BEREA, Ohio--It has been a long,long time since the Browns were able to stop the run. In fact, the Browns haven't finished a season holding the opponent's rushing average per game below 100 yards since 1987 when the Browns finished giving up an average of 95.5 a game. That team was 10-5 and went to the AFC Championship game before losing to the Broncos. The best average since the team returned in 1999 was 129.4 per game in 2010 and the team finished 5-11.
Currently, the Browns are giving up just 84.3 yards per game rushing. They have not allowed a 100-yard rushing performance yet and they have played the likes of Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice. The Browns currently rank fourth in the AFC and seventh in the NFL in rushing defensive yards per game. What's even more impressive is the fact they are allowing just 2.8 yards per carry.
Visions of backs running at will in years past against the Browns defense has been the norm since the team returned in 1999. With Ray Horton's attack style defense of getting after the passer and the personnel they added to the front seven, it was assumed the Browns would have more sacks, but maybe not be outstanding against the run.
Horton was asked to assess the defense through the first three games.
"We're on pace, we're on page, not near where we will be," Horton said before Thursday's practice. "Our defense, we only have probably 50 percent of it in, so there's bigger and better things to come."
The Browns have 12 sacks through three games, including six last week against the Vikings. Projected over the whole season at that pace, the Browns would have 64 over the course of the season. The Browns had just 38 sacks all of last season.
Horton said he isn't surprised with the number of sacks.
"It's not high for me," he said. "It's what I expect. I'm used to seeing the numbers up there."
Horton was asked if he is surprised the Browns are having as much success in stopping the run as they have had thus far.
"Not at all. Nope. I expect it."
Horton said he saw the potential when he first watched tape of the team play last year.
"You never know," he said. "You assume. You hope. You plan, but coming in early when I watch all of last year's film, with the makeup of our guys when I got here and watched them practice, there were two plays from last year's game, one was against Denver and the other was against Washington, I saw how the big men ran. It really pleased me to know that they run from the middle of the field to the sideline, so I assumed we'd be pretty good in run defense."
Horton's defense has caught the attention of Bengals' coach Marvin Lewis.
“Yeah, Ray has done a good job, putting the defense together in Arizona and trying to duplicate it (in Cleveland)," Lewis said. "He’s got further ahead here because he’s fallen into some good rushers, and that’s a good thing. It makes that transition that much quicker and easier. They’re able to bring in (Paul) Kruger, and then they draft (Barkevious) Mingo. They have the kid from Pitt who was already there (Jabaal Sheard). They got good rushers, they have the kid Phil (Taylor) at the nose, you add (Desmond) Bryant, they’ve got my guy from Iowa State, (Ahtyba) Rubin, whose been one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. Kind of unheralded, but if you put on the tape, week in and week out, that man plays great football.
“Then you’ve got maybe the best inside linebacker in (D’Qwell) Jackson; all he does is play in a different defense every year, and plays his butt off," Lewis continued. "He’s played for I can’t tell you how many different defensive coordinators, but every year he just plays very sound, good defensive football.
"Defensively, it’s a good group up front," Lewis said. "They have really good rushers that have done a nice job. They’re playing the run extremely well. In the back end the secondary is a young, athletic group that covers very well.”
The Browns will face a challenge this week with veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis and rookie Giovani Bernard.
"They are dynamic and I think they complement each other very well," Horton said. "Mr. Green is a downhill runner, a one-cut type of runner and Bernard is a multiple cut, kind of the Ray Rice and Adrian (Peterson) in one backfield. They're both potent running backs, but with different styles."
Horton expects to see more of Bernard.
"The young kid is earning more playing time, I'm sure that's evident." Horton said. "He is dynamic. We understand that. I don't see him as third down back, I see him as a feature back."
One area that Horton is not happy with is the rate of third down conversions against his defense. The Browns have given up nearly 50 percent on third down (24-of-49) and he said that has to change.
"(It's) concerning, alarming, not good enough," Horton said. "That goes on me. I'm calling a different game than I normally do until we get comfortable. Is it alarming? It's shocking to me , but that's just what it is, the reality. All of our numbers are predicated by that. That's the one glaring thing we have to fix, but when we do fix it, watch how the numbers change."
