NFL Stock Watch: Ray Horton puts Browns defense on lockdown

By Will Brinson | NFL Writer

Ray Horton has the Browns defense on lockdown.
Ray Horton has the Browns defense on lockdown. (USATSI)

When we think about the changes in Cleveland over the past two weeks, the absence of Trent Richardson and the switch to Brian Hoyer stand out. So does the looming -- and touchdown-catching -- presence of Jordan Cameron and the energy Josh Gordon's given the passing game. But don't overlook the job Ray Horton's done in re-energizing Cleveland's defense and re-energizing the Browns as a whole.

Horton probably shouldn't have landed in Cleveland as a coordinator, but odd circumstances resulted in him missing out on a head-coaching opportunity. His attacking 3-4 scheme has revamped Cleveland's defense and has the Browns sitting as a top-five defense in total yards allowed per game and a top-10 defense in points per game. Cleveland also ranks eighth in DVOA at Football Outsiders. They are for real.

One of the biggest reasons why was on display Sunday as former first-round pick Joe Haden dominated all-world wideout A.J. Green in what he thinks is his best game to date.

"Yeah, I'd say that was my best game,'' Haden said. "I think I did pretty good. I was pretty active."

Talk about an understatement. Haden blanketed Green and helped mitigate any damage the Bengals passing game and Andy Dalton could do. It didn't hurt that the pass rush was strong once again.

You can beef about how Mingo got a sack on Sunday but the reality is he brought Andy Dalton down and once again flashed athleticism while replacing Jabaal Sheard in the starting lineup. He's the first Browns player in team history to record a sack in each of his first three games. The rookie out of LSU also became the first NFL player to pull that feat off since Tommie Kelly did it for the Raiders in 2004.

With Desmond Bryant (3.5 sacks this season, looking like a free-agent steal) and Phil Taylor (quietly making Browns fans feel a little better about the Julio Jones trade) shoring up the middle of the defense, pass rushers like Mingo, Sheard and Paul Kruger can get after opposing quarterbacks.

It's not a perfect group of players by any means. But guys like Buster Skrine -- who had an interception on Sunday -- are playing at a higher level than you'd normally expect. That's in large part thanks to Horton's scheme and coaching.

Which is why his stock should be soaring right now.

Bull Market

Ozzie Newsome, GM, Ravens -- What a classically Ozzie move to swoop into the trade market and scoop out a young left tackle for what is reportedly two mid-round picks. Bryant McKinnie's been a nightmare this year after a great playoff run. Monroe hasn't been great in Jacksonville but moving to an offense that can actually function should do wonders. Plus, not losing by 35 every week. Monroe is still young and was really impressive in 2012. He could end up being the Ravens franchise tackle of the future. There's no telling what this will do for McKinnie in the short term (or McKinnie and Michael Oher in the long term) but it's possible he's out of town. Either way, Joe Flacco and Ray Rice should be very happy today.

Kiko Alonso, LB, Bills -- The second-round pick out of Oregon is suddenly looking like an absolute steal and a legit candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Alonso was responsible for two of the five interceptions Buffalo had against Joe Flacco and the Ravens on Sunday, giving him a whopping four on the year, just a quarter of the way into the season. His second pick was the most critical too, as he picked off Flacco in the closing minutes of the game to lock down the win for Buffalo. He's also got a sack and 32 total tackles.

Luke Joeckel, OT, Jaguars -- Joeckel is going to move over to left tackle and start there thanks to the Monroe trade. (Aside: I like from Jacksonville's standpoint and I think Dave Caldwell made a good move to get some value for a talented player who wasn't going to be part of the future in Jacksonville. The Jags got their franchise left tackle on the cheap in the draft instead of paying big free-agent bucks. It could pan out to be a very wise move.) Anyway, the Jaguars line has struggled this season and now Joeckel can help them flash a little bit more in pass protection and justify his draft position. He'll have a real big first test against Robert Quinn this Sunday. And he'll probably end up playing with another blue chipper (or 30) next season.

