Dec 30, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Plaxico Burress (80) catches a touchdown pass in front of Cleveland Browns defensive back Joe Haden (23) during the second half of the game at Heinz Field. The Steelers won the game, 24-10. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports
If the Cincinnati Bengals have hopes of winning their division, it might just start with the team right on the other side of the state: the Cleveland Browns.
I know, sounds like a pretty ridiculous sentiment.
Considered by AFC North fans outside of Cleveland to be the back doorstep of the division, the Browns, on the contrary, are a rising team.
And as Cleveland climbs the ladder in the next few years, they will do so by relying on a vastly improved defense. In fact, one that is slated to be even better in 2013.
It all starts with star-cornerback Joe Haden. Cleveland is fortunate to have a guy that can potentially lock onto an opponent’s No. 1 receiver and go toe-to-toe with him all game long. He isn’t tall at 5 foot, 11 inches, but he has a trait that is underrated, yet crucial for his position. That is, he’s a very intelligent player.
Other than Haden though, not many people outside of The Cleve recognize any players on the Browns’ defense.
However, there are plenty of playmakers.
Other than Haden, T.J. Ward has everything going his way for a breakout year in 2013. While Haden anchors his sideline, Ward is an effective player over the top with his safety coverage.
A question mark resides in the Browns’ CB situation opposite of Haden. The secondary won’t be fully cemented until that decision is made.
However, when you look at the full picture of Cleveland’s hard-nosed, hard-hitting defense, they can afford to figure out some things at one or two positions. As they do that, new additions like Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant from this offseason will certainly aid in keeping opponent’s yards gained to a minimum.
To wrap up, Barkevious Mingo adds a promising bull rusher to the roster, as Cleveland has put extra focus on getting after the quarterback of late.
“We have a lot of players that can contribute and help this team win. We’ve got a lot of rushers. We’ve got corners on the back end. We’ve got D-linemen that can hold those blocks and get off and make plays. We’ve got linebackers that can come up and tackle the run and get back in coverage as well. So we have a lot of tools that we can use.”
That’s what Mingo had to say about his new defense, adding that they could be the best in the league.
If defensive coordinator Ray Horton can put all those tools together, it would take a lot of pressure off of a budding, young offense, and put a lot of pressure on any offense they encounter on their schedule.
The Bengals, Steelers, and Ravens will still be favored in the division, and the Browns probably won’t be favored in any AFC North game this year. But enjoy that while it lasts.
Cleveland isn’t planning on being a division doormat for much longer.