CLEVELAND - The Browns' defense is starting to gain a bad reputation, which is really a good thing.
Whether it's Phil Taylor taking a swing at Ray Rice after being sprayed in the face with spit, or the big nose tackle leveling BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the defense is becoming one of the NFL's more intimidating units. It starts with the 335-pound Taylor and spreads to players like Paul Kruger, D'Qwell Jackson and T.J. Ward.
"That's just the way I play," Taylor said. "The other guys on the team feed off of it. Being nasty is going to get us to being the number one defense. That's our goal."
The Browns aren't far from the top of the statistical heap defensively. Through four games, the defense is third in allowing the fewest yards per game (291.5). They're fourth against the rush (79) and ninth against the pass (212.5).
Those numbers have to be refreshing to see for defenders who have been part of some bad defenses. The standard method of operation in recent years was for the defense to play well at times but eventually give way because of time spent on the field due to offensive ineptitude. Rankings in the 20s and sometimes the 30s among the NFL's 32 teams were the norm.
"It's different this year and we definitely take pride in that," said Ward, who roams the secondary as the starting strong safety. "But we have to keep doing it every week. We don't want to start good and in the back end fall down. We want to be consistently in the top half of the defenses, and hopefully at the end of the year we'll be number one."
Ward brings the same aggressive style to the secondary that Taylor brings to the front seven. A little intimidation - whether as noticeable as a sack or as subtle as making the right read in pass coverage - is never a bad thing.
"You definitely have to be intimidating as a defense," Ward said. "At the same time you have to do your job. Bringing that intimidation factor is big for us. We have a great front seven and a great back end. It's a factor that you have the offense giving in to your will. Making them second guess decisions, passing over the middle because you are an intimidating factor."
The greatest source of pride for the defense has been its stout play against the run. It began when the defense limited the Dolphins to 20 yards on the ground. It gained steam when Rice managed just 36 yards the next week, and it reached a peak when Vikings great running back Adrian Peterson was held to 88 yards.
Last week Bengals receiver A.J. Green had just 51 yards on seven receptions against the coverage of cornerback Joe Haden.
"It means a lot because they (other teams) are going to go, 'how do we stop Adrian Peterson and how do we stop A.J. Green?' " Taylor said. "The Browns played them very well, so let's go watch their tape."
Jackson has been part of some bad defenses since joining the team in 2006. He likes what he's seen from the run defense.
"I don't think anyone will be able to run on us," Jackson said. "We faced one of the purest running backs in Adrian Peterson. We feel that's what we do best. We want to be a top defense when this season is over with."
That means flexing a few more muscles.