The Browns defense, already among the worst in the NFL in yardage and points allowed, might have to play a second straight game without one of its starting defensive linemen.
Left end Shaun Smith missed the game in Baltimore with a knee injury and might have to sit out the home game against the Texans Nov. 25. Smith was injured in practice the Thursday before the Browns beat the Ravens 33-30 in overtime when a teammate inadvertently rolled up the back of his leg.
Surgery is not required, but a juggling of the defensive line is. Ethan Kelly, who had been starting at nose tackle and did start on the nose against the Ravens, is getting work at left end, where Smith started four straight games before his injury. Louis Leonard, who had been inactive since being picked up on waivers last month, was activated against the Ravens and is working as the backup nose tackle.
Smith was signed in free agency to play nose tackle, but he has been starting at end because Orpheus Roye is playing with a knee injury. Kelly replaced Ted Washington at nose tackle starting the third week of the season.
None of the players involved in the shuffle, including Smith, is having a great season, but Kelly, Smith and Robaire Smith have been active enough up front recently to tie up opposing offensive linemen and allow the linebackers to flow to the running back, which is what a 3-4 defense is designed to do.
The featured runner of each of the Browns' opponents through the first six games rushed for at least 100 yards. That streak was broken when Steven Jackson was held to 41 yards when the Browns beat St. Louis 27-20. It might have been different had Jackson not exited in the first quarter with a back injury, but the next week they held the Seahawks to 105 total rushing yards and leading rusher Maurice Morris to 55 yards.
"We're doing better but we have to continue to get the job done," middle linebacker Andra Davis said. "We can't give up those 30-yard runs like we did against Pittsburgh. It made it look like he (Willie Parker) was killing us if you just look at the stats. If you look at the whole game he really didn't do anything."
Davis was referring to a 31-yard run by Parker and a 30-yard touchdown run by Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers rushed for 159 yards on 35 carries -- a 4.5-yard average. Excluding the long runs by Parker and Roethlisberger the 33 other carries netted 98 yards.
The Ravens rushed for 128 yards on 25 carries -- a 5.1 average. Willis McGahee rushed for 102 yards on 21 carries and broke off one 24-yard run. The Browns would settle for the 100-yard game, but the long run is what they are trying to eliminate.
The gradual improvement of Kelly and Shaun Smith also breathed life into a dormant pass rush. The Browns had seven sacks through eight games and sacked Roethlisberger four times. They got to Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller six times.