By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor
The Browns might have their issues with scoring, but at least their defense does a fairly decent job of keeping the opposition out of the end zone.
They gave up two touchdowns in Sunday’s 20-10 loss to the 49ers. Yet they easily could have allowed more.
The Browns mounted an impressive goal-line stand early in the second quarter. And after the Niners had a fairly easy time building a 17-3 halftime lead and looked as if they were going to roll to a lopsided victory, the Browns’ defense held them to only a field goal in the second half.
With the fourth-ranked unit in the NFL before Sunday’s loss, the Browns are capable of at least keeping every game reasonably close and competitive, even when their offense experiences its typical hardships with getting into the end zone.
The Browns’ defensive talent is strong enough to hold up against most teams. There are legitimate Pro Bowl candidates in cornerback Joe Haden, safety T.J. Ward, linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, and tackles Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin. Defensive coordinator Dick Jauron also deserves credit for being able to make necessary adjustments, as he did to help limit the Niners to only three second-half points.
That’s saying plenty when you consider that Cleveland’s defense was facing as strong a challenge as any it has seen to date. The 49ers have one of the NFL’s best running backs in Frank Gore, who ran for 134 yards and a touchdown and averaged 4.3 yards per carry. But Alex Smith, the Niners’ quarterback, did what he has been doing for the bulk of the season – managing the game, keeping his mistakes to a minimum, all while producing little in the way of big throws.
It was largely for that reason the Browns were able to battle their way to the very end of the game – that they were able to make things at least slightly interesting in the final couple of minutes.
Not that this approach can be counted on to serve as any sort of formula for success.
The Browns need to play better at the beginning of games, especially on offense. They need to do a far better job of helping their defense by putting together sustained drives that give the unit a chance to rest and refresh.
As long as the Browns’ defense is required to try and pick up the considerable slack created by the offense, while also dealing with keeping the opponent in check, it is unlikely to be able to make enough of a difference to allow the team to win consistently.
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