The Cleveland Browns are 0-4 after yet another narrow defeat, but the team's dangerous pass rush provides hope that they could soon turn things around. The Browns are currently second in the NFL in sacks, with 13 quarterback takedowns to their credit.
Against the Baltimore Ravens, they sacked Joe Flacco four times. The impressive thing about the Browns pass rush is how they manage to consistently generate heavy pressure, while only bringing four rushers.
Cleveland's blitz packages have certainly shown improvement in 2012. The timing of the blitz is better and the design appears less confused than last season. Eight of the team's sacks have come from linebackers or defensive backs.
However, the success is starting up front, where coordinator Dick Jauron can rely on various combinations to harass opposing quarterbacks. So far, linemen John Hughes, Juqua Parker, Frostee Rucker, Ahtyba Rubin and Jabaal Sheard all have sacks.
The pressure created by different combinations of the front four has also opened lanes for linebackers and safeties to swarm on quarterbacks desperately fleeing a collapsing pocket. Even a player yet to get off the mark, like defensive tackle Billy Winn, is causing havoc inside.
Creating pressure has been Parker's speciality throughout a long career. He hasn't disappointed so far and Sheard always seems on the verge of dominating a game. The second-year end draws plenty of attention from opposing blocking schemes and fellow linemen are taking advantage.
Sacks and pressure can force game-changing mistakes from the opposition and that will be vital for a team that is one or two plays away in every game. That level of pressure kept the Browns in it against the Ravens and will lead to the kind of big plays that can turn close losses into wins.
A look at the team's schedule shows games against the Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts following a daunting trip to face the Super Bowl champion New York Giants. All three teams have struggled to protect the passer this season.
At the moment, while there are slight signs of life on offense, the Browns are still a team led by their defense. The unit needs to create favourable situations and field position for the offense to turn field goals into touchdowns.
Forcing negative plays from opponents through sacks and pressure is the best way to achieve that and the Browns have the weapons up front to do it.
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