“The Old Man” Malcolm Smith stepped in when the Browns needed leadership and a game against the Texans

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CLEVELAND, Ohio – Kevin Stefanski wasn’t sure exactly who would wear the green dot and call plays in his defense without center linebacker Anthony Walker.

His options were limited after Walker’s move to the injured reserve on Friday. Mack Wilson and Sione Taktaki play on the weak side and the strong side respectively and rookie Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is not ready for such a responsibility. That left veteran Malcolm Smith.

The 32-year-old linebacker started in place of Walker on Sunday. He started the defense with a third quarter interception for Texans quarterback Davis Mills and helped Cleveland win their home opener 31-21. During the interception, Smith won deep on a third and long Houston 8. Mills threw a crossover route destined for Andre Roberts, but Smith felt the receiver bend around him and cut the pitch.

He rolled on the ground and fought for possession as a sold-out FirstEnergy stadium went mad.

“The old man did a good job,” Stefanski said after the game. “He made plays and got that ball like we talked about. He’s a very heady player. He’s a great teammate. “

The interception proved to be timely. Cleveland took a two-possession lead four games later. Kicker Chase McLaughlin hit a 30-yard field goal, offering a cushion for a flat Browns defense and an offense without Jarvis Landry or Odell Beckham Jr.

Smith calmed a defense that looked disoriented in the first half. Tyrod Taylor completed 10 of 11 passes for 125 yards, one touchdown and a near-perfect score of 144.3. However, he injured his hamstring at the end of the second quarter and did not return.

If he hadn’t been injured, Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods would have needed halftime adjustments to counter the Texans’ well-organized offense. Houston went 4-for-6 on the third downs in the first half. They finished 7 for 13. Cleveland didn’t produce enough critical drop saves once again. Their third down and their defense in the red zone need to improve.

But Smith’s second-half play combined with Mills’ entry stabilized a hectic afternoon. After the game, Myles Garrett said it was hard not to have Walker, who played 62 of 63 Week 1 snaps. Communication likely slows down when switching callers. This gives Woods less confidence in his play call as his defense lacks continuity.

There are new pieces to this defense, but Smith is not one of them. He served as the main linebacker in passing defenseman last season and played well enough that GM Andrew Berry brought him back on another one-year contract.

Those same pass cover chops appeared on Sunday. He also finished with a team record of eight tackles, one tackle for loss and one pass break.

His leadership was manifested in guiding a young group of linebackers through a clever Texans game plan. Houston used a lot of pre-engagement movement, bad direction, and playing action to keep the Browns guessing. Wilson played a top-down game, highlighted by four tackles. Takitaki delivered an explosive TFL in the first quarter, sticking Texans running back Mark Ingram in the flats.

JOK added two tackles and a pass defense. I had the impression that he had played less this week than last week.

Garrett admitted after the game that they weren’t ready for the Texans’ first-half plan. They expected more races. Instead, Houston quickly threw and sprinkled screens and dumps. This prompted Cleveland to chase runners and react rather than anticipate.

Smith did not speak to the media after the game. I would expect him to be the man in the middle as long as Walker is away. A new life for the old Browns man.

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