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Four Downs: Browns run D searching for 4-quarter formula for success


1. Browns run D searching for 4-quarter formula for success

The Browns felt good about their plan for rookie sensation Todd Gurley early in Sunday's game.

Gurley had 9 yards in his first five carries, and that included a 14-yard gain. At the half, St. Louis had just 44 rushing yards.

But it was how Gurley and the Rams finished that left the Browns defense unsatisfied yet again about how they fared against the run.

Gurley ran for 128 yards and two touchdowns, as St. Louis used a number of chunk plays to score two second-half touchdowns in Sunday's 24-6 loss.

Browns coach Mike Pettine described the defense's performance against Gurley, who has run for 433 yards in the last three games, as "hot and cold." Another way to put it: tale of two halves.

"The two big games that he has had, he had four or five chunk runs that accumulated for about half of the yards he had," Pettine said. "I felt at times we did a good job and other times we didn't. You can tell he is a back and he can make you miss, jump over you. He is patient and he knows when to slow down and he is good with his change of pace.

"We battled for a while, but unfortunately we weren't good enough."

The Browns forced a game-opening three-and-out and bottled up Gurley throughout the first quarter. He found more lanes in the second quarter, opening the period with a 14-yard gain and collecting 24 yards on a series of three consecutive carries a little later. He also added a 24-yard catch-and-run near the end of the quarter.

It went downhill in the second half, as Gurley's first carry went for 48 yards. His next and final double-digit run went for 16 and a touchdown, his second of the half.

"We were keying in early and he made a couple big runs in the second half getting outside," safety Donte Whitner said. "We had a good game plan for him but we had to swarm. We did a really good job in the first half. Second half we didn't maintain it."

The Browns are allowing an average of 3.7 yards per carry in the first quarter, 5.6 in the second quarter, 6.8 in the third and 4.6 in the fourth this season. Only twice have the Browns surrendered more rushing yards in the first half than the second.

Sunday's performance was particularly tough to swallow for the defense, which felt great about its plan to stop one of the NFL's rising stars.

"You put so much in it week by week. You have a really good game plan and then going out and not finishing, it's disappointing," Whitner said. "We have to get more turnovers. We had one but they had three or four. Any time you do that and make too many mistakes, you're not going to win the football game."

The challenge for the Browns this week doesn't get any easier. No team in the NFL has improved their rushing offense more than the Arizona Cardinals, which finished 2014 ranked 31st and currently sit fourth in the NFL with an average of 125.6 yards per game. The Browns' remaining nine games include three top-four rushing offenses (Seattle, Pittsburgh and Arizona) and another from the top 10 (San Francisco).

2. Film review tough for Browns O-line

Joel Bitonio and the rest of Cleveland's offensive line didn't have much of a grasp on how hard Josh McCown was hit during Sunday's game until Monday's film review.

It wasn't easy to stomach.

"You're blocking so you don't really see what happens, but I saw a couple hits today watching the film and I'm like, 'How did he get up from that one?'" Bitonio said. "It's tough to see, but he's a tough guy, man. He comes out swinging every week. You think he's going to be down for the count and seems like he's ready to go on Wednesday."

Bitonio called Sunday's performance a "perfect storm" because there were one or two plays from each member of the offensive line that were "pretty ugly for us." Bitonio said he believes the offensive line is just as in sync as it was last season before center Alex Mack went down with a season-ending injury.

The performance going forward, Bitonio said, just needs to be better than it was Sunday.

"That's going to be our job as tight ends, O-line, running backs, just as a whole offense – we have to make sure we keep (McCown) on his feet," Bitonio said. "You can only take so many hits before it wears you out."

3. Snap count update

-- The Browns divided up their snaps at running backs as follows: Duke Johnson Jr. (29), Robert Turbin (27) and Isaiah Crowell (19).

-- Randy Starks led all defensive linemen with 27 snaps. Desmond Bryant and Xavier Cooper each had 26 and Jamie Meder had 24.

-- The loss of Jordan Poyer (shoulder) will extend beyond what he did at safety. He was among the leaders in special teams snaps (12) on Sunday.

-- Gary Barnidge and Jim Dray did some heavy lifting as the team's only two active tight ends. Barnidge played 75 percent of the snaps (56) and Dray played 35.

4. Stat to watch

Both Travis Benjamin (575) and Gary Barnidge (514) are on pace for 1,000-yard seasons. The last time Cleveland's had two players clear 1,000 was 2007 -- Kellen Winslow (1,106) and Braylon Edwards (1,289). Since 2007, the Browns have had just one 1,000-yard season at all, with Josh Gordon going for 1,646.

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