If you were to ask Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton about his defense, he would point to the statistics. Unfortunately for Cleveland, the stats do not always paint the entire picture.
Horton can sit back and point to the fact that his defense is ranked eighth overall in total yards per game. He can also show the gaudy numbers where his guys are ninth against the pass and eighth against the run.
I would show him the stat where his team is 21st in the NFL in points allowed. In fact, over their last 10 games, the defense has allowed less than 23 points just one time and is giving up an average of 29 points per game.
Not only isn’t that elite, it's flat out bad.
So why is there such a disconnect between the stats and the points allowed? That boils down to the factors that separate the pretenders from the contenders.
Those factors are third-down conversion percentage, turnovers and how you close out halves.
Horton’s defense is 27th in the NFL when it comes to stopping their opponent on third downs. They allow them to convert 43 percent of the time, which keeps the defense on the field longer.
There are only seven teams in the NFL who have created fewer turnovers than the Browns defense. Their 19 are as many as Atlanta has created, and they are considered one of the worst defenses in the NFL.
The Browns have choked away three fourth-quarter leads in the past four games. They also have a minus-62 scoring differential in the fourth quarter this season.
Seemingly every week the Browns allow their opponent to score on their final drive before halftime to either cut into their lead or tie the game. This week, the Browns handed the New York Jets 10 points to tie the game in the final minutes before halftime.
You can only blame personnel and the offense for so long. Horton’s defense becomes predictable at times and often is aggressive to its own detriment.
Most teams do not blitz as much at the end of halves because they do not want to give up big plays. They keep the offense in front of them and use the clock to their advantage.
Horton is the exact opposite. He continuously blitzes which allows teams to score quickly and beat the clock.
Will Horton’s defense be better in its second year in Cleveland? Would it be better served with a middle linebacker who actually belongs starting in the NFL instead of Craig Robertson? Have injuries caused a delay in the defenses development?
The answer to all those questions is obviously yes. Unfortunately, Horton may not be around to see those changes take place.
Ray Horton is considered to be one of the better coaching candidates that will be available this offseason. He nearly had a head coaching job last year and instead settled for the defensive coordinator position in Cleveland.
The MMQB’s Peter King reported last week that the NFL has constructed a committee to recommend coaching candidates to teams. Horton is reported to be on that list.
Horton cut off his braids and spoke presidentially all season long in what looked like a 12-month campaign trail. He shook hands, kissed babies and stuck to the talking points when discussing his defense in Cleveland.
The main problem for Horton is that while his talking points are valid, everyone else sees through the smog. His supposed “elite” defense just isn’t.
He claimed via The Cleveland Plain Dealer it would look completely different by Thanksgiving ,but instead it’s regressing. Maybe he meant by New Year's Eve.
Either way, it will be buyer beware for Horton on the market this offseason. He will have to do a heck of a job to sell an owner on him being the next head coach of a team when the one he is currently coaching looks destined for 12 losses and allowing points in droves.
Ray Horton is a good defensive coordinator and will eventually be a good head coach. I truly believe both of those things.
You have to wonder, however, if Horton has been focusing on the correct one of those positions. If not, his future aspirations may have hurt his current responsibilities.