- Pat McManamon, ESPN Staff Writer
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Say this for Ray Horton: He comes prepared for his weekly session with the oh-so-friendly folks in the Cleveland Browns media.
If there's a negative stat circulating, Horton can refute it.
If he can't refute it, he can balance it.
If he can't balance it, he promises improvement.
He seems like the guy who watches a meteor destroy his house who then says how cool the hole is.
Take the Browns defense, which has given up 24, 31 and 31 points the last three games.
"We've been evolving as a defense and I like where we're headed," he said. "I think there is very, very good defensive football ahead of us."
At this point, memories of Butch Davis saying the defensive line was dominating the day Jamal Lewis broke the NFL rushing record come flooding into the cerebellum.
Horton even had a way to justify his team's sack total (20) by (sort of) disparaging Kansas City's league-leading total of 35.
"If you take out a phenomenal one game against the Raiders with 10 sacks, it would put them somewhere in the mid-20s," he said. "I believe we're probably at 18 or 19 [or 20]. We've had opportunities to get more.
"You are where you're sitting at, but we're close to mid-20s in sacks. But with the exception of one team that had a phenomenal game, everybody is right at 24."
Horton is straight-shooter who answers a question. He's also a guy who obviously supports his guys.
As for the sack number, Horton is right.
The Chiefs did have 10 sacks against Oakland, and without them they'd have 25, which would tie them with the Ravens. At this point there are 11 teams with between 20 and 25 sacks.
But ... the Chiefs did have those 10 sacks.
It's kind of like the golfer who says he hit the perfect putt, it was just three feet right.
Horton even had a reason for the sack numbers being below what the Browns wanted from this aggressive defense.
"There is no question I've called a different game plan for two weeks," he said.
Meaning with Matt Stafford and Aaron Rodgers across the line, Horton played safer.
"Certain quarterbacks in the league are special," he said.
So Horton called fewer blitzes, mixed in more coverages and played to contain rather than attack.
"I think the last two times I blitzed a corner, he's got a sack," Horton said.
Clearly the implication was that the Browns feel they might be able to blitz Alex Smith.
As for the Browns' biggest defensive problem, third down, Horton understood. His unit is ranked seventh overall, but 29th on third down and 29th in the red zone.
"What it says if we were average on third down we'd be the No. 2 team in the league probably, and if we were in the top 10 [on third down] we'd be the No. 1 team," Horton said. "Third down is what's gonna put is in the top two in the league. It's gonna mean turnovers, it's gonna mean stops, it's gonna mean non-scoring opportunities."
He admits the third downs have to get better. But he also knows what those numbers mean.
"What it means," he said, "is we're really good."
4hEric D. Williams