BEREA (92.3 The Fan) – The Cleveland Browns recent resurrection can be summed up in one word – Defense.
That defense can be summed up in one word as well – Nasty.
Sure quarterback Brian Hoyer has provided a spark, but the real reason the Browns have been able to climb out of an 0-2 hole and back to .500 is their defense.
And it’s expected to get better.
“We are still working and we feel that we have a lot of spots that we can approve in,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “Our front 7 is still playing great and our secondary is still developing and becoming a good solid secondary. We need to keep building and not take any weeks off.”
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton promised an aggressive, attacking defense when he was hired in January and he has delivered exactly that.
Through 4 games, the Browns defense is drastically improved in every defensive statistical category under Horton.
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The Browns are developing an intensity and nastiness on that side of the ball that hasn’t been seen in years led by nose tackle Phil Taylor.
“We can be a dominant defense,” Taylor said. “Being nasty is going to get us to be the No. 1 defense, that’s how it goes.
Taylor laughed when asked if he was a nasty guy.
“Nah, Nah, Nah. On the field is different,” Taylor said. “Off the field I’m cool guy.”
It all starts up front against the run.
They allowed just 20 yards on 23 carries in week 1, held Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce to 99 yards in week 2, limited Adrian Peterson to 88 yards in week 3 and on Sunday held 3 Bengals to a combined 65 yards on the ground.
The more they keep doing it, the more respect they’ll start to get.
“I think so, but its not quite there and we need to prove it,” Taylor said of the respect factor. “Guys are gonna go, ‘how do we stop Adrian Peterson or how do we stop AJ Green? Well, the Browns played them really good lets go watch their tape.'”
Taylor and the Browns are allowing an NFL low 2.9 yards per carry and they’re the only team in the league yet to allow a 15-yard run to date.
“No one is going to be able to run on us this year,” linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “As long as we stay healthy and continue to grind the tape out and do what we need to do on Sunday, I don’t think anyone will be able to run on us.
“We’ve faced one of the purest running backs in Adrian Peterson so we feel like that’s what we do best, stopping the run. We want to be a top defense when this season is over with.”
The numbers don’t lie.
The Browns are ranked 3rd in total yards allowed per game at 291.5. They are 4th against the run giving up just 79.0 yards a game, and are ranked 9th against the pass allowing 212.5 yards per contest.
They join the NY Jets as the only 2 teams to be ranked in the top 10 against both the run and pass.
The 17.5 points per game allowed ties them for 8th.
“We have a bunch of hungry, persistent defensive players on our team,” safety T.J. Ward said. “Everyone has bought in. Everyone is doing their job, not trying to make up for somebody else’s slack. We can trust each and everyone on the defense to do what they’re going to do. Sometimes the D-line, they bail us out and we bail them out.
“We’ve been clicking at a high level.”
The Browns added Paul Kruger, Quentin Groves and Desmond Bryant in the offseason via free agency and drafted Barkevious Mingo.
The 4 have combined for 57 tackles, 8.5 sacks and 5 deflected passes and Mingo is the first player in team history to record a sack in his first 3 NFL games.
“We have a lot of talent, Haden said. “We have starters that can play other spots and everything’s just coming together. People are starting to understanding their roles and making plays and that’s the biggest thing. It’s a standard now. It’s not like when we do good it’s a surprise. We expect to do good.
“Our defense is good enough to be one of the best.”
The Browns have piled up 14 sacks, 4 fumbles and 3 interceptions already.
Whether they like it or not, defense is becoming their identity – just don’t tell them that.
“No one particular area is the identity of this team,” Taylor said. “We’re trying to establish an identity together. We have a good defense, we have a good offense, but we’re trying to be great.”
Cleveland has yet to allow a 100-yard rusher or 300-yard passer this season. They used to allow those in years gone by like handing out candy to children on Halloween.
Safety Tashaun Gipson and cornerback Buster Skrine entered the season as question marks. While both have made mistakes, they both are stepping up when it counts and making big plays. Gipson and Skrine have each broken up 7 passes and come away with an interception.
“We’ve seen this,” Ward said. “They’re showing you guys now. But they’ve definitely been playing well. Buster, he’s a had a great two weeks, and Gip, he’s been playing well all season. That’s what we expected from them. They had very good OTAs and camps and they’re just showing the world right now what they’re capable of.”
It’s still early but like the seasons, things are starting to change.
Especially on the defensive side of the ball.
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