Analysis: The Narrow Line

The Browns defense forces the offense to walk a narrow line between protecting the football and playing passively.

One reason the Browns have had some success this season is they have been able to minimize their turnovers in the games they have won. Obviously every team wants to protect the ball, but in the case of the Browns it is particularly important because the defense is not good enough to play on a short field and thwart the opponent.

The Browns play the Ravens Sunday in Baltimore. The Ravens might have difficulty scoring when they have to drive the length of the field, but the Browns want to make certain they do not give them any gift points.

"They want to capitalize on your mistakes," running back Jamal Lewis said. "When you turn the ball over it's hard to win a game, especially against a team like this. They thrive on that. The best thing to do is get the (pass) protection right and hold onto the football. That's what we have to do."

Ironically, a fumble by Lewis was a turning point in the 31-28 loss to the Steelers last week. It was their only turnover.

One of the areas the Browns have progressed in most in the two months since the season opening loss to the Steelers is protecting the ball, and quarterback Derek Anderson has done a better job of it than anybody. He has thrown nine interceptions, but since throwing three in the first half of the game against the Patriots Oct. 7 he has thrown only one. It breaks down to eight interceptions in his first 130 passes and only one in his last 162 passes.

One fumble was lost in the second half of the New England game and one was lost in the second half of the Miami game. It is no coincidence the Browns won three straight before losing to the Steelers and during the winning streak they turned the ball over only twice.

"That's D.A.," wide receiver Braylon Edwards said, referring to Anderson. "D.A. is growing in this system and he's making a lot of smart decisions. It's all him. He's not putting the ball where it can be picked off. We're holding on. We're not fumbling. But pretty much it's all attributed to D.A.'s success in this offense. He's really handling the ball well."

Tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. agreed with Lewis about protecting the ball, but he said the offense has to remain aggressive. The Browns were ranked fourth in the NFL offensively before last Sunday. Only the Patriots, Colts and Cowboys scored more. The Browns, with 255 points, have already scored more than (238) last season.

"We don't want to play passively," Winslow said. "If we do turn it over, the defense has to stop them. Then we have to go back out and execute again. The main goal is to win. To do that, we know we can't turn it over multiple times."

The record reflects what Winslow says about the 5-4 Browns. They turned the ball over five times in the loss to the Steelers, twice in the loss to Oakland and four times in the loss to the Patriots. They had single turnovers against the Bengals, Ravens, Dolphins and Seahawks and won those games. They did not turn the ball over in beating the Rams.


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