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What's wrong with Ray Horton?

Arguably the biggest name not to receive a head coaching contract last offseason is current Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton. Many believed Horton would become the Cardinals head coach after the firing of Ken Whisenhunt, yet Horton found himself on the outside looking in once newly appointed Cardinals GM Steve Keim chose former Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians for the job. Horton eventually accepted the role of defensive coordinator in Cleveland and was expected to turn the Browns defense into one of the top defensive squads in the nation. 

It was widely believed that Horton was a perfect hire. Now, however, some are beginning to question it.

Horton, a former NFL defensive back, has only held the post of defensive coordinator in the NFL for three years. Horton got his start in Washington, where his former coach and current fellow Browns staffer Norv Turner hired him as an assistant defensive backs coach. Horton then went on to coach the secondary in Cincinnati, Detroit, and Pittsburgh before landing the defensive coordinator job in Arizona for the 2011 NFL season. In the span of one year, Horton instantly changed the defensive culture in Arizona, turning the previously 29th-ranked Cardinals defense into a force to be reckoned with. 

The following table shows the impact of Horton's hiring on the Arizona Cardinals defense:

*Bolded seasons are the seasons with Horton as Defensive Coordinator

 

Yds/Gm.

Pts./Gm.

 INTs

FF's

TO Diff. 

 Sacks 

ARI

2010

 373 

(29th)

 27.1

 (30th)

 17

 (11th)

13 

(18th) 

 -5 

(22nd)

 33

 (18th)

ARI

2011

355 

(18th) 

21.8

 (17th) 

 10 

(26th)

 12 

(25th)

 -13

 (29th)

 42 

(7th)

ARI

2012

337 

(12th) 

  22.3

 (17th)

 22 

(2nd)

 14 

(21st)

  -1 

(17th)

  38

 (11th)

 

Under Horton, the Cardinals improved their rankings in yards allowed per game, points allowed per game, and sacks. The following year saw another improvement in yards allowed per game as well as a drastic improvement in interceptions, with the Cardinals skyrocketing to 2nd in picks. After a disappointing 5-11 season featuring a quarterback carousel and underwhelming offensive production, Cardinals Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt was fired and many believed Horton to become his successor. However, the Cardinals chose Arians and Horton found himself going to yet another cellar-dwelling team with questions at quarterback and little to no sustained success in the past decade. 

Horton's arrival in Cleveland came with possibly the most fanfare any defensive coordinator has seen on the shores of Lake Erie. Many believed the hiring of Horton to be the hire of the year, with the Browns stealing a HC-potential coordinator from the rest of the league. After all, Horton was the polar opposite of previous defensive coordinator Dick Jauron. Jauron was known for his "bend but don't break" approach and his traditional (read: antiquated) 4-3 scheme. Horton, on the other hand, brought with him a fiery, blitz happy 3-4 scheme, a scheme that many believe is the perfect fit for the AFC North. 


But has Horton really improved the Browns defense?









*Bolded seasons are the seasons with Ray Horton as Defensive Coordinator 


 

Yds./Gm.

Pts./Gm.

INTs 

Forced Fumbles

TO Diff.

Sacks 

CLE

2012

 363 

(23rd)

 23 

(19th)

 17 

(11th)

 16 

(16th)

+3

(12th)

 38

 (11th)

CLE

2013

 320 .4

(6th)

 24.9 

(14th)

 10

 (21st)

 

(31st)

-6

(26th)

 37

 (9th)

 


As you can see, the Browns have regressed in every major statistical category except sacks and yards per game. The defense has been in question as of late after two exceptionally poor fourth quarter showings, allowing both Jacksonville and New England to drive down the field late in the fourth quarter and score the go-ahead touchdown. Many throughout Cleveland were worried that Horton would take a head coaching job after this season. If the defense continues its downward trend, however, Horton's job security will be in question. 



Obviously, there are some mitigating circumstances.





-The offense isn't doing the defense any favors


The Browns offense this season has been less-than-stellar. Cleveland has seen the starting quarterback reigns passed back and forth like a hot potato between Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell, and Brian Hoyer. The three-headed rushing attack of Willis McGahee, Chris Ogbannaya and Fozzy Whittaker ranks 28th in the NFL, racking up a measly 84.3 yards per game. This season alone, the Browns have rotated seven different players through what are arguably the two most important offensive positions: quarterback and runningback. Cleveland also ranks 26th in the league in average Time of Possession, only being on offense for 28:59 per game. 



But how is this any different than what Horton experienced last year in Arizona? Last season, the Cardinals saw John Skelton, Ryan Lindley, Kevin Kolb and Brian Hoyer share the starting quarterback duties. Three of those quarterbacks haven't even taken a single snap this season, while the fourth would have arguably been the best quarterback to play for the Browns this season before tearing his ACL in Week 5. The Cardinals 2012 rushing attack ranked dead last in the league, only managing to accrue 75.2 yards per game on the ground. Furthermore, the Cardinals ranked 24th in TOP last seasons, possessing the ball for 29:19 per game. 




-Injuries


The Browns defense has been healthy all season. Desmond Bryant has been the only player lost to Injured Reserve, yet he played in 12 games before the IR designation. Seven full-time starters have not missed a single game this season. Five full time starters have played 95% or more of the Browns defensive snaps, with D'Qwell Jackson playing every single defensive down this season and Joe Haden only missing 5 plays on the season. 




-Different Personnel


The Browns feature a Pro-Bowl caliber corner in Joe Haden, just as the Cardinals had Patrick Peterson. The Browns have two solid 5-technique DE's in Ahtyba Rubin and Desmond Bryant, just as the Cardinals had Calais Campbell and Darnell Docket. The Browns have a solid, athletic ILB in D'Qwell Jackson, just as the Cardinals had Daryl Washington. All of the pieces are there.




There couldn't be two more similar scenarios. So why is it that Horton found success in Arizona while faltering in Cleveland? Why is it that there's been a decline in defensive production this season? What is causing the low statistical production? Is there a curse? How many more questions will be in this paragraph?


Horton better have some great answers for Banner and Lombardi at the end of the season, or else he could be looking for his third job in as many years.


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