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Browns defense on dominating roll

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Browns defense on dominating roll

BEREA, Ohio (AP) For the past two weeks, Cleveland's defense has been a swarming mass that will stop at nothing to inflict pain and punishment on its opponent.

The Browns have been ruthless, relentless.

``They're like a bunch of fire ants,'' offensive coordinator Brad Childress said.

With consecutive dominant performances against Dallas and Pittsburgh, Cleveland's defense is establishing itself as one of the NFL's up-and-coming units. Don't tell cornerback Joe Haden that, though. He believes the Browns deserve to be considered among the elite already.

``I would say we're one of the top five defenses, for sure,'' Haden said Thursday as the Browns (3-8) continued to prepare for Sunday's game against the Raiders (3-8). ``We have people who can play their position, are really good at it and everybody's established now and they understand what's going on.

``We have playmakers that can make plays at every level, and when we're all healthy and everybody's doing their thing, we're up there with the best.''

They've certainly been at their best the past two Sundays.

Last week, the Browns forced eight turnovers - five fumbles, three interceptions - in a 20-14 win over the Steelers. The eight takeaways were the most by any team since 2001 and most by a Cleveland team since 1989. Also, the Browns held Pittsburgh to 49 yards rushing, the fewest by a Cleveland opponent in nine years.

One week earlier, the Browns sacked Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo seven times and allowed Dallas only 64 yards rushing. Before their bye, the Browns were allowing 132.2 yards on the ground per game. Since then, they're giving up a league-low 56.

It's no coincidence that defensive tackles Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor have played in both games.

Taylor missed Cleveland's first eight games after having surgery to repair a chest muscle the 335-pounder tore while lifting weights in May. The underrated Rubin sat out three games with a calf injury. But now that the beefy pair have been reunited, the Browns' defense has become a heavyweight.

``It's like baseball,'' Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. ``You need to be strong up the middle. When you have two big sturdy guys in there that can play the run on first and second down, and then get push when it's time to throw the football, that definitely helps your run game.''

Cleveland's defensive line has become the team's strength.

The injuries to Taylor and Rubin allowed rookie tackles Billy Winn and John Hughes to get more playing time right away, and while there may have been some early growing pains, the two kids have quickly matured into dependable players.

Also, the return of Taylor and Rubin has freed up ends Jabaal Sheard and Frostee Rucker to make more plays, and allowed defensive coordinator Dick Jauron to rotate Juqua Parker and Ishmaa'ily Kitchen into the lineup without worrying about any letdown.

It's taken a while, but the Browns finally have the defense on the field they envisioned having to start the season.

It's all come together.

``We're just flying around playing as a solid group, a big-time unit and we've been trying to get a complete game out of us for a while,'' said Rucker, signed by Cleveland as a free agent in the offseason after six years with Cincinnati. ``We've shown flashes here and there. Starting the year, we played some good ball. It got a little bit away from us, and now we're just right back to where we want to be. We're getting guys back and we just want to make something happen these last couple of games.''

They made something happen last week.

The Browns seemed to be all over the field. They attacked Pittsburgh's running backs, causing four of them to fumble. It was rare when a Cleveland defender made a solo tackle. Usually, there were two or three orange helmets flying to the football, and more than one pair of hands ripping at the ball and trying to force a fumble.

The Steelers got stripped bare.

``They take the ball off people and people aren't readily wanting to have the ball taken off them,'' Childress said. ``That's what I see. I see lots of guys in on the pile and it's like a feeding frenzy, which is the way you want your defense. You want all 11 guys to show up.''

Along with creating turnovers, the Browns let the Steelers convert just one of nine third downs, the lowest total by a Cleveland opponent since 2006.

It's been two terrific weeks, but Haden, who was suspended four games and was injured for another, knows for the Browns defense to be regarded among the league's best, like Pittsburgh's or Baltimore's, they'll have to do it again, and again, and again.

``We're just going to keep coming in every week and keep hopefully building on those performances and then you have no choice but to look at us like a dominating defense,'' he said. ``That's what we're going for. You have to earn it.''

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NOTES: Browns KR Josh Cribbs did not practice with what is being called a ``shoulder/chest'' injury. Cribbs declined to talk about his injury. ... Browns QB Brandon Weeden was not limited in practice for the second day in a row after returning from a concussion sustained Sunday. ... Browns CB Dimitri Patterson has practiced the past two days and hopes to play after missing six games with a severe ankle injury.

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Wizards suffer lopsided loss against Hornets, who have had their number this season

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Wizards suffer lopsided loss against Hornets, who have had their number this season

The Washington Wizards lost to the Charlotte Hornets 122-105 on Friday night. Here's analysis of what went down...

Bad matchup: Despite their poor record, there is something about this Charlotte Hornets team that gives the Wizards trouble. The Wizards lost to the Hornets for the third time in three tries this season on Friday night and, aside from a push in the third quarter, were never really in it.

