The Browns Defense in 2021 has not been what many of us were expecting. How should they try to turn the page against one of the more explosive offenses in the NFL with Arizona coming to town?
The Browns Defense looks like it would be the summation of you creating Madden defense in franchise mode. A combination of young players and veterans alike. Players like Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward, Malcolm Smith, Jadeveon Clowney, and Ronnie Harrison being the veterans to lead the charge. Incoming talent via draft and injury to bolster the depth of the team like Grant Delpit, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Greedy Williams got fans ready for the ‘Dawg Pound’ to be a place where offenses did not want to play. Coming off a year where things were starting to piece themselves together. A playoff win and a near AFC Championship appearance within grasp caused the team expectations in 2021 to be high. Through the first five games of the season, however, it is fair to say that when the defense needed to step up most, they have fallen flat.
This week, they face another MVP contending quarterback in Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals. For those unaware, the Browns defense has been struggling against the elite offenses they have faced thus far. In Week 1, Patrick Mahomes had no trouble scorching the Browns secondary for 337 yards and three TDs while posting a 131.4 Quarterback Rating (QBR). Then, just last week his division-mate QB Justin Herbert topped Mahomes with 398 yards with four TDs and a QBR of 122.0. Now, Murray certainly does not have the arm of a Mahomes or Herbert, but he does have the best rushing threat outside of Lamar Jackson for the QB position.
Over the past two seasons, Kyler Murray ranked second for most rushing yards by a quarterback in the NFL with 1,235 yards. Murray also is tied for the most rushing touchdowns over that span as well with 16. Having that kind of mobile threat is what keeps defenses on their toes. Having to keep a player on the field as a “spy” to monitor every movement of the QB allows for a lot more errors as you are essentially a man down for all four quarters.
The closest thing the Browns have seen to Murray recently is Lamar Jackson. In the 2020 season, Lamar showed zero problems facing the Browns. Jackson combined in both meetings was able to run and throw with ease. With 438 air yards, a 73.8% completion, and four passing TDs combined with 169 yards and two rushing TDs and a 2-0 record you could say the defense struggles with mobility.
Murray is different than Jackson as he leans to do more damage in the air than on the ground. Kyler also has major weapons this season as his receiving core consists of All-Pro receivers DeAndre Hopkins and AJ Green, along with young guys like Christian Kirk and Rondale Moore. The Cardinals offense has been spreading the love this season with four players having 20+ receptions on the year between Hopkins (23), RB Chase Edmonds (23), Kirk (21), and Moore (21). It is not a simple formula of having Ward and a safety covering Hopkins and calling it a day.
If Murray looks to keep his MVP campaign going it could mean bad things to come for this week. The stats for this Browns defense are so cushioned by the walloping of the Bears in Week 3 that it is almost impossible to determine how bad of a defense they have shown to be thus far. Eyeball test would show that this Browns team needs to step up and face the best offenses as they have Top-Five talent defensively. Elite offenses thus far have just steamrolled this defense and turned every game into a shootout. Shootouts do not match the type of game script a run-heavy approach like the Browns offense wants to operate as. I think that for this team to truly contend for a spot in the AFC Championship it is time for the defense to play to expectation and give Kyler Murray a miserable day on Sunday.