Ray Horton might have been born into the wrong sport.
The Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator reels off numbers and statistics better than most in the NFL -- to the point that he’d probably be a great Bill James kind of guy in baseball.
His instant memory is something to behold.
Asked at his weekly media gathering to assess the defense in light of his statement about a month ago that folks would see the real Browns defense by Thanksgiving, Horton was prepared.
“Would I like more wins?” he said. “Yes. Where are we at as a defense? We are the No. 4 defense in the league. We’re probably sixth in pass and No. 8 in rush. We’re six sacks away from the lead in sacks, we’re No. 1 in yards per play, we’re No. 1 in pass yards per play, we’re No. 2 in rush yards per play. Everything that we want to do statistically, we are there. Would we like more wins? Yes.
“But to get where you want to be you have to be a good rush defense, a good sack defense, a good pass defense. And the numbers say that we are. Since the second half of the Kansas City game we are the No. 1 team in third-down defense. We [would] probably be 14th in red zone defense since that halfway point against Kansas City.
“Wins are the most important thing, and that’s what we’re trying to do. But the foundation of winning is those numbers that I just gave you.”
The Browns defense overall on third downs ranks 27th in the league at 41.4 percent, but since the second half of the Chiefs game they are 13-for-53 (24.5 percent). The Browns also rank 31st in red zone defense, 26th in time of possession, and are 29th with 13 takeaways.
Horton said he’d much rather be in the bottom third of the league stats and have more wins, and he acknowledged Houston leads the league in defense with a 2-9 record.
“What does No. 1 mean?” he said. “I think it means a lot. This is a team thing; you can’t control two-thirds of it.
“It means you’re not on field a lot. You’re doing your job. It means a lot.”
He also said numbers depend on viewpoint and what is asked. When it was pointed out to Horton that only five teams have fewer forced turnovers than the Browns, he retorted with: “There are only three teams that have given up more yardage than we have. We’re just on the field more. The numbers, it depends on what you want to look at.”
For instance, Horton said the Steelers had one 41-yard completion last Sunday, but no other play longer than 17 yards. That, he said, is a winning effort. He also disputed the common notion that he didn’t blitz as much facing Ben Roethlisberger. Of Pittsburgh’s 69 snaps, Horton said he called 29 or 30 blitzes. He said Roethlisberger and the Steelers were simply zeroed in on getting rid of the ball in a hurry.
And the reason Phil Taylor only got 25 snaps was because Horton went with a formation he felt was working, and he didn’t feel the need to change.
“I continued to do what was working,” he said. “I know there was a 41-yard play to Antonio Brown, and that’s part of our responsibility and it goes on our record, but the game was manageable the whole time until the pass.”
That pass gave the Steelers a 10-3 lead with 2:33 left in the first half.