Realistic expectations for Browns' defense

Cleveland Browns rookie Barkevious Mingo raised some hopes as well as some eyebrows when he made a bold prediction about Cleveland's new-look defense earlier this month.

"If everything is going well," Mingo told The Plain Dealer, "I think this defense could be the best in the league."

The Browns want their players to exude confidence just like Mingo did. But there is something to be said for being able to back up your expectations, especially ones that will be considered over the top or get classified as crazy.

Cleveland's defense ranked No. 23 last season, some of which can be blamed on not having cornerback Joe Haden and defensive tackle Phil Taylor for a combined 13 games. Still, the Browns have one proven starter at cornerback. They failed to upgrade at inside linebacker and free safety this offseason. And while Cleveland significantly upgraded its pass rush, there are concerns whether outside linebackers Mingo, Paul Kruger and Jabaal Sheard can hold up against the run.

That being said, Mingo is right to a degree. The Browns' defense will be improved, and that can be backed up with what new defensive coordinator Ray Horton did in Arizona. In 2011, Horton's first season as the Cardinals' defensive coordinator, Arizona finished tied for 18th in defense just one season after ranking No. 29. Last season, the Cardinals were 12th under Horton. Based on this, it is realistic to expect the Browns' defense will jump back into the top half of the NFL.

If Mingo really wanted to hype up the Browns, he didn't have to predict they would have the best defense. He could have said they would have the most aggressive defense in the NFL. Last year, Horton had the Cardinals blitzing 42.3 percent of the time, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The only other team to send five or more pass rushers more often in 2012 was the Houston Texans (46.9 percent). Compare that to the Browns, who blitzed 26.5 percent of the time. That ranked 17th in the NFL. There is no argument that the Browns will be more aggressive on defense than a year ago.

"I think he has a very strange personality. But we like it. We love it," Mingo said of Horton. "He’s an aggressive guy -- we like that -- and it shows in his play calling. He loves to blitz. He loves to get after people, and we like that. I definitely love to play for a guy that’s going forward instead of waiting for them to come at you."