State of the DTs: Rogers, Browns' Defense Must Sync to Improve in 2009

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State of the DTs: Rogers, Browns' Defense Must Sync to Improve in 2009
(Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

This article is one of eight in B/R contributor Jack Harver's "State of the DTs" series, introduced here.

Shaun Rogers' first season in Cleveland was a tale of two contrasting stats lines.

One was Rogers' individual production: 76 tackles—61 of them solo—to go with 4.5 sacks (second-most in the NFL by a nose tackle) and four passes defensed.  Pro Bowl voters showed their approval by sending Rogers to Hawaii for the third time in his career.

The other was the Browns' run defense.  With Rogers in the middle of their line, Cleveland allowed a 100-yard rusher in eight of their 16 games and gave up over 150 rushing yards per game on average—fifth-worst in the league.

In addition, Rogers' Browns teammates tallied only 12.5 sacks.  Cleveland's pass defense still managed to be a league-average unit in terms of yards allowed, despite the lack of pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

The picture painted by these two discordant sets of numbers is more complicated than a star in the middle of a bad defense.

As much havoc as he caused, Rogers can't be blamed for the Browns' deficient pass rush.  Nor should he be considered responsible for the play of ends Corey Williams—another of Cleveland's offseason trade acquisitions—and Shaun Smith, which left much to be desired.

But Rogers did hurt the Browns' defense by failing to play within coach Romeo Crennel's two-gap scheme.

Crennel's defenses in 2003 and 2004, his last two years as the New England Patriots' defensive coordinator, were elite against the run.  Richard Seymour was coming into his own as a star end on those teams, but the scheme keyed on big bodies Ted Washington, Keith Traylor, and Vince Wilfork at nose tackle.

All three could move, which was a plus, but those teams stopped the run so well because all three were immovable.

In Rogers, Cleveland might have been expecting the second coming of Traylor—very big, athletic, and tenacious at the point of attack.  But his transition from an attacking role in Detroit's four-man front to the less-glorified two-gap work required in Crennel's defense, went poorly.

While Rogers was shooting gaps, accumulating the most solo tackles in any season of his career and defeating blocks in rare form, opponents were effectively running around him.  Instead of staying home on his blocker and clogging two rushing lanes, Rogers was often committing to one gap—an easy read block for even an average lineman.

Just as often as he was making plays, Rogers was being ridden out of the way, leaving a clear running lane in his wake.

Eric Mangini, Cleveland's new head coach, ran the same two-gap 3-4 defense as Crennel's successor in New England and as head coach of the New York Jets.  But, considering the dysfunctional defensive line he's inheriting, he should consider scheming to harness Rogers' bullish ability to plow through blockers.

Williams, who cost the Browns a second-round pick and has done little to warrant his six year, $38 million contract thus far, could thrive as an end in a one-gap scheme.  Like Rogers, Williams had his best seasons in an attacking role: he racked up 14 sacks from 2006-07 in Green Bay's 4-3 defense before leaving for Cleveland.

Rogers could easily spend another year racking up sacks and tackles without corresponding team success.  He's a phenomenal athlete for his size, and he's at the peak of his individual game.

For the Browns to truly benefit from his grit and aggression, though, he'll either need to play with more discipline in his two-gap role or be let loose in a new, attacking defense.

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