Browns’ run defense has made strides since earlier meeting with Rice

Posted by Vic Carucci on December 22, 2011 – 7:27 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

It still stands as one of the lowest points in a season that, sadly, offers multiple choices in that department.

The scary part for the Browns is that there is a real chance they could end up reliving it for a second time in only four weeks.

When the Browns face the Ravens at Baltimore on Saturday, they’ll deal with an all-too-familiar challenge that proved impossible in Week 13 at Cleveland: stopping running back Ray Rice.

Rice dominated the Browns’ defense to the tune of 204 rushing yards. He ran through and around would-be tacklers as if they weren’t even there.

Although it was hardly the first time the Browns’ defense had struggled against the run this season (thus the reason for the team ranking next-to-last in the league in run defense), it was more humiliating than any other game the unit played this year.

In the two games since, however, the Browns have provided more resistance on the ground. Reshard Mendenall ran for 76 yards in the 14-3 loss to the Steelers a week later. Then, last Sunday, the Browns limited Beanie Wells to a mere 51 yards in the 20-17 overtime loss against Arizona.

Rice ran for only 57 yards in the Ravens’ 34-14 loss against the Chargers, but that was because Baltimore fell into a deep hole and had to give up on the run. But he had 53 yards in the first half, showing he still is as dangerous as ever.

Nevertheless, the Browns’ defensive front has shown signs of improvement. Rookie tackle Phil Taylor, who had been having his struggles in recent weeks, seems to have found a little bit more of a groove and has been a greater complement to fellow tackle Ahtyba Rubin.

End Jabaal Sheard, the other rookie in Cleveland’s front four, is known for his pass-rushing prowess. But he has proven to be equally effective at holding his own on the edge and forcing running plays inside while also making his share of stops with his combination of considerable strength and relentlessness.

Linebacker Chris Gocong also has been a huge force against the run since moving from weakside to strongside linebacker after Scott Fujita suffered a season-ending broken hand. Gocong has consistently shown excellent anticipation and is regularly meeting ball-carriers in the hole.

The Browns have one of the league’s very best tacklers in middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, who has had a remarkable comeback season after being sidelined with injuries the previous two years.

Kaluka Maiva, who moved into the starting lineup to replace Gocong at weakside linebacker, also has made a strong contribution against the run. Besides his aggressiveness and ability to cover plenty of ground, Maiva has shown superb instincts and can almost always be found swarming around the ball.

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