BEREA — Dire straits call for strange schemes.
Faced with the prospect of falling to 1-3 with a sagging defense, the Browns fired up a blast from an unusual past.
In Sunday’s 27-13 win over the Ravens, coach Romeo Crennel took a page from a “UFO defense” unleashed on Bill Belichick’s 2000 New England Patriots. Crennel was in his only year as Browns defensive coordinator.
At times, defensive end Simon Fraser would slide to the middle, playing directly over center.
At times, nose tackle Ethan Kelley was the only man on the defensive line.
Outside linebacker Willie McGinest would creep directly behind Smith, wait until just before the snap and slip onto the line.
It recalled the oddball scheme Crennel used in a 19-11 win over Belichick’s Patriots on Nov. 12, 2000.
Then-coach Chris Palmer called it a “UFO defense.” It certainly inspired the question, “Where did that come from?” It left as soon as it came, with Palmer’s job on the line and his superiors frowning on too much crazy stuff.
Now Crennel’s job is on the line. The circle came back to crazy stuff.
“When that works,” Crennel said after Sunday’s win, “it’s a good UFO. If it doesn’t, then it’s a bad UFO.”
The Browns aren’t calling the current concoction “UFO,” but it gave Steve McNair some problems, and it gives Belichick something to think about prior to Sunday’s Cleveland-at-New England game.
Against Baltimore, the Browns rotated defensive personnel throughout the game — linemen, linebackers, defensive backs. Crennel said the system helped keep the team’s best pass rusher, Kamerion Wimbley, fresh for the fourth quarter.
“He didn’t get credit for any sacks,” Crennel said, “but he was getting his hands on (Steve) McNair.
Wimbley looked tired at one point in the fourth quarter, but he was a beast on Baltimore’s last, desperate possession. One Wimbley rush was as good as a sack. McNair was in his clutches when he threw the ball to no one, drawing an intentional grounding flag.
“Coming down to crunch time you need to get it done,” Wimbley said. “You get that second wind.
“You’re very aware you need to make plays in certain situations.”
This week’s situation: Crennel vs. Belichick.
For what it’s worth, Belichick hired Crennel as his defensive coordinator in New England less than three months after Crennel unveiled the UFO.
The Browns must decide by Monday whether veteran right tackle Ryan Tucker will be restored to the 53-man roster coming off a four-week, steroid-related suspension.
Crennel was non-committal about the 32-year-old Tucker, who has played in 129 NFL games and has been the Browns’ primary right tackle since 2002.
“We have a one-week grace period to see where he is,” Crennel said. “We’ll bring him in and check out his conditioning.”
Tucker wasn’t allowed in the team complex during his suspension, but he was in the locker room in street clothes Monday.
“I’m excited to be back in the building,” he said. “The guys are playing great ... we should be 3-1. I’ll come in and try to help out the team.”
Tucker’s familiar position, right tackle, has been manned by Kevin Shaffer, who signed a $36 million contract in free agency last year. Tucker was allowed to participate in all preseason activities. He got an extensive trial at right guard, where 2007 free agency pickup Seth McKinney has started all four games.
Tucker seems eager to pull on a uniform.
“It’s fun to be here,” he said. “Everybody's in a good mood. I think the whole town is rallying around all the sports teams right now.”
Upon further review
Some of Crennel’s Monday-after thoughts coming off the Baltimore game, going into New England:
n Joshua Cribbs has an uncanny knack for making at least one game-bending return per game. “We enjoy that and we appreciate that.”
n Cornerback Leigh Bodden “had one of his better games.”
n Kellen Winslow Jr. got a game ball for producing key catches despite a shoulder injury. “That did a little something for us.”
n Jamal Lewis averaged just 2.8 yards on 23 carries but gave the Ravens something to think about. “He’s physical and he stays with it. We feel good about what he was able to do.”
n The Ravens played without left tackle Jonathan Ogden, a future Hall of Famer on the downside of his career.
“The guy who came in is a good tackle, too,” Browns defensive end Robaire Smith said. “He’s a big guy who can move.”
He was talking about 6-foot-8, 330-pound Adam Terry, a Round 2 pick in 2005.
n Crennel didn’t say a lot about Derek Anderson, talking along the lines of, “He’s capable when he stays within himself and within the scheme.” He’ll make his fourth straight start and could keep the job long-term if the Browns get to the bye at 4-2 or 3-3. They face Miami at home after going to New England.