Browns' decision on Joe Woods' fate as defensive coordinator could come next week

Jan. 5—The question that has been hanging over the Browns since the second game of the season — will Joe Woods be back as defensive coordinator in 2023? — will be answered soon, probably as early as next week.

Woods made his case to return for a fourth season on Jan. 5 during his weekly session with media covering the Browns. Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt preceded Woods to the interview room.

The Browns allowed 371 points last season. They have allowed 353 points heading into the final game of 2022 on Jan. 8 in Pittsburgh.

"Right now I'm focused on the Steelers' game — it's a big game for us," Woods said when asked about his future, "But I hope I have the opportunity to come back. I know things haven't gone the way we would have liked them to go this year, but we went to the playoffs two years ago and won a playoff game for the first time (since 1994).

"Last year, we didn't win a lot of games (8-9) and that's what it's all about, but we did improve defensively. We were No. 5. Through the end of this season, we're playing better. We have a young team. They're all coming back. Next year, we'll have a full offseason. Long story short, I hope I get the opportunity, but it's not my decision."

The Browns allowed 29 touchdown passes last season. They allowed 19 through 16 games this season, but opponents have already scored 20 rushing touchdowns after scoring 13 in 17 games in 2021. They allowed 1,857 rushing yards in 2021 and so far have allowed 2,151 yards on the ground in the 2022 season.

#Browns defensive coordinator talks about struggles on run defense. pic.twitter.com/tSR0Drxeyv

— Jeff Schudel (@jsproinsider) January 5, 2023

One takeaway in Pittsburgh would make for an increase over last season. The Browns finished with 13 interceptions and six fumble recoveries last season. Led by four picks by Grant Delpit, they have 11 interceptions and eight fumble recoveries this season. The Browns have 11 takeaways in the last five games.

"I think everybody knows we struggled with the run game this year, so giving up more touchdowns because of that makes sense," Woods said. "I feel like our guys in the secondary, it's another year of those guys together. The communication has gotten better throughout the season.

"I feel like we have guys who can match up against other top receivers. That's why I think we're playing better from the pass standpoint. Obviously again, the run game, we have to get better."

Head coach Kevin Stefanski and general manager Andrew Berry are expected to conduct a wrapup news conference a day or two after the season ends. An announcement of any coaching changes could be made then.

The Browns were eliminated from playoff contention on Christmas Eve when the Saints beat them, 17-10. They are 7-9 and will finish with a losing record for the 21st time in 24 years no matter what happens in Pittsburgh.

Woods was the defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos from 2016-18. The San Francisco 49ers were 4-12 in 2018 in Kyle Shanahan's second year as head coach. The 2018 season was also Robert Saleh's second year as the 49ers defensive coordinator. The Niners were 6-10 in 2017. Woods was hired as the 49ers defensive backs/passing game coordinator in 2019.

"When I got there, there were a lot of people calling for Saleh (to be fired) because they regressed a little bit defensively," Woods said. "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's something that's possible here just with the roster we have. I think again the guys will be better next year."

The 49ers drafted defensive end Nick Bosa with the second overall pick in 2019 and wide receiver Deebo Samuel in the second round. Jimmy Garopollo threw 27 touchdown passes as the starting quarterback in the run to the Super Bowl in 2019.

Woods was one of the first assistants Stefanski hired when Stefanski was hired as Browns head coach in January 2020.

Browns safety Grant Delpit has emerged as one of Woods' prized pupils. Delpit missed his rookie season in 2020 with an Achilles tear. He played in 16 games and started seven in 2021. This season Delpit leads the Browns with 99 tackles and four interceptions.

"Coach Woods and I have been close for three years," Delpit said Jan. 5 in the locker room. "I didn't play the first year because I was injured, but I was always in the building, paying attention and picking up little things.

"Coach Woods is a great coach. He spends time after practice sharing knowledge and little nuggets. He was a DB coach before he was here."

Woods broke into coaching as the defensive backs coach at Muskingum College in 1992. He has coached every year since. He made six other stops on the college coaching trail before breaking into the NFL as the Buccaneers' quality control coach in 2004. The Browns are his fifth NFL coaching job.