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The Defense Is The New Face Of The Browns

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The Cleveland Browns defense has been like the old days. Photo by David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty Images.
The Cleveland Browns defense has been like the old days. Photo by David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty Images.

It was a Throwback Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.

Former G Abe Gibron, who played from 1950-56, and OLB Galen Fiss (1956-66) were inducted into the Cleveland Browns Legends before the game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

At halftime, the Brownie Elf, who traces all the way back to the team’s inception in 1946, was re-introduced as one of the club’s several mascots.

Then to top it off, Cleveland turned the clock way back and ground down the Bengals 17-6 with some old school defense that would have made Fiss and his defensive teammates from the team’s glory years proud.

It marked the first time that the Bengals, coming off a 34-30 win over the Green Bay Packers last Sunday, had not scored a touchdown in a game since Sept. 25, 2011 when they lost 13-8 to the San Francisco 49ers at Paul Brown Stadium.

In beating Cincinnati at Cleveland for the third time in the last four years, the Browns held the Bengals to just 63 rushing yards. QB Andy Dalton was limited to 206 yards passing and no touchdowns, with an interception, in completing 23 of 43 attempts. Head coach Marvin Lewis said he wanted to watch the tape before fully evaluating Dalton’s performance. He was biting his tongue as he spoke.

WR A.J. Green, who has enjoyed some big days against Cleveland in the past, was a non-factor, catching seven passes for but 51 yards, with a long gain of 16 yards. There are games when he’s averaged over 16 yards a catch against the Browns.

Sure, some of it was the fact that the high-powered Bengals offense struggled. But part of it was also that the Browns defense, playing its most aggressive style since former head coach Bud Carson’s pass rush-happy bunch in 1989, smothered Cincinnati with its attacking, bust-you-in-the-mouth style.

The Bengals never had time – or room – to breathe. The Browns were too busy hitting them – gang-tackling them – from all different angles.

It is the defense’s third straight good performance. With the trade of RB Trent Richardson, the defense has become the face of the team. Actually, the defense has several faces in CB Joe Haden, rookie OLB Barkevious Mingo, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, and ILB D’Qwell Jackson.

Green has really given him problems in the past, but Haden, one of the top young cornerbacks in the game, won this battle by taking Green right out of the game. He physically manhandled him, not an easy thing to do since he is just 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds while Green is 6-4 and 207 with the wing span of a condor.

Mingo, who missed the first game with a bruised lung, got another sack Sunday and now has three on the year. So far, he appears to be the big-time pass rusher off the edge the Browns have so desperately needed for so long.

Then there’s Jackson, the old pro who is the heart and soul of the team, both on and off the field. He had a team-high 10 tackles Sunday and is on pace to lead the club in that category for the season for the third straight year.

The unit has Ray Horton, a former Cincinnati and Dallas Cowboys defensive back, as its coordinator. Horton is delivering as promised, completely transforming a defense that, by design, lacked aggressiveness the last two years under coordinator Dick Jauron. As we’ve said before, Horton will be here just one season before getting a head coaching job somewhere.

What does it all mean? That the Browns are 2-2 and tied for first place in the AFC North with the Bengals and Baltimore Ravens at the quarter-mile post of the season. The Pittsburgh Steelers (0-4) are two games in back of the pack.

Who would have thought it, especially after Cleveland’s 0-2 start?

With the Buffalo Bills visiting Thursday night for a nationally televised game, the Browns have a chance to win three games in a row for the first time since the end of the 2009 season and to go over .500 (at 3-2) for the first time after five games since 2001.

And who would have thought that?

Maybe some members of the new face of the team, the defense, which helped recall the old days Sunday.