After the Cleveland Browns management decided to clean house following their 5-11 season, the team was in need of a defensive coordinator. Dick Jauron held those defensive coaching duties the past two years, exceling in his first season as the team finished in the top 10 in total defense. But the Browns defense regressed this past season, slipping to 23rd in total defense.
The Browns opted to hire former Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton and the team may have struck gold. After the Arizona Cardinals lost 11 of its final 12 games, management chose the same path that Cleveland did by firing most of the coaching staff. Horton, among many others, was released of his duties, but make no mistake Horton was far from the problem in Arizona.
The Cardinals defense ranked 5th in pass defense last year under Horton, an encouraging stat for Browns fans who saw its team rank 25th in passing defense a season ago. Horton runs an aggressive style of defense in his 3-4, multi-front attack minded scheme. The Cardinals pressured the quarterback more than any team outside of the Houston Texans last year and it should be expected the Browns defense blitzes as often as possible.
Horton stressed in his first press conference with the team that he does not need a personnel overhaul to run this forceful 3-4 defense. He believes this defense is capable of doing big things.
“I love this team,” said Horton. “I love the way it’s constituted right now, because they give effort from the first game against Philadelphia all the way through to the last game against Pittsburgh.
“When you watch our defensive line, they get after the quarterback, and then they turn and run and make multiple plays downfield. And then you see our little guys, who you know can run, but the thing that impressed you is they can hit. If you can give me that for 16 weeks like they did, you don’t need anything else.”
Despite Cleveland’s poor defensive rankings last year, Horton may be correct in thinking this defense can be an effective group. The Browns have two talented players in their secondary with Joe Haden at cornerback and T.J. Ward at strong safety. The Browns also have talented young defensive tackles as Billy Winn and John Hughes had solid rookie seasons, while Phil Taylor has shown in his two seasons with the Browns he could be instrumental in their defensive success. The Browns D’Qwell Jackson, middle linebacker and captain of the defense, is also one of the most underrated defenders in the league as he puts fear into the opposing quarterbacks.
The fact remains though that Horton has his work cut out for him. Although Haden and Ward are talented, the rest of their secondary is extremely weak. And while Jackson is one of the most reliable middle linebackers in the league, the weak side and strong side linebacker is a position of concern.
The Browns should still feel optimistic about their defense going forward with the hire of Horton, given his strong resume. With Norv Turner at offensive coordinator and Ray Horton at defensive coordinator, the Browns have arguably two of the best coordinators at their positions, giving this struggling franchise hope moving forward.