Horton sees big things from defense
BEREA -- Defensive coordinator Ray Horton made a bold prediction on Thursday.
"I think this next four-week period for us, you’ll see kind of a different Cleveland Browns defense," Horton said. "You’ll start seeing the names that everybody thought. But I like where we’re sitting at right now and I think, again at Thanksgiving, when we’re sitting here, you’ll say, ‘Wow, you were probably right in what you said about getting better.’”
The Browns defense was one of the strengths of the Browns for the first five games. However, in the last two weeks they have given up 31 points the last two games. Against the Lions two weeks ago, the Browns defense gave up 24 points in the second half in the loss.
Horton was asked what makes him feel that way. So what gives Horton such an optimistic outlook?
“I know how I call a game and why I call a game," he said. "I know what my vision is, where we’re at on the field and in the classroom. I just think you’ll see a different Cleveland Browns defense moving forward.
"We’ve been evolving as a defense and I like where we’re headed," he said. "I think there is very, very good defensive football ahead of us.”
The Browns are seventh in the NFL in yards allowed per game. However, one of the biggest problems this year has been the Browns ability to get off the field on third down. The Browns have given up a first down on third downs on 48-of-106 attempts (45.3 pct.) to rank 29th in that department.
“I look at that and this is going to be a re-occurring theme where I’ll start addressing this when I first sit down," Horton said. "It’s a re-occurring theme and what it says is if we were average on third down, we’d be the No. 2 team in the league, probably. If we were in the top 10, we’d be the No. 1 team in the league. I stress it to our guys all the time. Third down is what’s going to put us in the top two in the league because it’s going to mean turnovers and it’s going to mean stops.
"It’s going to mean getting off of the field and it’s going to mean non-scoring opportunities," he said. "So that is one of my main statistical categories. There’s seven of them and that’s one of them that we’re deficient in. So what it means is we’re really good and I’ve looked at every single one of them, as I said a week ago, maybe two weeks ago, and some of them are mental mistakes, some of them are penalties... So if we can eliminate two-thirds of those, which only one-third of those we control, our mistakes, we’ll be a top-14 team right there on third downs just by eliminating two-thirds of it, which we control only one-third of it.”
Horton said his goal is to have a defense that creates a lot of turnovers. Currently, the Browns have taken the ball away nine times (five interceptions, four fumbles). As a team, the Browns are -1 in the turnover ratio, which is tied for 17th in the NFL. The Chiefs are No. 1 with a +11 turnover ratio.
“There’s two things: turnovers and that is what I said probably when I first met you guys, is that that’s the No. 1 statistical indicator of getting into the playoffs, turnover ratio," he said. "But it involves all three parts of the team. Right now the Kansas City Chiefs are at plus-(11). There’s no mystery. There’s no secret. That’s the biggest determining factor of getting into the playoffs year in and year out for probably the last 20 years.”
The Browns have created turnovers, but Horton would like more.
“We’re not deficient in it but we’re not leading the league in it, either," he said. "They come. They’re cyclical, I think. You get them by hitting and putting the ball on the ground like there was on the play in Green Bay. Tips and overthrows and sacks and fumbles. It’s a team effort.”
Horton admitted that his primary responsibility is to make sure the defense keeps the Browns in games and not take unnecessary chances.
“I think the last two times that I’ve blitzed a corner, he’s had a sack," he said. "I haven’t blitzed them that much. As you go into a game, for me, I think that the biggest responsibility of the defense is to keep the game close. It’s hard for us to score so you keep the game close. Again, do I want (to play) better in the fourth quarter? Yeah, I do. That’s been the biggest disappointment to me is that the last two weeks, whether it was Detroit where we had the lead or Green Bay in the fourth quarter when the game was a potential eight-point, nine-point game, we didn’t stop them there at the end.”
Horton admitted that he hasn't been as aggressive in his play calling against the Lions and the Packers. The Browns sacked Matthew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers just once.
“There’s no question. I called a different game plan for two weeks,” he said. “There are certain quarterbacks in the league that are special. I went back with (Packers quarterback) Aaron Rodgers. I had a little history with him from the Super Bowl of him beating the Pittsburgh Steelers because he got rid of the ball so fast. But sometimes, they’re shorter throws and you change things up on guys and give them different looks."
Rob Chudzinski has the faith that the defense will be ready to respond against the Chiefs.
"I have all the confidence in our guys that we'll execute and get the job done."
Weeden Takes Responsibility: QB Brandon Weeden stood up and answered questions after Friday's practice, mostly about his being replaced by QB Jason Campbell.
