The embarrassment will never disappear. Over time, it might fade a little, but not in the foreseeable future.
There’s just no easy way for a defense to shake the stigma of allowing a back to rush for more than 200 yards, as the Browns’ did against Baltimore’s Ray Rice in Week 13 at home.
What a defense can do, however, is get a little bit of redemption the second time around. For the most part, that was what the Browns’ defense did on Saturday.
Rice finished with 87 yards on 23 carries. He averaged 3.8 yards rush, which was solid but not spectacular.
The fact the Browns mostly contained Rice in a losing effort made it a little less satisfying. Rice’s 42-yard pass reception for a touchdown did, too.
Nevertheless, it was significant that the Browns’ defense held its own against one of the more explosive runners league. It was impressive that the unit kept Rice in check in his own stadium.
That now makes three consecutive games, all on the road, that the Browns did not allow a quality running back to get the better of them.
In Week 14, only four days after the disastrous first encounter with Rice, they held Pittsburgh’s Rashard Mendenhall to 76 yards. In Week 15, they limited Arizona’s Beanie Wells to 51 yards.
Those accomplishments also were tempered by the fact the Browns emerged from each game with a loss.
However, it’s clear that they have been utilizing the 204-yard, Rice nightmare as a source of motivation. They have been far more focused within the front seven to avoid creating the gaping holes for a running back to exploit.
The biggest difference since that 24-10 loss to the Ravens is that the Browns have been dramatically better with gap integrity. Cleveland’s defensive linemen and linebackers are no longer as quick to forget their responsibilities and try and make plays on their own rather than worrying about staying where they belong and letting plays come to them.
That’s different than simply being consistently overpowered, as was the case in some other games this season. With behemoth tackles Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor, the Browns aren’t going to be blown off the ball very often. But Taylor, a rookie, has had his occasions when his youth has gotten the better of him and has tried to do too much. In the last few games, though, Taylor has been more disciplined with his play — his offside penalty when the Ravens were intentionally trying to draw the infraction on fourth down late in Saturday’s game notwithstanding.
Chris Gocong’s move from weakside to strongside linebacker, in place of injured Scott Fujita, has been another factor in the Browns’ improvement against the run. He has joined D’Qwell Jackson as a consistent run-stuffing force.
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