The statistics tell the story as to how improved is the Cleveland Browns defense in 2013 when compared to last season.
A defense that finished 19th or lower in rushing yards, passing yards, total yards and points allowed last season now finds itself in the top ten in three of those four categories, as well as tied for first with the most players with at least one sack (13), second in yards per play against (4.54) and tied for fourth in rushing yards allowed per play (3.5).
However, that is only the tip of the iceberg for how good the Browns can be, according to defensive coordinator Ray Horton.
“I like where we’re headed,” Horton said. “I think there is very, very good defensive football ahead of us.
“I know how I call a game and why I call a game. I know what my vision is and where we’re at on the field and in the classroom, and I think you’ll see a different Cleveland Browns defense moving forward.”
And he expects that story to be a positive one.
“I think this next four-week period for us, you’ll start seeing a different Cleveland Browns defense, and you’ll start to see the names everybody thought (about),” Horton said. “I like where we’re sitting at right now, and I think, at Thanksgiving, you’ll say, ‘Wow, you were probably right in what you said back there about getting better.”
Defending on third down is one category in which Horton wants the team to improve. The Browns have allowed opponents to convert 48 of 106 third-down attempts (45.3 percent).
“It’s a recurring theme, and what it says is, if we were average on third down, we’d be the No. 2 team in the league, probably, and if we were in the top ten, we’d be the No. 1 team in the league,” Horton said. “Third down is what’s going to put us in the top two in the league.
“It’s going to mean turnovers. It’s going to mean stops. It’s going to mean getting off the field. And, it’s a non-scoring opportunity. That is one of my main statistical categories. There’s seven of them, and that’s one of the ones we’re deficient in. We’re really good, and I’ve looked at every, single one of them and some of them are mental mistakes. Some of them are penalties, and some of them, they made. If we can eliminate two-thirds of those, which only one-third of which we control, our mistakes, we’ll be a top-14 team on third down.”
In addition to controlling their own mistakes, Horton wants to force some as well.
The Browns have forced seven fumbles and recovered four of them, in addition to the five interceptions they have registered through the first seven games of the season. However, over the last two weeks, the Browns have forced only one turnover.
Conversely, the team forced six turnovers during their three-game winning streak.
“That’s the number one statistical indicator of getting into the playoffs, turnover ratio,” Horton said. “It involves all three parts of the team, and right now, the Kansas City Chiefs are a plus-12. There’s no mystery. There’s no secret. That’s the biggest determining factor in terms of getting into the playoffs, year-in and year-out for probably the past 20 years.
“We’re not deficient in it, but we’re not leading the league either. They come. They’re cyclical. You get them by hitting them, getting the ball on the ground, tips and overthrows, sacks and fumbles. It’s a team effort.”