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Why does Jabrill Peppers line up 25 yards deep?

BEREA, Ohio -- Jabrill Peppers violated an old rule this week by answering a question with a question.

"How many deep balls have we given up?" was Peppers' answer.

The question ("Jeopardy!" style): "What's the thinking behind you playing 25 or 30 yards deep?" 
It's an interesting position for Peppers, one of the Cleveland Browns' three first-round draft picks and a guy who seemed when he was drafted to fit best as an in-the-box, support-the-run kind of safety.

Peppers is playing deep center field.

Which might be interesting but is not new for the guy who calls the Browns' defenses. Gregg Williams has done this frequently, including as far back as using Sean Taylor deep in Washington when Williams coached there from 2004 to 2007. The thinking: Put a player with instincts deep, let him read the quarterback and cover the deep middle. Not only does it allow Peppers to roam, it protects against the deep ball. Williams is a big believer in Peppers, saying before the opener, "I'm anxious for you all to see the instincts that he has."

In two games, the Browns' defense has given up one play of longer than 40 yards -- and that was a throw down the middle that Browns linebacker Joe Schobert tipped and Antonio Brown still caught for a gain of 50 yards.

A year ago, the defense gave up 52 pass plays of 20 yards or more -- an average of 3.25 per game. This season it's been four in two games. And there were 12 40-plus yard plays in 2016, but just one through two games in 2017.

Peppers isn't always alone in the deep middle. Depending on the situation, Derrick Kindred is right alongside him just as deep.

"If you don't want to get the ball thrown over your head, just make sure that there is somebody deep enough where they don't try to throw it over your head," coach Hue Jackson said. "True? That is how that works. That is part of the strategy of our defense."

Williams added that the strategy made even more sense against the Steelers.

"The No. 1 deep-ball throwing team in the National Football League for four straight running years is the Pittsburgh Steelers, and when Ben is throwing it short, everybody is smiling," Williams said.

The knee-jerk conclusion, of course, is that a deep safety (or safeties) opens up the short middle. Ravens tight end Ben Watson is 36 and was targeted eight times in Baltimore's win and finished with eight catches for 91 yards. Watson has had eight receptions in a game four times since 2010.

But the Browns say Watson's success was more a result of poor coverage against him as opposed to open space in the middle of the field.

"With every defense, there is a window of openings," Peppers said. "It is just up to the quarterback to find them. Other than that, no. We just have to do a great job of playing man-to-man and making tackles and getting pressure on the quarterback, making those easy throws not so easy and things like that."

Peppers is an aggressive player, and admits the deep safety spot forces him to be more disciplined. He has had situations when he lined up deeper -- protecting against a Hail Mary comes to mind -- but he's never done this consistently.

To Williams, it's old hat.

And it will be interesting to see how he plays Sunday, because Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett did not throw down the field in his first start, but the Colts do have one of the better deep threats in the league in T.Y. Hilton.

"Whatever they ask me to do," Peppers said.