Recently, Offense? Defense? The Browns Need Help Everywhere was published by Marty Gitlin. It is a well written, lyrical article and it does a nice job summing up many of the major concerns Brown's fans have. In commenting on the article, I realized I'd written a book and decided to present it as an article of hopeful reassurance to Browns fans. Many of my points are derived from responses to his article, thus I will take points and quotations from his work.
Here is a link to his article:
"Mangini plans on retaining the 3-4 defense that has been shredded both on the ground and through the air for the past several years."
At first glance, I was terrified. Andra Davis was being swallowed alive by offensive lines and consistently outplayed by three year veteran D'Qwell Jackson. Willie McGinest just had his 80th birthday. Their production was awful. So to say we had three decent linebackers was a stretch, and Mangini wanted us to play the 3-4. That's the one with four linebackers, right?
No Worries. Both the aforementioned players will not be with the team in 2009. The replacements are obvious upgrades. A triplet of players are likely to replace McGinest. Six years younger, Bowens quadrupled Willie's sack count. He started 5 games. The younger OLB's David Veikune and Alex Hall will share the work load as they learn from Bowens. Andra Davis will be succeeded by Eric Barton. While similar in age, Barton had more tackles, sacks and force fumbles. Kaluka Maiava and Beau Bell provide depth and youth at the position.
Lastly, the 3-4 is a good defense for the NFL. The two best defenses in the NFL, including the Super Bowl Champions, run the 3-4. Those Chargers' and Cowboys' defenses aren't too shabby either. The top three pass rushers in 3-4 defenses combined for 52 sacks, the top three pass rushers in 4-3 defenses combined for 42.5 sacks. Mangini is utilizing the 3-4 because it's a good defense. The Browns were shredded because they utilized it poorly.
"The first three selections in the April draft indicate that his major priority this season will be attempting to restore the offense to its explosive 2007 form."
Obviously when a team sets a record for games without an offensive touchdown, offense becomes one of the main priorities the following season. That being said, saying that the draft shows that offense is his exclusive major priority is misleading. In the first two rounds of the draft the Browns picked up three offensive players (Mack, Robiskie and Massaquoi) who will likely see playing time. In those same first two rounds the Browns also picked up three defensive players (Elam, Coleman and Veikune) that also are likely to see playing time. It seems that Mangini has concentrated on both sides of the ball with little bias shown towards either.
As far as the explosive 2007 form, everything appears to say the exact opposite. KWII is gone. Edwards is minimized by 2 WR's drafted in the second round-neither receiver is terribly flashy. The first pick was a center. An educated guess would point towards a non-explosive offense. Instead, he seems to be building one focusing on the run and short to intermediate passes with considerable amounts of YAC.
With regards to Mangini bringing 8 gizillion former Jets to the Browns "Familiarity indeed breeds contempt."
A lyrical and witty quote? Yea, sure. Intelligent from a football perspective? Absolutely not.
The best players, on either side of the ball, are nearly unanimously comfortable in their system. On defense that means knowing where your help is, knowing who is going to be around you and what they are going to be doing on every single play. On offense that means knowing which guy to hit when you see that man coverage, knowing where your outlet is when you see the blitz, knowing what other linemen are doing. Familiarity, when it comes to football, indeed breeds success.
But not only are they familiar with Mangini's system, they aren't too bad of players. As Marty states, the Jets ranked very high in both pass rush and stopping the run. We picked up two linebackers and a Defensive lineman. All three of them started at one point or another last year. As far as Abram Elam goes, yes he was part of a questionable secondary. We also badly needed a safety. It doesn't hurt that individually the guy was responsible for 70 tackles, four turnovers and two sacks. That dwarfs Mike Adams' stats, who he will replace. It also compares very nicely to Sean Jones, the recently departed safety now playing for the Eagles.
"Kamerion Wimbley continued to regress."
He had a considerable increase in tackles, and one less sack. He also improved in every single pass defense category. He had a great rookie year, and he hasn't matched that yet. Part of the problem, for both him and Shaun Rogers is McGinest didn't apply enough pressure, which allows QB's to have an expanded pocket on one side. He is going to have a new set of coaches, I think you will see a lot more aggressive defense. He is going to have better players around him. All of these are going to be beneficial for him.
"Without a wealth of talent, no team can thrive."
Again, lyrical but not very NFL relevant.
No team can afford to have all-stars at every position. The salary cap prevents that. So what "wealth of talent" translates into is three to four great players and a team full of role players.
Mangini used this offseason to fill the team with role players who fit his system. So what about the all stars? We have an all-pro LT. We have a WR who CAN be one of the best. We have a ILB who led the NFL in tackles, and had 3 interceptions. We have a first round QB that has had a few years to become NFL ready. And we have one heck of a kick returner. Are we in need of more talent? Yes, of course. Are we hopelessly behind everyone else? No, not at all.
The Browns are not going to be your 2009 Super Bowl Champions. Making the playoffs would be a stretch coming out of the AFC North. Our talent level is not where it needs to be. The team still is going to have holes. The Browns are still rebuilding.
That being said, the Browns are moving forward. They have built a solid foundation, which hasn't happened for a long, long while. They are going to begin to play competitive, disciplined football this year, which hasn't happened for a long, long while.
The Browns are not hopelessly out of the race. They are a combination of youthful talent and veteran intelligence. That isn't instantly going to equate into wins, but it is going to continue to make this team better.