Ray Horton: Browns defense is 'not broken'

Ray Horton came prepared to his weekly meeting with the Cleveland Browns media.

The Browns defensive coordinator didn’t understand where Lions running back Reggie Bush was coming from, and he had a statistic to show his defense is playing well.

“When you go yards per play, we are the No. 1 defense in the league,” Horton said. “We have 100 more snaps than the No. 1 defense, but when you go yards per play we’re No. 1.”

That statement came in response to a query about how cornerback Buster Skrine was playing. And there was more.

“There’s a number of guys playing well,” Horton said. “Can we play better? Do we have to play better? Yes. Do we have to fix third down? Yes. But the model, the system, the players, it’s not broken ... it’s not broken. We just need to fix a couple things. ... If you ask me what do we need to fix, we need to fix finishing games. Not starting games. We start fantastic. We need to fix finishing games.

“Nothing’s broken. We just need to clean up and hone and sharpen coming out at halftime. Nobody’s outscheming us. Nobody’s outplaying us.”

OK, then.

Again, this was a question about Skrine.

As far as the numbers, Horton is right. The Browns are giving up 4.4 yards per play, which ranks first in the league. Houston is the No. 1 defense in the league according to the NFL’s standard of yards per game, and the Browns have 426 defensive plays to Houston’s 326.

But there are also some old sayings about statistics, including the one about lies and damn lies.

The argument could be made that if the Browns were better than 29th in the league on third down their number of plays would be lower, as would the total yardage.

Opponents are 44 percent against the Browns on third down, a number that clearly rankles Horton. He studied every third-down play from every distance from third-and-1 to third-and-15. He checked formation, call, defensive call and result.

“There’s a great balance of zone and pressure on every one,” Horton said.

He said in the first half the team is successful, in the second half it isn’t. Which the numbers back up: In the first half of the Browns' three losses, opponents converted just three of 20 third downs, but in the second half opponents are 21-of-26.

That could be defined as “not good.”

But Horton said it’s not the calls, system or some great adjustment by the other team. It’s how the defense is playing.

“We know what’s going on, and the first half kind of proves it,” Horton said.

Which leads to Bush’s comments after the Lions win. One of many things Bush said was that the Lions were surprised to see the Browns playing so much man, and when they did they decided to take advantage of No. 53 -- inside linebacker Craig Robertson.

“That’s not true,” Horton said. “We weren’t playing more man. That’s why I kind of just ... scoffed at what he said. We actually played more zone in the game. Now what he sees as man, I have no clue what he saw.”

Horton also denied Robertson was targeted, and said there was “no glaring issue” with the Bush-Robertson matchup. The touchdown that tight end Joseph Fauria scored over Robertson was “a poor call by me,” Horton said.

“That was not the player’s fault,” he said. “That was my fault.”

Horton had some clear messages he wanted to get across.

“We’ve got the right model, right system, right players,” he said. “We just have to hone in.”