While most of the off season attention has been placed on head coach Kevin Stefanski’s offense, the mystery is on the defensive side of the ball for the Browns. Defensive coordinator Joe Woods becomes the third Browns DC in three years. In 2018, former DC Gregg Williams stressed turnovers over tackling, and in 2019, former DC Steve Wilks never had a healthy defense. Wilks only had one game with all eleven starters playing. Wilks did call of few good games, but it was clear that the lack of talent hurt the team in too many other games. Teams in the NFL can’t put together a competent NFL defense by trying to hold it together with duct tape and paper clips. So what should Browns fans expect from a Joe Woods defense?
Joe Woods took over as defensive coordinator for Denver in 2017 after the Broncos didn’t renew Wade Phillips contract. In the NFL, Phillips is known for building great defenses. His Broncos defense in Super Bowl 50 against the Carolina Panthers was a work of art. Denver held the number one NFL offense of the Panthers to 10 points in the Super Bowl mainly because of the secondary known as the “no fly zone.” This talented secondary included T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib, Darian Stewart, Chris Harris, Jr. and Bradley Roby. Who was the secondary coach for the Broncos? Joe Wood. After taking over as DC for Phillips in 2017, the Denver defense ranked third in yards allowed per game, fifth in rushing defense and fourth in passing defense. The Broncos also ranked number one in rushing yards per attempt and number two in third down conversion rate. However in 2018 the Broncos, due to injuries, fell to 22nd in rushing yards allowed per game, 20th in passing defense and 21st in rushing defense. Injuries and lack of depth can kill a great defense, just ask Steve Wilks.
So how does all this translate to the 2020 Browns defense? There’s an old saying in football, pressure creates interceptions and coverage creates sacks. The number one defensive unit for the Browns is their defensive line. The Browns employ both pass rushers and run stoppers. Off the edge the Browns can bring one of the premier pass rushers in then NFL, Myles Garrett, as well as, Olivier Vernon and Adrian Clayborn. In the middle, the Browns have Sheldon Richardson, Andrew Billings, Larry Ogunjobi and third round pick Jordan Elliot. On third down, the Browns could move Garrett inside with Clayborn at right defense end. This unit, if healthy, is solid top to bottom. Ogunjobi could have a break out year and Elliot could be a big surprise.
The second best defensive unit on the Browns is the secondary. The Browns have the potential to have two shut down corners in Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams. Add free agent signing safety Karl Joseph and second round pick safety Grant Delpit and the Browns could start two former first round picks and two former second round picks in the secondary. The key to the secondary is safety Andrew Sendejo. With the Vikings last year, he was known as the “quarterback” of the secondary. It is also easy to forget the cornerback Terrance Mitchell. He can play both outside and in the slot. Depth is key in the secondary. The Browns did sign free agent corner Donovan Olumba, but he’s best known for his special teams play and they have 2019 draft pick safety Sheldrick Redwine. However, Redwine has to get better in coverage. The wildcard is undrafted rookie free agent CB A.J. Green. This unit has the potential to duplicate the “no fly zone.”
The linebacker group is the biggest mystery for the Browns. So much is dependent on the progression of second year players Mack Wilson and Sione Takitaki. Wilson was one of best coverage linebackers in the 2019 draft class, but Takitaki is still a work in progress. A great special teams player last year, how will Takitaki translate into Joe Woods defense? The Browns did sign free agent B.J. Goodson and draft Jacob Phillips out of LSU. Both are known to be great tacklers, but not very good in coverage. DC Joe Woods could use S Grant Delpit in third down situations as a second or third linebacker. Delpit is great in coverage and a great tackler. If the Browns can get rookie Jacob Phillips to be a three down linebacker, this position group can be more than solid. He led the national champion LSU Tigers in tackles in 2019 and missed only five tackles his last two years at LSU.
The Browns did one thing in the off season to help DC Joe Woods, they signed and drafted players who can tackle on defense. Adding these players to an already talented defensive roster and the old football saying of pressure creates interceptions and coverage creates sacks could be the theme of the 2020 Browns defense.