Browns coach Hue Jackson defended his defense today, saying it’s fifth in the NFL. He was right in one narrow sense, but wrong in the assessment that really matters.
“If I’m not mistaken, this is the No. 5 defense in all of football,” Jackson said.
Technically, Jackson is correct that the Browns rank No. 5 in the league in yards per game, which is the statistic that the NFL uses to rank defenses.
But here’s the problem: Yards per game is a terrible statistic to rank defenses.
The 0-5 Browns are Top 5 in yards per game not because their defense is playing well — it isn’t — but because their defense finds itself trailing late in games, when opposing teams are more interested in running out the clock than gaining yards.
Take Sunday’s loss to the Jets. The Browns’ defense allowed just 212 yards in that game, which looks good. Until you remember the way the Jets ran out the clock at the end of the fourth quarter. On the Jets’ final two drives, they gained a grand total of 12 yards. But the first of those drives took 3:52 off the clock while the Jets had a two-possession lead late in the fourth quarter, and the second drive took the final 1:49 off the clock. It’s great to only allow 12 yards in two drives, unless those two drives are the drives that take all the remaining time off the clock. When you’re trailing late in the fourth quarter what you need from your defense is to force turnovers, and the Browns’ defense has just six takeaways through five games.
A better statistic to assess the quality of a defense is passer rating allowed, which is a simple yardstick for how good a job the defense has done of stopping opposing quarterbacks. And in that statistic, the Browns rank dead last with a 112.4 passer rating allowed.
And as bad as that sounds, it’s actually worse, because the Browns have played a bad collection of quarterbacks. Take a look at just how much better the five quarterbacks the Browns have faced this year were when playing against the Browns than they were when playing against other defenses:
Ben Roethlisberger had a 95.0 passer rating against the Browns in Week One. He has a 71.4 passer rating against teams other than the Browns.
Joe Flacco had a 97.3 passer rating against the Browns in Week Two. He has a 62.9 passer rating against teams other than the Browns.
Jacoby Brissett had a 120.0 passer rating against the Browns in Week Three. He has a 73.2 passer rating against teams other than the Browns.
Andy Dalton had a 146.0 passer rating against the Browns in Week Four. He has a 71.7 passer rating against teams other than the Browns.
Josh McCown had a 101.2 passer rating against the Browns in Week Five. He has an 87.8 passer rating against teams other than the Browns.
Jackson is not mistaken that the Browns’ defense ranks fifth in the NFL in yards allowed per game. If he thinks that means his defense is playing well, he’s very mistaken.