- Associated Press - Thursday, September 11, 2014

BEREA, Ohio (AP) - Browns punter Spencer Lanning missed a big tackle last week, but at least he had a good reason. He got run over by Steelers returner Antonio Brown, who stomped on Lanning’s helmeted head.

The rest of the Browns had no excuses.

“None,” said linebacker Karlos Dansby.

They were tackling dummies.

Cleveland’s shoddy tackling allowed Pittsburgh to build a 24-point halftime lead, a cushion the Steelers gave up before hanging on for a 30-27 win. The Browns appeared to be playing two-hand touch in the first half, when the Steelers racked up 278 yards on offense and running back Leveon Bell scored on a 38-yard run in which he seemed to run through the arms of every Cleveland defender on the field.

It wasn’t pretty, and as he broke down the tape of his unit’s performance, Browns defensive coordinator tallied the number of missed tackles. Asked for the total, O’Neil refused to provide a figure.

“Too many,” he snapped.

Dansby, who addressed his teammates at halftime along with safety Donte Whitner, said the Browns’ tackling issues were simply caused by physical lapses.

“This game is about leverage and angles,” he said. “You if ain’t got the right leverage, and you ain’t got the right angle, you’re gonna miss a tackle. That’s universal. That’s across the board, from Pee Wee up until now.”

The Browns made corrections in the second half, but it proved to be too late. They’ve spent the past few days working on their tackling techniques in practice so they don’t make the same mistakes Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, whose offense can strike from anywhere on the field.

O’Neil said missed tackles are an unforgiveable sin for any defense.

“It’s frustrating when you have a free runner at the quarterback and you don’t get a guy down or you have a chance to tackle a guy for a one or two yard gain and it ends up being a 30-yard gain,” he said. “You’ve got to drill it. The guys have to go into the game with the mentality that we’re going to tackle.

“You can have the best scheme in the world, which we feel that we do on defense, but if you can’t execute old-school fundamentals - running to the football, tackling and getting off blocks - you’re not going to be worth anything on defense if you can’t do those three basic things.”

The Browns didn’t offer any excuses, but with several new players, the defense hasn’t had a chance to build any chemistry just yet. That may not explain why a defensive back is out of position or a linebacker overruns a play, but it could illuminate why there were Cleveland players in the right spot and they still didn’t make a tackle.

Coach Mike Pettine, a former defensive coordinator, says tackling is a group effort.

“You have to know when to be able to take your shot,” Pettine said. “Sometimes, guys hesitate, break down too soon, as opposed to trusting that the guys are coming and then if I do miss, go ahead and take my best shot at it full speed instead of hesitating, knowing that the defense is coming.

“That’s important. That’s a trust factor, and that comes with playing together.”

As bad as the Browns tackled, the Saints were statistically worse in their 30-27 overtime loss in Atlanta.

New Orleans coach Sean Payton said improved tackling has been a point of emphasis this week. Payton said some of the league’s rules on contact make it more challenging to work on tackling, but that’s hardly justification for poor fundamentals.

“There are still a lot of things we can do with regards to our angles,” Payton said. “The very first thing would be population to the ball. When you watch any good defense, you’ll see numbers to the ball regardless of whether it’s a run or a pass. That’s one thing you can immediately begin to focus on. Secondly, when you’re there, it’s the angle, the technique and how you’re hitting.”

Browns cornerback Joe Haden said sometimes a big hit can wake a defense up. But wrapping your arms around a ball carrier and bringing him down is expected.

“There’s no excuse for not tackling,” he said.

NOTES: TE Jordan Cameron and LB Barkevious Mingo both missed practice shoulder injuries. … Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said he would “probably not” use a “Johnny Package” for QB Johnny Manziel against the Saints unless Brian Hoyer got hurt. … The Browns are hoping to get suspended WR Josh Gordon back at some point, and Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas feels the Ray Rice situation could accelerate the league’s willingness to amend the drug policy. “Most NFL fans would say it’s ridiculous that when a player is suspended that he can’t be around his team which is going to be the No. 1 support group that he has,” he said.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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