Defense has been overshadowed by QB

CLEVELAND – Something has been lost in all the conversation about the Browns quarterback position.

You might have noticed that the defense, which was considered elite early in the season, has looked rather average in recent weeks. It’s amazing what matchups against Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Detroit’s Matthew Stafford can do to the image of a defense.

Stafford threw for 248 yards and four touchdowns in a 31-17 dismantling of the Browns a couple weeks ago. A week later a trip to Lambeau Field resulted in a 31-13 loss to the Packers in which Rodgers passed for 260 yards and three touchdowns.

Defensive coordinator Ray Horton, whose chances of becoming a head coach in the future, depend on the performance of the defense, promises that changes are on the way. Not personnel changes, but changes in end results.

“This next four-week period for us, I think you’ll see a different Cleveland Browns defense,” Horton said. “I like where we’re sitting at now, but by Thanksgiving you’ll probably say, ‘Wow, you were right when you said we were going to get better.’ “

The biggest change on the defensive side has been the play against the run. The Browns opened the season by allowing 23 rushing yards on 20 attempts to the Miami Dolphins, the second lowest figure in Browns’ history.

The defense played the run well the next three games and was near the top of the NFL in that category. Then came a Thursday night game against the Buffalo Bills, who gained 155 yards on the ground despite the fact that running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson were questionable all week with injuries. Spiller had the big run, cutting back and getting outside the contain of linebacker Barkevious Mingo for a touchdown covering 54 yards.

The Lions gained 118 rushing yards a week later. The Packers were able to successfully mix in the run with Rodgers’ passing effort, adding 104 yards,

Horton’s statement seems bold in light of how average the unit, which is still ranked a respectable ninth against the run at 99 yards a game, has performed.

“I know how and why I call a game,” Horton said. “I know what my vision is and where we’re at on the field and in the classroom. I think you’ll see a different Cleveland Browns defense.”

Horton might feel comfortable making such a prediction because there are no quarterbacks the caliber of Rodgers or Stafford, for that matter, on the immediate schedule. Alex Smith of the Kansas City Chiefs, this week’s opponent, isn’t an elite player. The Ravens and quarterback Joe Flacco are up after that, but is Flacco really worth the big contract he was given after winning the Super Bowl?

The Browns do face Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger twice and New England’s Tom Brady later in the season, but there are also games against the Bengals, Jaguars and whoever they start at quarterback and the New York Jets with struggling rookie Geno Smith.

In addition to the struggles against the run, the defense can’t seem to get much pressure on quarterbacks. The sack total has slowed to a crawl after getting four against the Dolphins.

Mingo has been invisible at times. He had a sack in each of his first three game appearances but none since. He has 17 tackles (14 solos) for the season.

“I think by Thanksgiving weekend he’ll be better then than he is now,” Horton said. “He’s better now than he was at the start of the season. He’s making his rookie mistakes.”

If all of Horton’s promises aren’t met by Thanksgiving, he’ll have to eat crow instead of turkey.