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Browns' running game thrives, pass defense sputters

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Posted Sept. 27, 2010 @ 4:02 p.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

The Browns' 24-17 loss at Baltimore Sunday leaves Cleveland at 0-3 and with the sour feeling of having been unable to hold fourth-quarter leads in three consecutive games.

The silver lining in this latest defeat is that the Browns had the Ravens, expected to be Super Bowl contenders, seemingly on the ropes, and not because of a series of fluky plays, but rather a series of blows struck by a rugged, persistent, effective ground game that racked up 173 rushing yards. RB Peyton Hillis, starting in place of Jerome Harrison, who missed the game with a thigh injury, rushed for 144 yards on 22 carries,the most by a running back against Baltimore since 2005. 

The downside to the defeat was the Browns' inability to stop WR Anquan Boldin, who caught eight passes for 142 yards and three TDs. All three scores came when covered by CB Eric Wright. The Browns did not sack QB Joe Flacco once, though they did get a little more pressure on him as the game progressed. 

The Browns' next opponent is 2-1 Cincinnati, which has an above-average defense rounding into form and a passing game, while underwhelming recently, with the potential to improve because of an improved group of playmakers available to QB Carson Palmer. 

The PFW Spin

Hillis has staked a strong case to be the Browns' featured back. He meshes well with an offensive line that got off the ball and consistently got a push against Baltimore. Hillis' pass-catching ability (seven receptions, 36 yards) is also an asset. 

Wright's performance doesn't figure to cost him a spot in the starting lineup; he has generally played well throughout his Browns career. Wright, per The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, had this to say about his struggles Sunday: "I didn't feel like myself today. "I didn't play up to my abilities. I had a horrible day, and I let my team down." 

Even in defeat, the Browns left a positive impression. Only a great game from Boldin saved the Ravens. Wright is certainly better than he showed, and overall, the defense is better than it was last season. Certainly, it is a group that still has room to improve, particularly from a pass-rush perspective, but it has made progress. Note that it has allowed just two second-half TDs in three games.  

Cleveland's offense has plenty to build upon, too. QB Seneca Wallace was efficient in his second start in place of Jake Delhomme (ankle), completing 18-of-24 passes for 141 yards and a TD, to TE Benjamin Watson. WR Joshua Cribbs (5-58-0) played a solid game. 

The Browns are close to securing a win, but that they have yet to do so has them already three games out of first place in the AFC North. The good news: Sunday's result showed them they can play with the Ravens. Though it doesn't show up in the standings, that is progress.

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