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Browns need defense to take its show on the road

Cleveland will play 8 of its final 12 games on the road and will need to rely on smothering defense to find success.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

There is a general formula that teams follow during the NFL’s regular season to find success.

Win at home, win in the division and then go no worse than .500 on the road. Do that and more often than not teams will find themselves in the mix for a playoff berth.

Related: Can the Browns, any team, ride defense to win big in 2023 and beyond?

The Cleveland Browns have done well so far this season on the first item as they are now 3-1 at home after last Sunday’s win over the San Francisco 49ers. They still need to work on those division wins after losing frustrating games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens.

It is that third item that remains a big question mark, however, and is one that the Browns will start answering this Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts.

Remember that 3-1 home record? That is an encouraging number, but since the Browns have only played five games (even though it feels like a lot more given the usual drama surrounding the franchise), the Browns will play eight of their final 12 games on the road.

That is a daunting thought for a franchise that has posted just one winning record on the road since 2010 and averaged just 1.76 wins a year in the same timeframe.

One area that provides hope is the play of the defense, which has been putting up numbers that seem impossible given that the current NFL is built to maximize offensive output.

Consider that after five games the defense has:

  • Given up 1,002 total yards, which is the third-lowest total in more than five decades, trailing just the 1971 Baltimore Colts (836 yards) and 1970 Minnesota Vikings (945 yards).
  • Allowed just 51 first downs, the best in the league less than half the league average of 110.38.
  • Allowed just 143.8 passing yards per game, tops in the league.
  • Allowed a league-low 63 points, or 12.6 a game.
  • Allowed a 23.1 percent conversation rate on third down

One thing we’ve all seen from this team in the past is that a little bit of success can quickly turn into crushing disappointment. No problem in celebrating or embracing your accomplishments, especially after shutting down an offense as prolific as the 49ers, but if you follow that up with a dud against a team like the Colts, that’s an issue.

One way to avoid doing that is to have a defensive coordinator like Jim Schwartz and not get too caught up in the headlines, as safety Rodney McLeod pointed out on Tuesday (quote via a team-provided transcript):

“You know exactly what you’re going to get (with Schwartz). He doesn’t sugarcoat, he doesn’t hide it. He demands excellence and he gets the most out of his players. He challenges us and he allows us to be exactly who we are. And so, I think you’ve seen from day one, everybody on this defensive side just fully embraced it and now it’s our identity.

“Ignore the noise (is also) the biggest thing. We can’t be satisfied with one victory. This wasn’t a championship. This was the next game, right? And every game is important because it’s the next one. So for us, it’s going back to the table, resetting and getting ready to go on the road and win a game versus a tough Indianapolis Colts team that has had great success versus a few teams this year who are playing well. And so, it’s going to be another fight. We’re going to have to bring our best.”

The Browns have relied on their defense in wins over the 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals, and the defense did more than enough to win against the Steelers.

The big test is still to come, however, as the team now has to work to make sure the defense can take its act on the road to help keep the team in the conversation for a playoff position.