Matt Cassel, QB, Vikings: Let's not pretend that Cassel is suddenly an elite quarterback or anything. But he doesn't need to be. He just has to be a guy who is willing to pull the trigger on some throws. And Cassel was that guy on Sunday in London, going 16 for 25 for 248 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Life should be pretty easy when Adrian Peterson's running wild -- he ran for 140 yards on 23 carries with a pair of scores against the Steelers -- but that's exactly the point here. Christian Ponder wasn't capable of elevating the offense at all with Peterson putting up a historically great season and he certainly struggled this year. If Cassel can keep stepping up for Minnesota the choice is clear.

Aqib Talib, CB, Patriots: New England took care of business Sunday night in Georgia, beating Matt Ryan and the Falcons in a place they've now lost just six times since he was drafted. That's impressive. And it happened in large part because Talib did such a phenomenal job limiting Julio Jones. With Roddy White banged up, Talib shadowed the the third-year phenom. Jones ended up getting his when it came to yardage -- and Tony Gonzalez finally emerged as a threat for Ryan -- but it was in garbage time after Talib, who finished with a pick, put him on shutdown.

Bear Market

Greg Schiano, HC, Buccaneers -- The ship sure seems to be sinking quickly in Tampa doesn't it? Whether or not Schiano's the leak behind the Josh Freeman rumors -- he says that's "absolutely not" the case -- the whole drama with his former starting quarterback has been a nightmare. There's no reason for this to unfold the way it has and Schiano continuing to defend attack kneeldowns is just getting awkward:

Matt Schaub, QB, Texans: With three straight games featuring a pick six, Schaub's drawing the ire -- and the fire -- of Texans fans. His latest flub was a brutal interception that Richard Sherman returned for a game-tying touchdown with less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter Sunday.

(Said score led to CBSSports.com's Ryan Wilson creating this.) Schaub signed a five year, $66 million deal just last September, although rumors are now circulating that the Texans can get out of his contract fairly cheaply before 2014. It's premature to speculate about Houston completely bailing on Schaub, who helped turn this franchise into an actual contender. It's not like they're suddenly going to find a better option out there on the market. But the fact that there's speculation over his status should tell you all you need to know about his stock.

Chip Kelly, HC, Eagles: How long ago does that Week 1 paddling of the Redskins feel like? Kelly's Eagles came out gangbusters to begin 2013 and have cooled dramatically since then. Michael Vick's struggling 53.8 percent of his passes in the past three games with three touchdowns and two interceptions. The secondary belongs in Pamplona with capes and red flags. Kelly finds himself on the losing end this season more than he did during 2012 and 2011 at Oregon combined.

It's far too early to claim that he's a bust, because the reality is this Eagles team wasn't ever that good to begin with. Week 1's expectations put everything out of whack. But Kelly's getting a friendly reminder of just how fickle life in the NFL can be these past few weeks.

Sam Bradford, QB, Rams: Bradford's got a shot at redemption from Thursday night's debacle in Week 5 with the Jaguars coming to town. Week 4 was a nightmare, with Sam completing less than 50 percent of his passes for a ghoulish 4.93 yards per attempt average. Blame the line all you want, but Bradford continues to make mistakes -- he threw one interception and had two more than should've been picked as well -- that leave everyone puzzled.

This week will be a really big litmus test. The Rams are heavy favorites against Jacksonville, they're playing at home, they have a long week of rest and they're in the spotlight for a team that needs

Trent Richardson, RB, Colts: I root for T-Rich because I like seeing special players. But -- and this is a knee-jerk reaction obviously -- two weeks in he doesn't look like a special player. Or at least a player worth a first-round pick. The Colts pounded Jacksonville on Sunday and gave Richardson as many chances as he could ask for to eat. The former Alabama back only snacked, though, carrying the ball 20 times for just 60 yards. He came away with a touchdown and part of his limited YPC total might be the fault of the offensive line. But you don't give up a first-round pick to see Donald Brown lead your team in rushing yards.

 
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