Run Defense Struggles Continue

While the nightmarish performances of 2003 are a memory, the Browns still struggle against the run.

The Browns defense has been good and bad this season. The good is they keep opponents out of the end zone. The bad is week in and week out, they have difficulty stopping opposing runners.

Cleveland caught a break last week when Pittsburgh was without running back Willie Parker, and the Steelers still rushed for 159 yards. The Browns won't be as lucky when they host the Dolphins, who can pound the defense with Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown until Cleveland shows it can stop the Miami runners.

Opponents scored four rushing touchdowns in eight games before the Steelers scored three. Four in eight games isn't bad, but what happens is the defense doesn't make as many three-and-out stops as it would like to. Poor run defense is the main reason opponents dominate time of possession -- 33:30 for opponents and 26:30 for the Browns.

"I think our run defense is getting better," Browns coach Romeo Crennel said. "Coming in, we wanted to try to be a competitive and sound football team. We want to make good decisions and give good effort on the field. I think some of those things have happened, but we are a work in progress. We are making slow progress."

Middle linebacker Andra Davis is on pace for more than 200 tackles, but he is not satisfied with the way the defense is playing against the run. On the bright side, the Browns held six straight opponents under 20 points before the Steelers scored 34. Still, the Browns have lost four out of their past five games.

"Teams are going to keep running against us until we show we can stop them," Davis said. "We're playing well as a unit, but we can always get better. We have to be disciplined and stay in our gaps so we take away the running lanes."

The Browns are confident their third-down defense will improve once they are more successful against the run. Opponents have converted 49 of 118 third-down plays (41.5 percent).

GAME REPLAY: The Browns scored on their first possession, but the Steelers scored 17 points in the second quarter and rolled to a 34-21 win. The Browns are 3-6 overall and 0-3 in the AFC North.

It was the first time since Sept. 18, when the Browns beat the Packers 26-24, that an opponent scored more than 20 against the Browns.

Steelers receiver Hines Ward caught eight passes for 124 yards and a touchdown, and Pittsburgh rushed for three other scores.

The Browns missed several offensive opportunities. Dennis Northcutt dropped a critical third-down pass in the second quarter with the score 7-7, and Trent Dilfer misfired when Braylon Edwards was open with the Browns ahead 7-0. Had he made the completion, the play could have gone 83 yards for a touchdown.

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