The Cleveland Browns have made small strides against the run this season, but will face a tough test against the Tennessee Titans.
For the first time in what seems like decades, the Cleveland Browns are actually looking, if not great, at least respectable when it comes to stopping the run.
While the team’s run defense enters Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans ranked 21st in the league, giving up 114.2 yards per game, they are only giving up 3.9 yards per carry (good for 12th) and have surrendered just four rushing touchdowns through the season’s first give games.
Of course, some of that improvement has been due to the fact that Cleveland has faced the Baltimore Ravens (currently ranked at No. 16 in rushing), Miami Dolphins (No. 31) and Washington Redskins (No. 25).
“I have to stop the run. Any time we give up a certain amount of rushing yards a game, it can be tough for me as far as my mindset.” – Danny Shelton
“We took some strides. We are improving in certain areas. Now, we just really have to make sure we hone in on our small details, whether it is missed tackles or not setting the edge or not being in the right gap,” linebacker Christian Kirksey said this week. “We just have to pay more attention to the small details and fix those, and I think we will be fine, and I think we will make a lot of strides.”
The Browns will be facing another test against the Titans, who are currently the second-best team in the NFL when it comes to running the ball. Tennessee is averaging 148.6 yards per game on the ground and a robust five yards per carry.
The Titans are led by DeMarco Murray, who is currently second in the league in rushing yards, and supported by rookie running back Derrick Henry (4.4 yards per carry) and quarterback Marcus Mariota (6.6 yards per carry).
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The defense will be focused on Murray and Henry, but can’t discount the threat that Mariota poses, according to nose tackle Danny Shelton, who is familiar with Mariota from their college days.
“He is really playing well now. He looks a lot more confident when he is playing. I have always been a fan of him so just seeing him do his thing this year is exciting,” Shelton said. “To have this opportunity to play against his offense is also exciting. I can’t wait.
“We are going to have to be really alert. This guy is a quarterback who can easily run like a 4.4 straightaway so if we give him the opportunity, we have to make sure that we are accountable when we wrap up, we tackle him and bring him down.”
The Browns still have their issues on defense – primarily in keeping the other team out of the end zone and covering tight ends – but at least they have made some strides when it comes to opposing backs running wild.
How much improvement they’ve made in that regard will get another big test on Sunday, and will go a long way in determining if the Browns walk off the field with their first win of the season.