Cleveland Browns: DIck LeBeau

Defense needs to produce

November, 28, 2013
11/28/13
4:04
PM ET
The Browns talked big the past two weeks. They talked of playing in big games, how it was “Pittsburgh week” and how important the Steelers game would be.

But they didn’t walk the walk. They were embarrassed in Cincinnati, allowing the Bengals to get a team record for points in a quarter while having the ball three minutes, and then getting thrashed -- yes that’s the word -- by Pittsburgh.

Lost in the offensive issues against Pittsburgh (turnovers) and the blather about T.J. Ward’s comments is this reality: The defense has had its own issues since the first quarter in Cincinnati.

For the third time this season, defensive coordinator Ray Horton cut back on pressure against a top quarterback. If madness is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, well that’s what the Browns had, and received. Not pressuring Roethlisberger allowed him to stand back and take what he wanted -- much the same way Matt Stafford and Aaron Rodgers did. Combine that with the reality that Le’Veon Bell ran better than any Browns back all season, and the result was a thrashing.

Horton has great respect for Dick LeBeau, but it almost seemed that he tried to outthink LeBeau and lost the matchup.

It was the Steelers, after all, who came up with the game-turning blitz that sent Jason Campbell to the sidelines. Yes, Campbell was hit in the head and it should have been called but LeBeau had the blitz that brought William Gay free to blindside Campbell.

Pittsburgh had five sacks, the Browns none.

Pittsburgh forced three fumbles, and recovered all of them. The Browns forced none.

Troy Polamalu played like he was in his prime. The Browns prime-time player was beat for a touchdown.

The Steelers had an interception for a touchdown. The Browns had no interceptions.

Defenses that want to talk big and act like they’re a top defense need to back it up. The Browns didn’t.

Pittsburgh’s defense set up or scored 14 points. The Browns did score seven on Joe Haden’s interception in Cincinnati, but from that point it went south. Too, the Bengals held the Browns to field goals, while the Browns allowed Cincinnati and Pittsburgh to score touchdowns after turnovers.

The Browns still lead the league in yards allowed per play, but they rank 23rd in interception percentage, 26th in takeaways, 27th in third downs and 31st in red zone efficiency.

This weekend the Browns have the Jaguars, a team it might be disastrous to lose to.

In seven of their 11 games, the Jaguars have averaged eight points per game. They’ve got Chad Henne at quarterback, whose passer rating has never been higher in a season than 79.0.

The Browns defense did not stand up against better opponents.

Sunday would be a good time for it to stand up against a lesser one.
One of the most interesting facets of Sunday's game between the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers?

The defenses are identical.

Not in terms of players, but in terms of calls, language, formation and approach.

"As far as alignment, calls, words, verbage -- identical," Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton said.

Horton learned from the master. He coached under Dick LeBeau of the Steelers for years, and he admires him to this day. Not because of his coaching ability, which is immense, but because of the way LeBeau treats people.

"He's quite the scholar, but I would say he's got that common touch," Horton said. "It's unbelievable how he treats people. He's got an uncanny ability to make you think you're the only person in the room that matters."

Horton always knew he wanted to coach, but LeBeau's integrity and character was the role model for the manner he wanted to coach.

Now he's adopted LeBeau's zone-blitzing, attacking defense -- to the point that he said it would be interesting to see a game with two teams playing the exact same defensive style.

The question is which team benefits. Do the Steelers benefit because they've seen it for so long, or do the Browns benefit because Horton spent so many years as the secondary coach in Pittsburgh watching practice. In years past, numerous Browns quarterbacks were baffled by the Steelers' calls. The sight of Charlie Frye saying he had no idea what was coming after the Christmas Eve debacle remains fresh.

At least the Browns won't be baffled.

Horton calls it a wash.

"It helps because they see it all the time," he said. "But then so does our offense. I don't think it gives a team an advantage one way or the other."

"The plays themselves, the calls are similar," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "But every defense has (its) own individuality that's unique to the people that run it and call it. You can make those comparisons, but Dick LeBeau won't be making calls for the Cleveland Browns. Ray Horton will."

One other Horton note ... since Horton is one of the most refreshingly honest and open coaches to come down I-76 in a long time ...

Horton gushed about Ben Roethlisberger, and in this case it's not worth getting in Horton's way.

"I think I saw a quote somewhere about Fran Tarkenton, saying that Fran Tarkenton was the best quarterback or something like that recently,' Horton said. "It was odd, because I was just thinking about Ben, watching tape.

"There's different style of quarterbacks. I can't go back to Y.A. Tittle and some of those other quarterbacks but as far as the most elusive quarterback, I don't know if there's a better one. Fran was different because he could scramble and run around, but Fran didn't take hits and shake hits like Ben does.

"I don't think there's been a quarterback in the league that has taken unabated shots and shrugged guys off, more big plays, than Ben in the history of the league.

"Now, Fran would run, Roger Staubach would run, but they were different types of quarterbacks. Ben's probably the biggest, strongest, most mobile quarterback.

"I tell people, I told our players, he was a shortstop in baseball; you'd think he would be a pitcher. He was a point guard in basketball; you'd think he would be the center. And he punts left-footed. So this guy is the most athletic guy that we'll face, meaning total package of completeness."

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