All in all, it was a dud of a game for the Wizards who were probably due for one. They had won three straight games and eight of 10 since John Wall got injured. They were also coming off a huge road win the night before in Cleveland, a game that started an hour later than usual.

It was a tough turnaround and the Wizards sure looked like it. It was evident in their defense and unforced errors. They did, however, have a decent shooting night. They shot 49.4 percent from the field 16-for-17 from the free throw line.

The Wizards' second unit didn't provide a lift outside of Kelly Oubre, Jr. (11 points). Mike Scott, one of their best bench options, was held scoreless.

PODCAST: WHAT THE SESSIONS SIGNING MEANS FOR SATORANSKY

Ugly first half: The Wizards only trailed by 12 points at halftime, but that score was skewed by a five-point push in the final seconds. The Hornets dominated for much of the first two quarters and did so by hitting threes and forcing turnovers. Those mistakes dug the Wizards a hole they never recovered from.

The Wizards had 10 turnovers in the first half, the same amount they had in their entire game the night before. Limiting mistakes was a big reason they beat the Cavaliers, yet the script was flipped by Charlotte.

The Hornets capitalized with 23 points off those 10 first-half turnovers. The Wizards had 14 giveaways for the games that led to 28 total points. 

Charlotte was 7-for-11 from three at one point in the first half and finished 17-for-39 (43.6%) for the game. That is very uncharacteristic for the Wizards, who entered the night second in the NBA in opponents three-point percentage.

Again, though, the first half ended well as Oubre and Bradley Beal gave the Wizards a jolt in the final seconds:

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Bad defense: The Wizards have played some great defense in recent weeks, but they just didn't have it on Friday night. Most surprising were the guys that hurt them most.

Dwight Howard was limited to 11 points and six rebounds and Kemba Walker didn't score his first points until the final minute of the first half. But others like Frank Kaminsky (23 points), Marvin Williams (15 points) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (14 points) got pretty much anything they wanted.

For Walker, it was a tale of two halves. He was held in check by Tomas Satoransky in the first half, but broke out in the third quarter and finished with 24 points and seven rebounds. Maybe it was tired legs on the Wizards' part, but Walker just kept dribbling until he got space and once he did, he knocked down shots.

Much like Kyle Lowry did a few weeks ago, Walker made adjustments to find success against Satoransky. We haven't seen that happen much since Wall went out, but those two guys have given him some trouble. Both guys are considerably smaller than Satoransky and very quick. Maybe there's something to that.

Add it all up and this was one of the worst defensive games of the season for the Wizards. They allowed their most points in a game since Jan. 17 against, you guessed it, the Hornets. Only three times this year have they given up more than what they allowed on Friday.

No Sessions: The Wizards did not debut their newest player on Friday night, which was probably to be expected given Ramon Sessions has not had any practice time yet. That is part of why he didn't play, but it's also another indication that he is unlikely to play much with the Wizards. Sessions is on a 10-day contract and is not expected to supplant either Satoransky or Tim Frazier at point guard. Frazier would seem to be the guy in danger of losing minutes, but it was business as usual for him against the Hornets.

Up next: The Wizards are off Saturday before returning to action at home against the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday night. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington.

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Don't expect a big role for Ramon Sessions with Wizards after signing as free agent

Don't expect a big role for Ramon Sessions with Wizards after signing as free agent

When Ramon Sessions was last with the Wizards, he was the primary backup point guard behind starter John Wall. Now back with the team on a 10-day contract, he is expected to play a much more muted role.

Wizards head coach Scott Brooks spoke of Sessions as the fourth-string point guard, not only behind Wall who remains out to recover from left knee surgery, but also behind Tomas Satoransky and Tim Frazier. The presence of Sessions should not affect Satoransky's minutes as the replacement starter and it doesn't sound like Frazier is in jeopardy of moving down the depth chart, either.

"I don't know how many minutes or opportunities he will get, but with the way he holds himself I feel comfortable if we need him in a pinch," Brooks said. "We have some coverage now if one of our guards goes down or gets in foul trouble."

PODCAST: WHAT THE SESSIONS SIGNING MEANS FOR SATORANSKY

Brooks mentioned Sessions' ability to play some at shooting guard if needed. He also praised Sessions' penchant for getting to the free throw line. Sessions has averaged 3.9 free throw attempts in just 23.5 minutes per game. That's highest among active players who have averaged 24 minutes or less in their career.

Sessions played well for the Wizards down the stretch of the 2014-15 season and in the 2015-16 campaign. As a member of the Wizards, he averaged 9.2 points and 3.0 assists per game.

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He has played for eight different teams, but has always felt a connection to Washington.

"It just always felt like a place I could end up back one day," he said. "People always ask me, being on so many teams, 'what's the home team to you?' I always come back to the Wizards. It was a place I was only here a year-and-a-half, but it feels like much longer than that with the run we had and the fans and the support I get when I come here."

Exactly how long Sessions will be here is unclear. He couldn't crack the Knicks' rotation earlier this season and has a lot to prove. Still, he's excited for the opportunity.

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