The Cleveland Browns hired in a new front office and coaches who brought in new philosophies and schemes and possibly a new quarterback. Johnny Manziel may be currently dominating headlines, but that should change once the season starts. Regardless of who is quarterback, the run game is the foundation of our new game plan. Running the ball, accompanied by a stellar offensive line and great defense will be the X-factor in Cleveland’s success.

First of all, defense wins championships. For years, this has been the gold standard for composing a winning franchise. The Browns gave Mike Pettine the opportunity to display his defensive genius. Although Cleveland’s defense ranked high in particular categories, Pettine plans to improve on the trouble areas.

The goal is to rise out of the basement of the league rankings in categories such as total points allowed (406; 23rd) and points per game allowed (25.4; 23rd). Although our defense ranked third, only surrendering 4.8 yards per play, the Browns were the second worst defensive club when facing third down, relinquishing a first down 45% of the time.

In spite of these disturbing statistics, Cleveland has handled the situation impressively. It all starts with our head coach, Pettine, being on the same page as defensive coordinator, Jim O’Neill. Similar philosophies and previous history go a long way. Their scheme involves more press coverage to create more interceptions. The plan to disguise their defense should produce a confused quarterback resulting in an unadvised pass.

Altering the defense couldn’t occur without a change in the roster. Cleveland’s decision makers hit home runs by drafting Justin Gilbert and Pierre Desir while signing Cleveland native, Donte Whitner. The new additions upgrade our team as well as forcing youngsters, Tashaun Gibson, Leon McFadden, and Buster Skrine to step up and enhance their skills. The Browns also successfully built a clubhouse with depth, adding veterans Aaron Berry and Isaiah Trufant.

Depth, whether on defense or special teams, is extremely important. Increasing the amount of quality players provides the starters with more rest. In return, we hope our defense won’t crumble in the fourth quarter like years past. Safety Donte Whitner said it best, “In the fourth quarter when you are tired and you really can’t think well, we will be one of the best teams then. We will be well conditioned mentally and physically.” Ultimately, our defense will be a force to be reckoned with.

Nevertheless, a great defense doesn’t play an entire game. The Browns offense must control the clock in order for our defense to catch a breath. How many three and outs have you witnessed in your lifetime? Time management requires a rushing attack that can sustain drives, but Cleveland’s offensive line needs to work out some kinks first.

Top priority is protecting your quarterback, no matter who it is. The Browns yielded 49 sacks and 121 quarterback hits, ranking third last and last, respectively. No one can manage a game receiving bruising blows of that quantity. New acquisitions, Paul McQuistan (free agent) and Joel Bitonio (rookie), should alleviate some pressure, coming to the aide of Joe Thomas and Alex Mack. Unhealthy veterans, John Greco and Jason Pinkston, plan to stay on the field throughout the entire 2014 campaign. A struggling Mitchell Schwartz hopes to hold onto his starting job with Bitonio and Garrett Gilkey breathing down his neck. For the first time, Cleveland’s offensive line looks strong, healthy, and bountiful.

As a result, the Browns can accomplish a variety of blocking schemes. Lateral blocking is mandatory for linemen in Kyle Shanahan’s system. A successful line demands athleticism, size, and strength. These attributes allow our Browns to be mobile, sustain blocks, and get low enough to take out defensive ends’ legs attempting to stop the run. This will give access to our running backs to create space to rev the engines and get those legs a churning. In the end, there is no rushing attack without a line to provide space.

This brings up the most important aspect of all, the ground assault. This was a problem area last season, as our leading rusher, Willis McGahee, only pounded out 377 yards. Cleveland resided in the basement, ranking amongst the league’s worst. We were 30th in rushing attempts, 27th in yards and yards per game, and dead last in rushing touchdowns. Disappointing is one way to describe it. Horrible or pathetic works too. Nevertheless, Cleveland vastly improved their roster for this upcoming campaign.

New assets, Ben Tate, Terrance West, and Isaiah Crowell, shouldn’t have any problem contributing immediately. This three-headed monster brings experience, power, and speed. Tate intends to increase his production and improve upon his 771 yards as a reserve back. Assuming the former Texan remains healthy, he should assume the starting role. Fortunately for Cleveland, rookie Terrance West isn’t stepping aside. Both West and Tate are more of the power prototypes not afraid of some contact. Not saying that Isaiah Crowell is scared, but the undrafted rookie fits the explosive, elusive profile. Off the field issues aside, Crowell remains a productive back when on the field. Ultimately, running back by committee wouldn’t be terrible. Throwing Dion Lewis and Ogbonnaya into the mix only gives the Browns a commendable running core.

In conclusion, it’s plain and simple: runners need to run, blockers need to block, and defenders need to defend. If Cleveland plays as a team, we will win as a team. It’s the domino effect: if one player does his job it enables another to do his. Despite who is passing the ball, team success will prevail over individual accomplishments.

– Max Gold

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