Mingo to Start: With OLB Jabaal Sheard dealing with a knee injury, it appears that rookie first-round draft pick OLB Barkevious Mingo will make his first start Sunday against the Bengals. Sheard was not practicing during the portion of practice that was open to the media.
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton said he doesn't think the defense will miss a beat.
"The first time I talked to you was about depth across the board," Horton said. "I don't think we blink," Horton said . "I've told my coaches that I don't need to know who's in the game. I don't care anymore. I don't need to know (who's in the game) now, I just call the game."
Mingo was perceived as more of a situational pass rusher by some, but he has been playing against the run pretty well.
"I don't think we ever labeled him as that," he said. "He's growing. We're trying to get better as a team. It's going on week four and one of our goals is to get better and better as the season goes along. I think he falls into that category. He'll be better this week than last week."
In two games, Mingo has five tackles, including two sacks and a pass broken up.
Lauvao Ready: OL Shawn Lauvao appears he will play for the first time this season Sunday, although Lauvao is hedging his bets.
"I'm trying to be smart, but I want to be out there," Lauvao said. "I hope to come back better (than before the injury)."
Lauvao said he's been rotating in with the first team.
"I'm just taking it day by day," Lauvao said. "I'm trying to speed (my reps) up. I feel a little rusty. I've been out a little while."
Lauvao has been out since having arthroscopic surgery on his ankle during training camp. He said he has missed playing.
"I'm coming back hungry and have a changed perspective on things," he said. " I hope when I come back, I can step in and help."
Kicker Question: K Billy Cundiff was limited in practice and was seen in the locker room before practice. He was asked by a reporter in passing if he'd be able to play Sunday, but he deferred to Rob Chudzinski.
"You'll have to ask the coach on injuries."
Chudzinski isn't made available to the media on Thursdays.
Cundiff was on the stationary bike during open part of practice to the media.
Jim Brown Speaks, Again: Browns special adviser and Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown appeared on Showtime's "Inside the NFL" on Wednesday night and criticized former Browns President Mike Holmgren.
"They were going to clean house," Brown said. "And he had all his boys that were going to come in and take advantage of the kind of money that he could pay his guys. And never really be there. He took advantage of Randy (Lerner) and it was just a shame.
"Randy's a good guy," Brown said. "Young owner. Wanted someone to take the pressure off of him. Mike came in, saw the weakness and took advantage of it."
Brown was fired by Holmgren after he was hired by Lerner as team president.
Brown also chimed in on the trade of RB Trent Richardson, whom he called "ordinary" when the team drafted him. Since then, Jimmy Haslam III appointed Brown as a special adviser and he was very complimentary of Richardson during training camp.
"Well, I was surprised (by the trade), but then I thought it was a brilliant move…because first of all, Trent couldn't have carried the kind of load that Cleveland needed," Brown said. "But with Andrew Luck, Andrew won't need as much. And the two of them can really do a lot for their team.
"(The Browns) have a young team and of course, we had a great victory utilizing the kind of imagination that made the trade," he said. "That imagination is exciting because Cleveland is really popping right now."
Injury Update: QB Brandon Weeden (thumb), LB Quentin Groves (ankle), K Billy Cundiff (quad), LB Jabaal Sheard (knee) and DL Billy Winn (quad) were on the injury report as did not practice. Winn and Sheard were not on the field during the part of practice open to the media, while Cundiff and Weeden were on the side with trainers. OL Shawn Lauvao (ankle) and OL Oniel Cousins (chest) were listed as limited. WR Josh Gordon (ankle), DL Ahtyba Rubin (calf) and DL Desmond Bryant (wrist) were all listed as full participants.
Practice Squad: The Browns added LB Justin Staples and OL Jeremiah Warren to the practice squad and released DB Kip Edwards. OL Caylin Hauptmann was signed by the Seahawks to their active roster earlier this week. Staples is from Berea and was with the Browns in training camp. Warren is from South Florida.