Cleveland Browns: 5 keys to success in 2015

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Oct 5, 2014; Nashville, TN, USA; Tennessee Titans quarterback Charlie Whitehurst (12) is stopped by the Cleveland Browns defense on a fourth down conversion attempt during the second half at LP Field. The Browns beat the Titans 29-28. Mandatory Credit: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

The Browns were last in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game, 27th in yards per carry, and 28th in runs of 20-plus yards. Opposing teams ran the ball 500 times on the Browns last year, and on 87 of those rushes they gained eight yards or more.

“We want to be a bully on defense. To be a bully on defense, you have to stop the run. To win in the AFC North, you have to stop the run.” – Defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil

“Stopping the run is huge for us,” defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil told The News-Herald. “As a coaching staff, we spent most of our offseason studying it. The three things that came up the most for us were missed tackles, being stuck on blocks and we had alignment issues. I do think a lot of that stuff will get corrected just being Year Two of the system.”

The numbers from last year help explain why the Browns used seven of their 12 draft picks on defensive players while also bringing in four defenders in free agency.

The Browns signed defensive lineman Randy Starks in free agency and drafted defenders Danny Shelton, Xavier Cooper and Nate Orchard in the 2015 NFL Draft all in an attempt to stop being every running back’s favorite opponent.

That quartet joins a defensive line rotation with Phil Taylor, John Hughes, Billy Winn and Desmond Bryant that has the potential to start making opposing running backs work for their yards.

But the defensive line is only part of the equation as the Browns will look to the entire defense to help solve the problem.

“I know a lot of people — just like they like to put sacks on an offensive line when a lot of times it’s not necessarily on them — that (think) rush defense goes onto the defensive line,” head coach Mike Pettine told The News-Herald. “Obviously, the fair share of blame is there, but it was part scheme, part the linebackers, the edges, secondary, improper angles, missed tackles. It’s part of it but probably not to the extent that most people would think.”

With an offense that is still a work in progress, if the defense can consistently get off the field and increase the number of times the Browns have the ball, that will lead to more scoring opportunities and, hopefully, more points from the offense.

Next: Protect the Quarterback