A closer look at the Browns

Every Tuesday we’ll take a closer look at the Ravens’ next opponent. This week it’s the Cleveland Browns.

Record: 4-7, fourth in AFC North

Wins: @ Indianapolis, vs. Miami, vs. Seattle, vs. Jacksonville

Losses: vs. Cincinnati, vs. Tennessee, @ Oakland, @ San Francisco, @ Houston, vs. St. Louis, @ Cincinnati

Offense: 28th in NFL, 14th in AFC

Defense: sixth in NFL, sixth in AFC

Synopsis thus far: Even in such a tough division, the Browns must still look at 2011 as a disappointment. Most experts predicted they would finish in the basement of the AFC North, so sitting at 4-7 isn’t too much of a surprise. But what’s most troubling is the regression of a few players, none more so than running back Peyton Hillis. Hillis burst onto the scene a year ago, eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark and earning his way onto the cover of Madden NFL 12. Unfortunately for Hillis, the “Madden Curse” is still alive and well. Hillis has just 276 yards and a pair of touchdowns all season, a big reason the Browns rank so poorly in the running game. Colt McCoy is doing well for a young guy, so there might be a future for the former Texas star, but with both games against Baltimore and Pittsburgh looming, it’ll be another tough winter in Cleveland.

Where they’re strong: While the offense has struggled, scoring more than 21 points just once, the Browns’ defense isn’t a unit to take lightly. Cleveland ranks first in the league against the pass, allowing only 174.7 yards per game. Second year player Joe Haden has a team-leading pass deflections to go along with 44 tackles, while linebacker D’Qwell Jackson is far and away the team’s leading tackler with 100 on the season. McCoy is still young, but he throws for more than 200 yards a game, with a completion percentage that hovers around 60 percent.

Where they’re weak: We’ve covered the Browns’ inability to run the football. As fate would have it, they can’t stop the run, either. The Browns are 29th in the NFL against the run, as opponents run for more than 130 yards a game. That number will have to get better against Ray Rice and the Ravens’ rushing attack. Turnovers are rare, too, as the Browns are ninth in the conference with a -4 turnover ratio.

Overall advantage: The Browns came close last Sunday to pulling off a big upset win over the Bengals. The offense found some production, but the defense took a step back. Now, the Browns return home to face a Ravens team that, while sitting at 8-3 and atop the division, have fallen victim to road games against less than stellar teams. That’s this Cleveland team to a tee, so it’ll be interesting to see if the Browns can capitalize on a divisional game and take a win from the Ravens. Can they do it? Probably not, but you never know.