By Jason Lloyd
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: D’Qwell Jackson was so excited with the Browns’ defensive performance in last week’s loss to the Miami Dolphins that he eagerly made a bold prediction that could follow him for the remainder of the season.
“No one can run on us,” Jackson said moments after the defense held the Dolphins to 20 rushing yards, the second-fewest total in Browns history.
Now with more formidable running backs ahead, beginning with the Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Rice this week and the Minnesota Vikings’ Adrian Peterson next, no one on the Browns’ defense is backing down.
“I think the whole defense wants to go out there and show the defensive performance put out there on tape [against the Dolphins] wasn’t a fluke,” safety Tashaun Gipson said. “We’re all run stoppers. Our defensive [front] seven, that’s why they brought them here. We made big moves in the offseason for our front seven. I think it definitely showed, especially with the running game.”
It might only be one game, but Sunday’s glowing performance left the Browns with the league’s best rush defense. Given the struggles this team has endured at stopping the run since returning to the league in 1999, any sort of success is noteworthy.
Last year the Browns allowed 118 rushing yards per game to rank 19th, easily their best ranking since returning to the league and only the second time they’ve finished higher than 27th.
It was a much-needed step in the right direction and Jackson believes this year will be even better. He wasn’t backing off his “no one can run on us” comment on Friday.
“We definitely plan on stopping the run for 16 weeks,” he said. “It wasn’t just for one week.
“The confidence comes from the guys I see up front. I’ve been in this game awhile to be able to tell whether or not there’s talent in front of me.”
And this year, after the free-agent additions of Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant, coupled with the development of guys like Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin and Jabaal Sheard and the drafting of Barkevious Mingo, Jackson is finally convinced there is sufficient talent in front of him.
“All those guys [up front] allow everyone behind them to play well,” Jackson said. “We’ve been doing a great job of stopping the run, we emphasize it every day. Last week was a glimpse of how good we could be when we all play together.”
The secondary eventually faltered against the Dolphins and allowed a big play to receiver Brian Hartline, but Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton defended his attacking scheme this week. Horton doesn’t believe his style of run defense will make the Browns vulnerable against the pass.
“If you look at the [Dolphins] game, the biggest one was the Hartline out and up. It was just more of a technique,” he said. “The run game is what I think our strength is going to be. … I expect us to stop the run.”
That task gets much more difficult this week with Rice on the field.
He rushed for a career-high 204 yards against the Browns two years ago and his 922 career rushing yards against them are easily his most against any opponent. Of course, that figure is aided by playing the Browns twice every season, but his 92.2 rushing yards per game against them are the second-most against any team [minimum three games] in his career.
“Ray has had a lot of success against us in the past, that’s no secret,” Jackson said. “I’m pretty sure we’re going to see a heavy dose of run. He’s going to get his touches.”
Rice carried the ball just 12 times in the Ravens’ embarrassing loss at the Denver Broncos to open the season and totaled just 71 yards running and receiving. As Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco adjusts to life without top targets Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta, the Browns know Rice’s stature will grow as the focal point of the Ravens’ offense.
“This week they have to get the ball in Rice’s hands a little bit more,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “He’s the best player on offense.”
The Ravens have won the past 10 games in this series. Players like Rice and Flacco have never lost to the Browns, in part because of the damage they have inflicted rushing the ball.
“I haven’t had a lot of success against Baltimore in my years here,” Jackson said. “This is a division game, so it’s an important game. From a defensive standpoint, if we make them one-dimensional, our percentage of winning goes through the roof. That’s one thing we’re going to hang our hat on this year is stopping the run because we have the guys to do it.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.