The season is over, the Pro Bowl just ended, and free agency and the draft aren’t here yet. So while we mourn the disappointing season, let’s start looking at why there were problems and the possible ways to correct them.
I believe in defense. The best defense in the league (according to points allowed per game) is walking away with the hardware. And the worst? Well, they reside in Detroit.
A very descriptive fact—Cleveland is ranked exactly halfway between the aforementioned teams.
Ranked 16th in the NFL, the problems are not uncorrectable. It’s not time to scrap the entire defense and start over. Cleveland, however, does have a lot of room to improve. They will be playing the 3-4 next year. Period. Mangini has already absolutely refused to consider another defense.
Some less-than-perfect situations do have to be accepted. There is only so much that can be done in one offseason and Cleveland only has so much money. So these evaluations are made to put Cleveland’s defense at a playoff level, but they will not fix every single problem the Browns face.
In the 3-4 defensive, linemen can put up some very poor stats. That is not to say they aren’t being successful, it’s just that a big part of their job is to take up blocks. That being said, they still do need to be making tackles and sacks.
Shaun Rogers showcased perfection. He had more tackles (76) than any other DT/NT in the league. He only put up 4.5 sacks, but that led the team. And here is the best part—he was playing team football. It wasn’t a selfish, stat-padding season. The man gets double-teamed all day.
It was also nice to have Louis Leonard add some depth, he made 25 tackles and we pay him next to nothing.
Everything goes downhill from there. The DE’s played without Robaire Smith most of the season. Corey Williams played ok, but he and Shaun Smith combined barely beat Rogers’ tackle total. Together they had half a sack, unless you count the hit Smith put on Quinn. That lack of production still marked $8.4 million against the Browns’ salary cap.
There are more prominent weaknesses than the D-line, so the underachievers of this group will probably catch a break; however, Williams huge contract may put him in danger.
Willie McGinest was on TV the other day and announced that he would only come back if a perfect opportunity presented itself; if he was going to come back he wanted to be winning.
Willie, retire. Please. Pretty please.
He had fewer tackles than any other starting linebacker on the team. In the 3-4, linebackers must apply pressure. He had one sack. He says he wants to win—he needs to play like it.
Willie, play like you aren’t just showing up for your huge paycheck. Show the younger players how hard they need to work. Show them that defense is about refusing to be denied. If he wants to win, why didn’t he make it happen?
Adding to the problem, he cost the team cap more than league sack-leader DeMarcus Ware cost his Cowboys. McGinest's $3.7 million more than doubles Pro-Bowler James Harrison’s cap value. But, bringing it closer to home, the guy that starts across from him gets paid half as much, has four times as many sacks, and more tackles.
He said he would only come back to a “perfect” situation. He gets paid a ton and does nothing—sounds like most people’s dream job. The Browns don’t need that kind of veteran leadership. For the money he is being paid, a very decent replacement can be found.
Some interesting free agents are Suggs and maybe even Peppers. Both are going to be very expensive. Fortunately, this draft is packed with pass-rushers. If they want to spend their first pick on Aaron Curry, they can. The class is probably deep enough to pick up a quality player in the second round.
Kamerion Wimbley needs to learn another move; the shoulder dip only works so many times. That being said, he’s a younger guy and he has shown flashes of great potential. We don’t pay him very much, so I think we should keep him around, and see what he develops into.
Next year, he and, whoever starts opposite him ,need to make getting to the quarterback a very personal matter, as Cleveland was second-to-last in the league in sacks.
D’Qwell Jackson led the NFL in tackles. Sure, Shawne Merriman was hurt, and some of the perennial All-Stars are getting older, but it’s still impressive—the kid’s just three years into his career.
This season he put up as many tackles as Andra Davis did the last two seasons combined. D’Qwell’s cap value: $1.1 million. Want to guess Andra Davis’ ? Multiply Jackson's by three.
Jackson had two sacks. Davis had none. Stephan Cooper was the only linebacker to have more interceptions than D’Qwell. Davis had one. Jackson deflected 9 passes. Davis deflected four.
It’s confusing how they can play the same position, on the same defense, against the same teams, yet the stats can be so dissimilar. Jackson has an exciting future ahead of him. Davis should be gone.
Leon Williams has only missed three2 games in his three years. He isn’t a starter, but he’s not bad depth at $0.5 million against the cap.
The problems here could be rectified in several ways.
The free agency market is packed full of middle linebackers. There are going to be some very big names thrown out there. Vilma, Lewis, and Barton are just a couple. Rey Maualuga would add some much needed attitude to the defense. Aaron Curry seems to be a very safe pick. James Laurinaitis and company create even more options.
Look at the two best 3-4 defenses; they have tremendous safeties (Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu) and they also are willing to fork out the cash for these players. That is not a coincidence. The safety is crucial in a 3-4—they allow for more aggressive blitz packages.
The 3-4 prides itself on stopping the run, which is pointless if the opposition can turn to the passing game and scorch the D. An intimidating safety keeps that from happening. The lack of the aforementioned safety is a big part of the reason Cleveland’s third down defense was third-worst in the NFL.
Sean Jones is still learning. He has a lot to improve on, but the Browns could do worse. Keep him.
Mike Adams was a pleasant surprise, but he’s not ready to start yet. Brodney Poole needs to leave. On three different occasions this year, he backed away from a ball carrier. Never—I repeat never—is that a good choice.
Middle school football players sometimes make that mistake. High School players lose their starting jobs for doing that once, let alone three times.
Adams is too small and lacks the strength to be a physical presence in the passing game, and we won't even mention the running game.
If Taylor Mays came out this year, he’d be interesting, but he didn’t. Oshiomogho Atogwe accounted for 11 turnovers all by himself this year, not to mention more than 80 tackles. He may take dangerous risks sometimes, but with a turnover margin that high, there can’t be too much complaining. If the Rams let him go, snag him. If not, find a replacement.
Brandon McDonald is improving. He puts very apparent effort into the game. He still is getting thrown at all day. His run support is far from impressive. Working hard is respectable, but the Browns need results.
Eric Wright played a little better against the run—not much, but a little. He doesn’t get thrown at as much, which would lead one to believe he’s a better corner. Keep him.
Malcolm Jenkins is as complete a player as you’ll find. That’s a possibility, but would cost a first round pick. Nnamdi Asomugha is going to want a huge paycheck and Dunta Robinson has had some injury problems. Both will be in the free agent market.
The position needs to be addressed, if Jenkins isn't drafted, the problem is probably best addressed through trade.
Part of this will come with new players, but the Browns need a new attitude. Everyone keeps saying the NFL is business—hopefully that’s not true. Hopefully someone still plays in that league because they love the game of football.
But even if it is all business, even if this is just their profession, not their love, act like it.
When businessmen explain their plans, they do it with passion, pride, and a competitive spirit. When engineers showcase their inventions, they do it with passion, pride ,and a competitive spirit. For God’s sake, even politicians show passion, pride, and a competitive spirit.
That isn’t apparent with the Browns.
If this really is just a profession for them, then start taking a little personal pride in what you do. Come to work with a chip on your shoulder and prove you belong in the league.
The Browns need a defense that prides itself first on turnovers, second on stopping the run, and third being a hard hitting, physical presence.