As a middle and high school coach over the years, I’ve had the chance to guide a lot of young teenagers in learning what’s important on and off the field or the court. One area you’ll always hear me chiming about is playing defense and that defense wins games. So watching the Cleveland Browns over the years has always been a bit of torture to my soul as most years the Browns defense has been lousy. This year, the Browns continue to struggle defensively, but they’re forcing turnovers and their turnover ratio continues to be solid as we hit the halfway mark of the season.
Will this factor then be enough to keep the Browns competitive, winning ballgames and potentially get a date in the playoffs for the first time since 2002?
When you start dissecting the Browns’ defensive numbers this season some stats are not good. They’re currently 19th in ranking in the NFL allowing 371 yards total per game, 27th in ranking for points allowed per game at just under 30. More startling is that the Browns defense has allowed other teams to reach the Red Zone (inside the Browns 20 yard line) an average of five times a game. To give you context, the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers only allow two or three drives per game of opponents reaching inside the 20-yard line. In most games, the Browns are allowing their opponents to run and pass freely down the field and giving their opponents too many opportunities to score.
To counter that problem, the defense has managed to force turnovers at a decent clip to this point securing 14 takeaways (seven interceptions, seven forced fumbles) and have a turnover margin that is still positive at a plus-four. The team’s high mark was the win against the Washington Football Team when they registered five turnovers. However, now the Browns have had a couple of games where they couldn’t force a turnover, like in last week’s loss to the Las Vegas Raiders. Early in that game, Cleveland Browns safety Ronnie Harrison had a potential interception in hand to only mishandle the gift-wrapped turnover. Browns Coach Kevin Stefanski mentioned that opportunity after the game in a media interview and how those chances are what the Browns defense is trying to focus on moving forward. In the Browns’ three losses, they only have one forced turnover.
The Browns defense isn’t stopping anyone this season. I’ve shouted at the tv screen a few times imploring our defenders to tackle like they were probably taught when they were youngsters. The fundamentals of tackling aren’t there for the Browns. So that’s why I believe coach Stefanski and Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods are looking to the team to force turnovers.
Here’s how turnovers can affect a season:
Back in 2017, when the Browns were winless on the season, the team had a minus 28 margin on turnovers and only had 13 turnovers in all. But, the following season in 2018 the Browns finished the season 7-8-1, mostly because the team was a plus-seven in turnover ratio and totaled 31 turnovers in all.
I don’t believe these current Browns can overcome their defensive deficiencies over the next eight games. Instead, I think the team will have to zero in on forcing the fumbles and interceptions. All the while, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield and his teammates on offense will have to continue to outscore their opponent.
The Browns have the Houston Texans and Philadelphia Eagles coming to First Energy Stadium over the next two weeks. Neither team is doing well this year. The Texans are 1-6 and struggling, but they have Deshaun Watson as their quarterback and he’s having a good season throwing for 15 touchdowns with only five interceptions plus he’s completing 75% of his passes and throwing for 350 yards or more per game. So even though on paper the Browns look to have an advantage, the defense, especially their secondary, will have to withstand Watson’s strengths.
Philadelphia is coming to Cleveland the following week and their quarterback Carson Wentz is really struggling, throwing 12 interceptions already, including four picks this past week against the Dallas Cowboys. If the Browns’ mindset is forcing the turnovers, I have a suspicion they will get that against Philly.
Standing a 5-3 at the mid-mark of the season for the Browns is certainly a place the Dawgs haven’t been at in years. Knowing that the Browns defense isn’t going to be able to shut down teams completely, but instead forcing the turnovers to give the Browns explosive offense the ball in favorable spots the rest of the season could very well be the difference and help the team secure a playoff game.
I believe coach Stefanski and his players will do just that.
It begins with the Houston Texans. Like I say to my players, defense wins games. Browns, go out there and play some better defense, force the turnovers and go get another win.