Started from the bottom: Browns defense earning respect

Has the Browns defense become a force to be reckoned with in the AFC North?

Ron Schwane/Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports

BEREA, Ohio — When Mike Pettine was named head coach of the Browns most thought it was a given the defense would be the strength of the team.

Pettine took a Buffalo Bills defense in his first season as defensive coordinator to a top 10 ranking in his only year in Buffalo. Prior to that, Pettine’s defenses with the Jets were top 10 finishers.

The Browns had a strong and deep defensive front and added Karlos Dansby and Donte Whitner to a already strong nucleus. They drafted Justin Gilbert eighth overall and added Chris Kirksey to the mix.

However, the defense struggled the first half of the season, particularly in the running game. Against the Bengals, in a nationally-televised game, they decided to have their coming out party.

The Browns allowed just three points, the franchise’s fewest allowed since a 6-3 win against the Seahawks on Oct. 23, 2011. The three points allowed also ties for the fewest points allowed by the Browns in an AFC North game (vs. Baltimore 20-3 win on Sept. 12, 2004.).

The Browns entered the game giving up 139.6 yards a game on the ground, tied for 30th in that category. However, they held Jeremy Hill to just 55 yards after he exploded for 154 yards and two touchdowns against Jacksonville in his first game taking over for the injured Gio Bernard.

One of the biggest keys to the team’s success has been their ability to take the ball away from their opponents, while not turning it over themselves.

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The Browns forced four turnovers against the Bengals and turned over just one fumble on a punt return. They are now are +9 in the turnover ratio department. The Browns started the week tied for sixth in the NFL in the takeaway/giveaway department at +6 and increased the total against the Bengals 50 percent.

"We wanted to create a lot of turnovers and if you give the offense back the ball more there is a direct correlation between turnovers and winning," Whitner said. "If you go back and look at the statistics at the end of the year, the teams that are in the top 10 top 12 are usually–top 95 percent of them are in the playoffs."

Whitner thinks it took a little bit of time for the defense to gel but he thinks they are all on the same page now.

"We understand what we do well and what we don’t do well," Whitner said. "We understand how teams want to attack us and how we’re going to attack them and that’s what we’re doing better."