The Browns disappointed again last season with a 4-12 finish and another last place finish in the AFC North.
Cleveland was challenged offensively as they finished near the bottom of the league in almost every major category. They scored 20 or more points only twice last season.
The Browns' defense kept them in games throughout the season. Eight of their 12 defeats were by a margin of 10 points or less.
The Browns finished in the top 10 in total defense for the first time since the Clinton administration. They ranked second against the pass (184.9 yards per game).
Third-year cornerback Joe Haden is showing why he is deserving of respect in the NFL. The former Florida Gator has played all but one game in his career to this point. He has been a staple for the Browns in the secondary. He recorded six interceptions in his rookie season, but none last year.
Teams are starting to think twice where to throw the football, especially when T.J. Ward is lurking at the safety position. The 25-year-old only played eight games last season, but is one of the better safeties in the game. He provides a presence for the Browns in the secondary. He recorded 123 tackles in 2010.
Linebacker D'qwell Jackson has become one of the best linebackers in the game. He ranked second in the NFL in tackles (158) behind London Fletcher.
The only question is his health. The former Maryland product has played a full schedule twice in his first five seasons. Expect him to be healthy for the Browns this year and make a big impact.
Jackson covers the middle of the field exceptionally well and knows how to tackle. He is the anchor of the linebacker core.
The only improvement the Browns need to make is against the rush. They finished near the bottom of the league and had trouble against great backs.
It will be tough without defensive tackle Phil Taylor, who is recovering from surgery to repair a torn chest muscle he suffered by lifting weights. Taylor is planning on playing this season, but doctors have advised him to not rush back from the injury.
Cleveland drafted two lineman—John Hughes and Billy Winn—to try and take the place of Taylor. It will not be an easy hole to fill. The former Baylor product played in all 16 games for the Browns and recorded 59 tackles in his rookie season.
Veterans Scott Paxson and Brian Schaefering will be competing with the two rookies for the starting spot.
The Browns are overshadowed in a tough AFC North. Not everyone realized how well they played defensively last season. Expect them to equal their performance from a year ago and put up solid rankings in 2012.
The rush defense should improve simply because of the result of the game. If the Browns have a lead in most of their games, opposing teams will run less.
Expect the pass rush to improve as well as the turnover ratio. This will play a big part in their improvement as a whole this season.
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