be great. But it also benefits us in the long run as far as having the receivers and tight ends open.”
Missing Geno: Two weeks ago Joe Thomas downplayed the Bengals’ loss of All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins to a knee injury because “he’s no quarterback.” Thomas’ point was that the deep Cincinnati defensive front would absorb the loss of Atkins – and it has.
Second-year pro Brandon Thompson, a third-round draft pick from Clemson, has made an immediate impression filling in for Atkins.
“Obviously Geno was a terrific player and was having another great impact season,” Thomas said. “But they’ve got so much depth on the defensive line. We were watching film on his replacement, Thompson, and I think he’s going to be a heckuva player in this league.
“He hasn’t gotten his opportunity sitting behind Geno, but the stuff he’s been putting on film really shows, I think, that he can be a star in the NFL. So it’s definitely not going to be easy knowing Geno’s not going to be in there.”
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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