By now you’ve probably seen the numbers. With Joe Haden at cornerback, the Browns defense has allowed 16 points per game. During his four-game suspension, the Browns allowed 30.5.
One of the four games the Browns were without Haden came against the Baltimore Ravens, who come to Cleveland on Sunday. Although the game was a little more than a month ago, these two teams enter Sunday on seemingly different projections.
The Browns appear to be on the come despite their 2-6 record. They’ve won two of their last three games and two in a row at home. Aside from the improved defensive efforts, rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden is liming his mistakes and, when healthy, rookie running back Trent Richardson is doing pretty entertaining things with the football, like bouncing off would-be tacklers and scoring touchdowns.
“The record is completely different than how we feel as a team,” Haden said. “We know that our record could be so much better. A couple plays here, a couple plays there, but we’re starting to make those. We feel like we’re starting to make those and we’re starting to get over the hump.
“Why not win three games in a row? Four games in a row? Just get on spurts and keep winning.”
Perhaps the Browns are getting the Ravens again at just the right time. The Ravens have lost two key players on defense to season-ending injuries in linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Lardarius Webb. In their first game without those two players Oct. 21, they lost to the Houston Texans 43-13. It was the most points Baltimore has allowed since 2007.
Since beating the Browns, Baltimore beat Kansas City 9-6 on Oct. 7 and Dallas 31-29 on Oct. 14 before losing to Houston. More importantly, the Ravens have allowed 622 yards rushing in those three games. Good news for Richardson, who is coming off 122 yards and a touchdown against what was the league’s second-ranked rushing defense in San Diego.
“I’m aware of where they’re at statistically league-wide,” Browns offensive coordinator Brad Childress said. “I still think they’re a pretty salty defensive outfit. I still see them being a pretty salty group against the run and against the pass.”
In the first meeting, Ravens’ wide receivers Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin combined for 15 catches for 228 yards and one touchdown. Ray Rice, who rushed for more than 204 yards the last time he was at Cleveland Browns Stadium, only had 49 yards rushing on 18 carries.
In addition to Haden, the Browns’ defense expect to have its top defensive tackles — Phil Taylor — in the lineup.
The formula for the Browns sounds simple. Run the football and play good defense. They Browns may give up some yards, but where it counts — points — the Browns have been solid in recent weeks.
With eight games remaining, the Browns have an opportunity to build momentum with a young core of players. What better way to kick it off than a win over the Ravens?
The Browns have played some duds coming off solid performances this season.
There was the breakout play of Weeden and Richardson at Cincinnati in week two, only to lose to the Buffalo Bills at home a week later 24-14. Then, there was the error-prone debacle in Indianapolis on Oct. 21 a week after the season’s first victory over the Bengals.
The Browns now have a chance to win two in a row and three in a row at home. Again, the Browns are presented with an opportunity to quell the talk of offseason changes and draft picks and turn the focus to the here and now.
“We’ve come a long ways (since the first game against the Ravens),” Weeden said. “I watched the game again on my iPad at home. Josh Gordon hadn’t really come into his own. I was doing some uncharacteristic things, missed some throws. We had some drops.
“We’re not making the same mistakes we were back then which is good. We’ve come a long way since then. That’s encouraging. After watching it last night, it’s very encouraging.”
Browns fans would be encouraged about the future with another win Sunday.