New defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz displayed the first signs of transparency from any Browns coach or executive in the past two years when he was introduced on Wednesday. Much of Kevin Stefanski’s, Andrew Berry’s or even Joe Woods’ interviews with the media were shrouded in secrecy and chock-full of word salad non-answers to legitimate questions.
To put it bluntly, as Schwartz did: it was a breath of fresh air. But Browns fans should be smart enough at this juncture to wait and see what happens on Sundays before throwing bouquets. Gregg Williams pounded on the podium with a Super Bowl-ringed hand and made grand promises. Joe Woods came in with a mellow whimper. Schwartz was perfectly in the middle.
He’s widely known as a brutally honest, fiery coach and while age has crept up on him (he revealed a nagging thyroid issue), he can still “get after it” as he told reporters. Which is something that is desperately needed on the Browns’ defensive side as well as the entire team. While the undisciplined do-anything-then-think-about-it-later Freddie Kitchens-led squad was extreme, the current Stefanski-Berry regime appears a little too buttoned-down and uptight.
Brian Daboll in New York has the Giants playing above their talent level. Dan Campbell took a Lions team out of the gutter and to a winning record in 2022. Sean McDermott has always kept the Bills’ locker room galvanized and hungry to win. The Browns seem content to do the bare minimum – the bottom not falling out, but unable and unwilling to climb over the top.
Schwartz has the Super Bowl pedigree to potentially address those issues, but the players have to cultivate it on their own as well. We can spend time picking low-hanging fruit like the inferior talent at defensive tackle or Joe Woods’ scheme or the undersized linebackers that get blown away by a gust of wind off Lake Erie. Or we can critically evaluate the highest-paid, highly touted players on the Browns defense. That’s what Schwartz believes in:
“We’re going to hold our best players the most accountable.”
That conversation starts with Myles Garrett. An enigma, Garrett should be much better than he really is. I’ve written ad-nauseam about the flaws in his game: how he doesn’t impact the game, how he refuses to be a leader, how he turns off his motor in the middle of plays, how he disappears for quarters-on-end.
In response, many fans will point to a grade from Pro Football Focus showing how Garrett is the best defensive lineman in the NFL. Typically, I will counter with: “do we want the Browns to win games, or Myles Garrett to be a PFF hero?” What these people are really doing is absolving Garrett from blame for one of the worst defenses in the entire league.
Here’s some analytics for you excuse-makers: the Browns finished with a 7-10 record, the defense finished 25th in rushing yards allowed, 29th in rushing touchdowns allowed, 27th in sacks and Garrett’s third defensive coordinator just lost his job.
This is a results business.
Showing me a PFF grade or an Instagram box-jump video to shield Garrett from fault misses the point entirely. This is a guy with a $125 million contract, taken first overall in 2017. Any player like that should have a bigger impact on the win/loss column.
Defensive end is arguably the second-most premier position in football after quarterback. The potential to disrupt not just an offense, but an entire game is golden from that position.
LB Micah Parsons, DE Bradley Chubb, DE TJ Watt, LBs Devin Bush and Patrick Queen, DE Nick Bosa all do more than the bare minimum to get results in the win/loss column, not their individual PFF grades. These guys jump off the tape time and time again during games. They swing the game in their team’s favor. They play with relentlessness and furious spirit. DT Dexter Lawrence, who the Giants took with the Browns’ first-round pick, routinely devours the backfield.
Consequently, all of their respective teams finished with winning records or made the playoffs in 2022.
Meanwhile, Garrett is good for a cool-looking sack once, maybe twice a game, while the Browns Defense continues to get gashed in the run, crumble in crunch time and suffer internal discord with his fellow linemen accusing him of getting preferential treatment.
What has been Garrett’s footprint on the Browns’ fortunes? Where is the return on investment? It seems to be going more towards dolled-up graveyards of QBs that beat him in games and Halloween costumes than winning ballgames. If fans are content with that, God bless. It’s not my barometer.
And it doesn’t seem like Jim Schwartz’s either. To carry out his vision for a mean, relentless defense to be the heart and soul of this team, he would be wise to shed the expensive “me-guys” like Dino Dolls from his squad.