Browns Run Defense Ready for Willie?

The Browns won't have to wait long to determine if their run defense is better in 2007. The team, (including Ted Washington, pictured) starts off against the Steelers on Sunday and will get tested right off the bat. Here is analysis from

Just as it was last year, run defense is going to be the biggest question surrounding the Browns. As luck would have it, they will get an answer to that question quickly when they kick off the season against the Steelers.

The defensive line facing Pittsburgh Sunday in Cleveland Browns Stadium has two different starters compared to the line that faced the Steelers in Pittsburgh last December. Orpheus Roye is expected to return from a knee injury after missing the entire preseason following surgery Aug. 2 (he missed the end of 2006 with a knee injury). Robaire Smith has replaced Alvin McKinley at right end and linebacker D'Qwell Jackson is healthy again after missing the end of 2006 with a toe injury. Antwan Peek has replaced Willie McGinest at left outside linebacker.

"I think our defensive line has enough depth and experience to hold up pretty well," general manager Phil Savage said. "With the emergence of (linebackers) Kamerion Wimbley, Antwan Peek, Leon Williams, D'Qwell, and Andra Davis, we have a chance to be better against the run. First down is going to be a key down for us because if we can get to our nickel package, we'll be pretty good."

Savage's optimism notwithstanding, the Browns run defense in the preseason looked a lot like it did when games counted last year.

The third preseason game is the one that most resembles a regular season game because the starters usually play a half or more. The Broncos ripped through the Browns for 157 yards on 31 carries, and their longest run all night was 16 yards, so it wasn't like they had one 90-yard run and 30 two-yard runs.

On a fourth-and-one in the first quarter with the Browns' starting defense on the field and everyone bunched tightly together, Cecil Sapp blasted through the line untouched until he was dragged to the ground 11 yards later.

The Browns were without Roye and Davis, but the Broncos were missing starting running back Travis Henry. The week before the Lions did not have starter Kevin Jones and the Lions rushed for 101 yards on 29 carries. Kansas City running back Larry Johnson was holding out during the preseason opener when the Chiefs rushed for 90 yards on 22 carries.

"Any time a team can run for 150 yards on you, that's not good," Coach Romeo Crennel said. "I don't care what the circumstances are. We have some things to shore up. We have to tackle better. Our run force has to be better. Once we do some of those things I anticipate the run defense will improve."

The run defense was better in the final preseason game. The Bears needed 28 carries for 74 yards, a 2.4 average, but there was no champagne celebration in the Browns locker room because starter Cedric Benson carried only once, gaining two yards.

The Browns expect Willie Parker to get more than one carry Sunday. Last December the Steelers' starter ripped through the Browns for 223 yards on 32 carries.

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