On Sunday the Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs clashed in a rematch of last season’s 2nd round playoff matchup. A matchup that ultimately led to a 22-17 heartbreaker with a questionable no-call on a clear helmet-to-helmet hit.
This time around, the Browns came out with a vengeance and took a 22-10 lead into the half. A few untimely mistakes and what seemed to be a lackadaisical defense proved to be the dagger as Patrick Mahomes and company came all the way back to win 33-29.
Almost immediately, the frustration of back-to-back losses to Kansas City turned to anger and fans began to search for who to blame.
The irrational fans went straight to Baker Mayfield who had a career game and though the interception goes on the stat sheet, he still made the correct decision trying to get the ball out of bounds and keep the drive alive. But as we know, sometimes things don’t shake our way.
And then, as I was about to log off social media for the night, I began to see an incredible amount of people calling for the firing of Joe Woods, the Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator. So allow me to give you, the fans, a glimpse into the mindset of the Browns defensive coaching staff heading into Week 1.
Over the offseason the Browns GM, Andrew Berry, was able to draw the interest of four key defensive free agents; Linebacker Anthony Walker Jr., Defensive backs Troy Hill & John Johnson III, and EDGE rusher Jadeveon Clowney.
Anthony Walker Jr. Came to Cleveland after a stint with the Indianapolis Colts where he became the leader and signal-caller of their defense. He came in this year and earned his spot as the first team MIKE (Middle) linebacker and signal-caller of the Browns’ newly constructed defense.
Troy Hill and John Johnson III came to Cleveland after a stellar year with the Los Angeles Rams. They contributed to what wound up being the number one rated pass defense in the NFL in 2020. Hill put up incredible grades as mainly a nickel-type or slot cornerback and excelled in man coverage which is exactly where he will slide into the Browns defense throughout the season. On the other hand, though he does grade well as a safety, Johnson is known more for his football acumen and all-around knowledge of the game. He comes to Cleveland after being the signal-caller for one of the top overall defenses in the NFL in 2020.
The final key addition this offseason was Jadeveon Clowney. The Browns have worked to bring him in as a free agent, over the last few years, though they could never settle on a dollar amount. He is the type of player who never reached his overblown potential but has been exceptional at stopping the run and is still a more than capable pass rusher.
These players along with the additions of new interior defensive lineman and two probable superstar rookies in Greg Newsome II and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah were looked at as the instant fix the Browns needed to become Super Bowl contenders.
The fact remains that any time you bring in upwards of 8 new starters on the defensive side of the ball, it will take more than a single offseason for them to learn to play alongside each other. Communication and feel for the game as a unit is something that is far more important than most people realize.
Not only is it hard for the defense to mesh with an entirely new cast of characters but this also means that everyone needs to be completely integrated into the defensive schemes and philosophies put forth by defensive coordinator Joe Woods. As the weeks progress and players get healthy and more comfortable in these defensive sets, you will begin to see a far more advanced set of coverages, blitzes, and stunts.
The Browns went into Kansas City on Sunday and played a very watered-down version of what their defense will be, come playoff time or even Week 8 or 9. They played a lot of softcover two and cover three-zone schemes mixed with a linebacker core who didn’t blitz and a front four who ran a basic pass rush. Mano y mano and let the best man win. To summarize, we did nothing but play base defense and we had Mahomes scrambling all day long. That’s a good sign for our defense moving forward.
Here we are, heading toward Week 2 with a tough loss, and we almost won that game without putting anything on film for the rest of the NFL to scheme against us. What’s even better is a Week 2 matchup against the Texans allows the Browns to play another four quarters of football, in a base defense, without throwing anything fancy on film.
The keys to a victory against the Houston Texans are staying technically sound and in position on defense, and then wearing them down with the run game on offense. Simple? Yes. Basic? Absolutely. But for Cleveland to have the ability to enter Week 3 against Chicago without having to barely open a playbook on either side of the ball is a great situation to be in.
So, no. The defense may not be playing poorly on purpose, but an element of gamesmanship goes into these early, regular-season games. Playing in Kansas City, Week 1 of 17 knowing the outcome of this game doesn’t decide their fate, ultimately gave Cleveland the chance to try and win on pure talent. And I have to tell you that the Cleveland Browns showed that they are the more talented team.
Don’t fret, don’t fuss, try to keep things in perspective, and ask yourself, are they playing to win A game or are they playing to win THE game?
Thanks so much for reading, I hope you enjoyed the insight I tried to provide. If you’re looking for more Cleveland Sports Information, check out my weekly podcast
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