Woods, 52, was let go by the team one day after the team’s season-ending loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. There’s no word on the official status of the rest of the defensive assistants, some of whom could potentially be retained by the next coordinator.
“I’d like to thank Joe for his hard work and dedication in his three seasons as our defensive coordinator,” coach Kevin Stefanski said in a statement. “I will always have the utmost respect for Joe, the person, and the coach. Unfortunately, we didn’t perform up to our standards enough this season, and we all share in that responsibility. We all wish Joe and his family the best in the future.”
Stefanski and general manager Andrew Berry are expected to address the media this afternoon at 3:30. The players will also be available this morning as they go through exit interviews and clean out their lockers after the season.
The dismissal has been expected for some time, especially when the Browns were officially eliminated from playoff contention after their Christmas Eve loss to the New Orleans Saints. The Browns ended the season 7-10, the second consecutive losing season since their 2020 playoff season.
“I mean, I know regardless of what happens, they’re good people,” safety John Johnson III said after the 28-14 loss to the Steelers. “They’re good coaches, and everything is meant to be what happens. So I guess we’ll see.”
Why did the Browns fire defensive coordinator Joe Woods?
The downfall for Woods was the inability of the Browns’ defense to sustain consistency over a full season. For the second consecutive season, they were unable to start the year off well, but managed to turn it around over the last month-and-a-half.
The Browns’ defensive turnaround started with the Week 12 overtime win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the Sunday after Thanksgiving. They’ve allowed 305 yards a game, compared to the 349.9 they had allowed over the first 10 games.
For the season, the Browns finished 20th in points per game allowed at 22.4. However, they gave up just 16 a game over the final seven games, although the 28 points Pittsburgh scored were the most they allowed in a game since a 31-23 Week 11 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
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The pass defense, which was allowing 214.8 yards a game over the first 10, allowed an average of just 172.4 yards over the last seven. Granted, the best two quarterbacks they faced in that span — Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady and Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow — did throw for an average of 241.5 yards.
“I think we worked through a lot of the issues that we had early on in the season,” Woods said the Thursday’s before the finale. “We just try to give them a solid game plan that they can go out and play fast and execute. I think throughout the early parts of the season we made those adjustments, and I think the guys really probably since Week 11 that we have played a lot better.”
That improvement has allowed the Browns defense to rise up to 14th in the league in total yards allowed at 331.5 yards per game. Their pass defense, which was 16th coming out of the Buffalo game, finished fifth at 196.2 yards a game.
The Browns also saw a massive up-tick in takeaways over the last six games. They had created just eight through the first 12 games, then created 12 over the final six games.
The part of the defense which ultimately sealed Woods’ fate was the run defense. After being ranked seventh in the league through three games, allowing just 83.7 rushing yards in that span, they ended the season ranked 25th by giving up 135.2.
The decline started with back-to-back 200-plus-yard rushing performance allowed to the Atlanta Falcons (202 yards) and Los Angeles Chargers (238 yards). Those were two of eight games over the final 13 games in which they allowed at least 150 yards, and two of 10 of at least 130 yards.
“Absolutely, I put it all on coaching,” Woods said of the run defense on Dec. 29. “Coaching first. We gotta get the guys to go out, execute whatever I’m calling.”
The second-half turnaround mimics what the Browns did a year ago, specifically in points allowed. They gave up 45 points in a Week 10 loss in 2021 at New England, at which point they were allowing 24.1 points a game, to a final season average of 21.8 points.
The Browns were a top-10 defense in 2021, despite the team’s 8-9 record, in multiple categories. They were fifth in yards per game (311.5) and passing yards a game (202.3), while they were 13th in points allowed per game and 12th in rushing yards a game (109.2).
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski brought Joe Woods with him from the Vikings
Stefanski hired Woods, with whom he had coached with the Minnesota Vikings, on his original staff when he was named the Browns’ coach in 2020. That season, the Browns went 11-5 in the regular season, earning just the franchise’s second playoff appearance since its 1999 rebirth and its first playoff win since Jan. 1, 1995, when it defeated the Steelers in the AFC Wild Card round.
The Browns finished that season ranked 17th in yards allowed at 358.4 and 22nd in passing yards allowed at 247.6, but ninth against the run at 110.8 yards allowed. They were 21st in points allowed at 26.2, but did create 21 turnovers in the regular season and another six — five in the Wild Card win over Pittsburgh — in two playoff games.
Woods had spent the 2019 season as the defensive backs coach and defensive passing game coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers. They won the NFC championship that season before losing to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl.
“The one thing I will say is I was in this situation as a position coach in 2019,” Woods said last Thursday. “When I went to San Francisco, I think (49ers coach) Kyle’s Shanahan) first year, they were 6-10 and then they were 4-12 the second year. When I got there, there were a lot of people calling for (former 49ers defensive coordinator and current Jets coach Robert) Saleh because they regressed a little bit defensively. Kyle made some changes, and we went in and they were 4-12 in last place in the division in 2018. We had a couple key additions in the offseason, and we went from last to first in the division, 13-3 and went to the Super Bowl. I feel like that is something that is possible here just with the roster we have.”
Woods had spent the previous two season before that, 2017-18, in his only other stint as an NFL defensive coordinator with the Denver Broncos. His other NFL experience had been as a defensive quality control coach with the Buccaneers (2004-05), as well as the defensive backs coach with the Vikings (2006-13), then-Oakland Raiders (2014) and Broncos (2015-16).
This is a developing story. Check back for more as the day goes along.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods fired