Though finishing in the top half of the league in 2008, the Cleveland Browns defense would have to scour the earth to find anyone who didn't think that their performance wasn't below mediocre. Despite an offense that finished next to last in the NFL, fans and media alike ironically point fingers on the other side of the football.
Last season, we witnessed teams like Baltimore, Atlanta, and Miami go from zeros to heros. Could it happen for Cleveland in 2009? Not according to Peter king. In fact, Sports Illustrated analyst has Cleveland listed 32nd out of the 32 teams in the NFL in his power rankings on SI.com. Ouch.
If the Browns are to make a fool of Mr. King, it will rest less on the defense and more on the new West coast ball control offense currently being uploaded by Eric Mangini and new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. I can hear the sack junkies raving already.
The way this offensive system works is that it prioritizes getting the first down and bleeding the clock by using two or three downs to do so. The running game should take the bulk of the load, wearing down opposing defenses, limiting turnovers, and setting up a passing attack emphasizing shorter throws rather than 40-50 yard bombs.
I strongly believe that this approach will not only help this team get into the endzone, but will also pay off for the defense.
Defense wins championships, or so I am told. I've honestly never understood the validity of such "wisdom"; a universally unquestioned football philosophy that I wish could be stuffed back into the fortune cookie from whence it came.
But if you love defense, then the best thing you can do as a team is to keep yours off the field as much as possible which will then, of course, prevent your opponent from having the ball. The more you have the ball, the less your opponent does.
Time of possession, scoring touchdowns, turnover margin and penalties, are the most significant statistics that will dictate the outcome of a game. But it is time of possession that is the under-appreciated, unsung hero. Since it isn't a flashy statistic, reporters and analysts treat it more as an afterthought.
However, as your offense is playing keep away and eating up the clock (that hopefully ends in a touchdown), your defense is resting nicely on the sideline which is right where you want them.
Now Shaun Rogers is a great defensive tackle, yet at 6' 4" and 350 lbs., he was good for only two quarters of football in 2008.
Seeing Cleveland's best defensive player on the sidelines huffin' and puffin' through an oxygen mask halfway through the third quarter was a common sight. This is partially due to the fact that he's over-weight, but most especially because the Browns placed a way-too-heavy burden upon him.
Former defensive coordinator Mel Tucker insisted on a three or four man rush on almost every down while dropping everyone else into pass coverage. This left it all up to the defensive tackles to get into the backfield without the aid of a blitz.
But most of all, the offense would do little to help since three-and-outs were all too common. The defense would have just enough time to grab a shot of Gatorade before they had to head back out onto the field.
Rogers would be quite successful for the first half, but would be exhausted after half-time. If Rob Ryan is successful in re-establishing the blitz in this team, then the Browns could get a lot more mileage from their star.
Yet even if Ryan proves to be as mega-conservative as his predecessor, we could all witness a significant improvement in Cleveland's D, but that will depend on whether we see eight minute drives ending in touchdowns, or a minute and a half punting play
In short, the best defense is a good offense.