Getting the Runaround

Regardless of the Browns general manager, coach or even quarterback, one thing has remained the same since '99: Poor run defense.

Three things haven't changed for the Cleveland Browns since 1999.

1. The Browns' uniforms.

2. The Browns' failure to stop the run.

3. The Browns' inability to consistently win football games.

As if it wasn't obvious, No. 3 is a direct result of No. 2. Oh, and leave No. 1 alone.

After Sunday's 30-12 loss to the Houston Texans, the Browns' finished the first half of the 2011 season at 3-5 overall. At face value, the Browns' 3-5 mark at the halfway point is the same as last season and both of which are better than the 1-7 record in 2009.

Still, it feels almost as hopeless as it did in 2009 when Dawg Pound Mike was requesting meetings with Randy Lerner, Mike Holmgren was still in retirement and Derek Anderson was the Browns' quarterback.

Two seasons later, the Browns' roster is younger and sprinkled with young talent. In the last two Aprils, the Browns have actually begun drafting talented players, which was a concept lost on this team for many years. Yet the on-field results look just as bad. While we can spend hours talking about this offense, it is that run defense that continues to struggle regardless of personnel or coach.

On Sunday, Houston finished with a franchise-record 261 yards rushing — 124 from Arian Foster and 115 from Ben Tate. Holes were huge. Browns defenders were blocked. Texans' running backs had a field day averaging 6.0 yards per carry.

Entering Sunday's game, the Browns defense was ranked second-best in the NFL against the pass and sixth overall. Talk about a statistical anomaly. The Browns were 26th against the run. Hey, when teams can run the ball, why throw it?

In eight games, opponents have rushed for 1,152 yards on 261 carries for an average of 4.4 yards per carry. In addition, opponents have averaged more than four yards a carry each week.

Last Sunday, it began at the point of attack. From the opening drive, the Texans' offensive line blew the Browns' defensive line back two to three yards and created wide running lanes for Foster and Tate. From there, it was as simple as speeding past the Browns' slow linebackers and breaking free from the Browns' poor-tackling defensive backs.

It wasn't anything we haven't seen before.

Since 1999, the Browns have simply not stopped the run. In terms of yards allowed per game, the Browns have not ranked better than 23rd since 1999 and their average slot is 28th out of 32 teams.

Here is how it breaks down:

1999: 31st (171.0)

2000: 29th (156.6)

2001: 29th (138.0)

2002: 27th (129.9)

2003: 23rd (132.1)

2004: 32nd (144.6)

2005: 30th (137.6)

2006: 29th (142.2)

2007: 27th (129.5)

2008: 28th (151.9)

2009: 28th (144.6)

2010: 27th (129.4)

2011: 30th (144.0, through eight games)

Browns general manager Tom Heckert has no doubt seen those statistics. Case in point: the drafting of run-stopping safety T.J. Ward, sure-tackling defensive back Joe Haden and middle-plugger defensive tackle Phil Taylor the last two Aprils. A good start, but the Browns are still plagued by slow linebackers, unable-to-contain defensive ends and a general lack of talent.

Of the Browns' eight remaining games against five different opponents, every team averages more than 100 yards rushing a game expect Arizona (95.9). The Browns' defense still has to face the Rams' Steven Jackson, the Jaguars' Maurice Jones-Drew, the Bengals' Cedric Benson, the Ravens' Ray Rice (twice) and the Steelers' Rashard Mendenhall (twice).

As well as the Browns defense has played at times this season, the inability to stop the run still plagues this team.

Spending time worrying about the offense is important, but even when the Browns' offense was above average (2007), they still allowed 129.5 yards rushing per game.

Good offense + bad run defense = no playoff berth. (Anderson throwing passes to Bengals defenders didn't help, either).

Dick Jauron is a more-than-capable defensive coordinator, but he can only do so much with the players he has. During the next eight games, the Browns offense will no doubt be the No. 1 source of our attention, but if this regime will be the one to finally return the Browns to respectability, we better see improvement from the run defense.

Otherwise, the cycle of frustration will continue.


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