It’s impossible to find YouTube video of a 2011 Cleveland Brown tackling a running back. That’s not a good sign.
While the Browns 2011 passing offense ranked second in the league in yards allowed (184.9), opposing runners gained an average of 147.4 yards per game on the hapless Cleveland run D. Ouch.
In the year’s first match vs. the Baltimore Ravens, rusher Ray Rice racked up 204 yards and one touchdown on 29 carries. Rice didn’t even play the whole game: Backup RB Ricky Williams added 76 yards rushing yards and scored one touchdown of his own.
Clearly, this is a key ingredient in manufacturing stadium sadness.
Mike Holmgren, Tom Heckert, Pat Shurmur and Dick Jauron have taken some steps to address this potentially fatal flaw.
The team drafted James-Michael Johnson and Emmanuel Acho to help out a linebacking corps that features absolute stud D’Qwell Jackson in the middle.
However, after Mr. Jackson, the linebacking quality level drops significantly.
What to do at starting strong-side backer is by far the biggest defensive question mark going into camp—and also long term.
If the coaches move Chris Gocong over to SLB, then what do they do when Scott Fujita returns from suspension?
Gocong filled in after Fujita’s injury in 2011—to mixed results.
So, if the team plays Gocong at SLB for a month and Kaluka Maiava starts in the “Will” spot, is Plan A to move Gocong back to his original position and demote Maiava to reserve status?
Unfortunately, this was the plan last year, when the run defense finished 30th in the NFL. Hmmm.
Regardless of the September 2012 plan, at 33 years old, Fujita isn’t going to hold down the “Sam” position too much longer. So a more permanent solution needs to be found that doesn’t involve flipping Gocong all over the field.
James-Michael Johnson has been playing MLB in OTAs and may be groomed as the second-string/emergency plan there. But how about trying him out over on the strong side? Just a thought.
Then there is Plan B, which would have Johnson and Maiava and heaven-knows-who-else competing to replace Fujita in September. While a short-term risk, this seems to accomplish both leaving Gocong where he belongs and seeing what the Browns have in their top linebacking draft pick.
Another possibility is that James-Michael Johnson will compete for the starting WLB spot from the jump If Maiava hangs onto the starting spot, Johnson will probably come off the bench in relief of both the WLB and D’Qwell Jackson in the middle. This Plan C seems more and more likely.
Then there is Emmanuel Acho. With President Mike Holmgren nodding at his side, Shurmur told the media (from 19 Action News), “This guy is a terrific kid ... he really is. Terrific player. Very eager."
That's for sure. For more on Mr. Acho, see this draft recap.
Some analysts from Second City Fanatics think that the eventual replacement on the strong side will indeed be Acho. Interesting—and wouldn't H&H look brilliant if this came to pass?
Not to be ignored are the promising rookies DT John Hughes and DE/DT Billy Winn. Nfldraftscout.com rated Winn as a second- or third-round pick and as the 10th out of 135 DEs.
The linebacker situation will be helped by the fact that both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh appear to have de-emphasized their rushing game. (Unless new Steeler Chris Rainey really does turn out to be the next Darren Sproles as advertised.)
Bengal Bernard Scott only averaged 3.4 yards per carry in 2011. BenJarvus Green-Ellis comes into Cincy with some lovely numbers, but much of that success may well have been a result of playing with a certain future HOF QB.
The Bengals tried to improve their O-line. We’ll see. Can Bernard Leonard prove that he is worthy of more than a third-string slot? But if that were the case, why sign Green-Ellis?
Newly signed Browns DE Frostee Rucker made his NFL reputation as a run-stuffer. Time to earn that reputation in the other Ohio football town.
Pass rush will come from the rest of the D-line, so the linebackers will have the time to cover the middle and stop the run. Theoretically.