The 2016 Cleveland Browns literally had the worst defense in the NFL. They finished 31st in yards per game, 21st against the pass, 31st against the run, had the third worst defense on third down and ranked 30th in points allowed. They surrendered at least 24 points in 14 games last year.
As a result, Ray Horton was fired for a second time in dire need to improve this defense. Some drastic changes have been made defensively since the 2016 campaign concluded and it all started with the hiring of Gregg Williams. He brings aggressive, attacking 4-3 schemes that apply heavy pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Williams has 26 years of NFL coaching experience, 15 as a defensive coordinator. Williams has a track record for improving teams. In 15 seasons, he finished with six top-10 defenses in terms of yards allowed and eight top-13 defenses in terms of points allowed. The Browns defense could use an upgrade in both those categories.
The next step in that process is finding players to fit your mold. On paper, Cleveland has done a terrific job securing players to have an impact on this young, developing team. In fact, 34 defensive players have three years of experience or less. This off-season the Browns extended the contracts of Jamie Collins and Christian Kirksey for four years each. They drafted studs in Myles Garrett and Jabrill Peppers and a steal of a deal in Caleb Brantley (charges were dropped). Demario Davis was traded to the Jets for Calvin Pryor and the Browns also added Jason McCourtey. Cleveland has been busy and they hauled in plenty of talent. The question is can it gel and translate on the field?
The question is can it gel and translate on the field?
According to Matt Bowen of Bleacher Report, who also played for Williams in Washington, Gregg has three rules: be on time, touch all lines and buckle your chinstrap. He is a great coach who has no problems motivating his team. Williams is known to get the most out of his players and create NFL Pro Bowlers. The attitude comes from the top and has a domino effect on the team. Just like his attitude, his players are aggressive on the field. This is the exact mentality needed for the AFC North.
Even Joe Haden agrees, “He’s very vocal and in your face and I feel like we definitely need that. We need somebody that is going to keep everyone accountable.”
Accountability is a major aspect of Williams’ defense. He has production charts in the meeting room with all the defensive stats. You’re playing only if you’re producing on the field. Also, players are responsible for learning multiple positions. There are already perfect examples on team. Jason McCourtey is a cornerback but has practiced at safety. Calvin Pryor is a strong safety but has some experience at free safety. Not to mention, Jabrill Peppers played damn near every position in college and that kid can play.
Player versatility is going to play a big part in the success of Cleveland’s defense. Gregg Williams wants to play the 11 best players, not the best at each position. Meaning that if a linebacker goes out, he could be replaced with a defensive back. Williams has over 40 defensive fronts at his disposal so plugging in players shouldn’t be a problem. This should create an advantage by always putting the best people on the field.
In the end, Williams is going to be great for the future of Cleveland. I believe the defense will improve tremendously from last year. They should give us an opportunity to win in every game if not win a couple games. Honestly, the Browns may not be a top-10 defense, but they can move out from the basement and into the middle of the pack.
Max Gold is a Senior Writer for Cleveland Sports Talk. Follow him @CST_Max_Gold
Purchase our CST shirts by clicking this link!!! We now have three different colors available for your choosing as shown below!