"I'm going to support Jason like he has supported me," Weeden said. "I'm a team guy. I wish I had played better."
It was the first time Weeden spoke with the local media since being replaced, but said he is going to shy away from the media.
"It's obviously tough," he said. "I'm a competitor. But I'm not going to hide or sulk. I'm going to deal with (the benching) head on. I take 100 percent of the blame."
Thus far in 2013, Weeden was 0-4 as a starter and had completed 103-of195 passes (52.8 pct.) with five touchdowns and six interceptions. His rating was 66.5.
Weeden was asked what went wrong and where does he go from here.
"We just didn't play well," he said. "We didn't get it done. I just have to get back to the drawing board and see how I can get better."
With the trade deadline looming Tuesday, Weeden was asked if he thought he might be traded.
"I've been traded before (in baseball)," he said. "Whatever happens, that is out of my control."
Weeden did say he wants to stay with the Browns and is confident he will get another chance.
"I hope (I can stay here)," he said. "I love this town. I love this team. There'll be another opportunity and I just need to be ready. I'm champing at the bit (to play again)."
Weeden is confident in his ability.
"I'm 100 percent confident in my ability," he said. "I know I can play in this league."
Turner Defends Gordon: Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner said he thinks WR Josh Gordon is engaged and giving his best effort, despite having declining numbers last week.
“I think everyone wants Josh to be the Josh when he’s at his best," Turner said. "I do, Josh does, everyone does. I’ve been with young receivers and I don’t know that that’s realistic. We’re pushing him and he’s working hard but I watch all of this tape of all these other guys and they don’t catch every ball. When it’s a contested ball they don’t jump over the guy every time. I’m sure they want to and their coaches want them to.
"So I think Josh is making great progress," he said. "The young receivers I’ve been around, it’s in their third of fourth year when you really start seeing those things happen. Then, we’re going into our third quarterback, that affects receivers. He’s getting a lot of attention because people know he’s a big-time threat. There’s a lot of things involved and I’ll say the same thing. I hate when someone sees them play and says it’s a lack of effort. There’s a lot of things going on. I wouldn’t question Josh’s effort.”
Some analysts said that Gordon didn't appear to be making a full effort to try and get the fourth-and-15 pass from QB Brandon Weeden last week against the Packers.
“To me on that play, he’s running free and he’s open and Brandon got hit right when he threw it," Turner said. "The ball didn’t have much on it. Those are hard balls to judge and those are hard balls to time. What really happened, as I perceive it, Josh jumped a little too early because he thought the ball had a little more on it. He jumped over and then you throw off your timing. I thought he did the best he could on the play.”
Gordon admitted Wednesday that the trade rumors around him have been unsettling. Turner was asked if he thinks the persistent trade rumors have bothered Gordon.
“I would hope not, but I’m realistic to know that it does," he said. "He’s a young guy. He’s not very experienced. He wasn’t the go-to guy as a young player, so this is all a new thing for him. I think when you add those things to it, it can affect him. Obviously, we’re doing our best to focus and let him understand that he’s our guy and we want him to be as good as he can get.”
Gordon is second on the team in receiving with 27 receptions for 450 yards, despite missing the first two games after being suspended by the NFL. He is averaging 16.7 yards per catch and has two touchdowns.
Mingo Improving: First round draft pick LB Barkevious Mingo is tied for second in the NFL among rookies with three sacks. He missed the season opener, but then recorded a sack in his first three NFL games. He hasn't had a sack since the win over the Bengals.
“Really I think if you ask me in November or whenever Thanksgiving weekend is, I think he’ll be better than he is now," Horton said. "He’s better now than what he was at the beginning of the season because he’s starting to see more things. He’s making his rookie mistakes, which is OK because there’s mistakes in the game."
Mingo has 17 tackles, three sacks and four passes defensed.
"He's been good," Chudzinski said after practice Friday. "That's what we expected of him. He's following the natural progress of knowing what he needs to do and then what everyone else on the defense is doing."
Groves Doubtful: LB Quentin Groves (ankle) was the only player who didn't practice on Friday and will likely not play against the Chiefs. He is listed as doubtful. LB Brandon Magee (oblique) is probable as is DL Armonty Bryant (shoulder), LB Tank Carder (neck), RB Chris Ogbonnaya (ribs) and DB Chris Owens (finger). DL Billy Winn (quad) was a limited participant in practice and is questionable for the Chiefs. RB Willis McGahee was back at practice after his scheduled day to rest his knee on Thursday. He is expected to play.