The Browns have only played one meaningful game this season, yet one difference from the 2016 team is apparent. The Browns defense is playing the game in a completely different manner. Yes, the team has more than twenty new players on the roster. The infusion of talent definitely helps, but that really isn’t the story, not yet anyway. While the focus last Sunday was on the youngest player in the league, rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, the Browns new defensive coordinator may be the bigger acquisition.
We heard a lot about Gregg Williams when he came to town. We all know about Bountygate and the stain that it left on his resume and deservedly so. Let’s be real here. Williams isn’t the only coach to ever do something like that. It wasn’t right, but a lot isn’t right in the NFL. What is lost in the scrutiny of that scandal is the fact that Williams is an outstanding defensive coach. He gets the most out of his player and can do it without a scandal attached. His teams have finished in the top ten in scoring defense seven times. That doesn’t happen by itself.
“My job is to effect change. If you can’t effect change, you have to do something else.” – Gregg Williams
The Browns defense had a different look and feel throughout the preseason. People will downplay the meaning of these games, yet the Browns defense gave up one touchdown in four games. More importantly, the defense played with the same speed and tenacity regardless of who was on the field. It wasn’t just guys like Myles Garrett and Jamie Collins. It was guys like Darius Hillary, Trevon Coley and Nate Orchard. The defense looks the same no matter who is playing. Everyone has bought into Gregg Williams’ approach, schemes and attitude.
Fast forward to Week 1 against the Steelers. The Browns defense was head and shoulders above the 2016 edition. It surprised most people outside of The Land. New coach, new talent, we felt good going in, but did you really look at the starting lineup on defense? Eight of the starting 11 were members of the 2016 defense. New additions Trevon Coley, Jason McCourty and Jabrill Peppers are the exceptions. Peppers is a promising young player, but he didn’t have a huge impact Sunday. McCourty and Coley are nice players, too, but they aren’t huge upgrades over last season’s starters.
The difference is Gregg Williams.
With virtually the same lineup, the Browns defense improved dramatically in one full season. In the 2016 opener, the Browns gave up 29 points and 403 total yards to an Eagles offense led by a rookie QB in Carson Wentz. Against the high-flying Steelers offense, expected to be among the best in football this season, the Brown defense surrendered 14 points and 290 total yards. Once again, the difference is Gregg Williams.
As the season unfolds, we should see growth and maturity from this young defense. That will give Williams more options and flexibility. His confidence in specific players will grow. The Browns will also likely add even more defensive help in the 2018 draft next April. With five picks in the first two rounds, the Browns will almost assuredly take at least one defensive player early.
Gregg Williams has been even better than advertised. In looking at how quickly Williams has been able to recreate this defense through an attitude change and flipping to a 4-3, we should all be extremely excited about what the future holds for this squad. After all, the players are very young and more help is on the way. Let’s enjoy the show. Go Browns!
Follow the author: @CSTRodB