The mantra for the Cleveland Browns has to be defense and more defense. The old argument of what wins games, a strong defense or a strong offense, is wasted in Cleveland because neither group is strong.
The Browns have worn the armor of mediocrity for years, and coaches coming in saying how great a tradition the organization has falls on deaf ears these days.
Fans do not care what Jim Brown or Otto Graham accomplished. Most Browns fans have never seen Jim Brown play, and the ones that did have long since had those memories fade.
It is the age of instant gratification and win now. Quite frankly, the excuses are over, and Cleveland is no longer going to be afforded the "rebuilding" pass. There have been too many examples of teams turning organizations around in one or two season. The Cleveland Browns must find that formula and find it now. The way to do it is to draft defense and build one of the best defenses in the NFL.
The foundation is there for the Browns to now fill in gaps instead of build from scratch. Switching to a 4-3 defense allows the Browns many more options in the draft, free agency and with existing players fitting that scheme.
The Cleveland Browns defense is old all over the place but has infused some young talent at the corner, safety and defensive tackle spots with Joe Haden, T.J. Ward and Ahtyba Rubin. If Mike Holmgren wants to win now, the first pick in the draft will not be a receiver.
The average number of touchdowns from the top five receivers this year was 12.2. Less than a touchdown a game does not lend itself to a struggling organization to invest a top 10 pick on a receiver. What that says is that if the Browns pick the best playmaking receiver and he pans out to be exceptional, they are looking at around 12 touchdowns from them, sometimes more, sometimes less.
How many times is that receiver going to be targeted during a game? Would a rookie receiver be able to help the Browns' second-year quarterback in Colt McCoy? Colt would be better served to have a veteran receiver that can help his development and is familiar with the West Coast offense.
This is not to say the Cleveland Browns do not need a No. 1 receiver badly, because they do. This is simply stating that one receiver is not going to turn an organization around.
In comparison, the five leading tacklers in the NFL this season averaged 153.8 stops. The top five defensive ends averaged 12 sacks in 2010, and leading defensive backs averaged eight interceptions.
Da’Quan Bowers will provide immediate pass rush help in a 4-3 defense. A front four of Matt Roth, Ahtyba Rubin, Shaun Rogers and Da’Quan Bowers would allow the Browns to immediately improve pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
If Da'Quan is not there, the Browns could go after Robert Quinn, defensive end out of North Carolina, or defensive tackle Marcell Dareus out of Alabama. Any of those choices immediately helps the Browns. Picking sixth, Cleveland could also go after one of the top cornerbacks.
The linebackers need a shot of youth and aggression. Casey Matthews can be a sleeper pick. Casey Matthews is the brother of Clay Matthews Jr. and showed a lot of athleticism at the position, which is what the Browns need. Clay Matthews has shown that his bloodline is pure and that he is aggressive towards the ball. The Browns may be in a position to claim his younger brother in the later rounds.
The 4-3 requires a lot of sideline-to-sideline speed covering both the “A” and “B” gaps. Casey has shown good lateral quickness, but it could also be intelligence of knowing where the ball is headed.
Mike Holmgren can immediately make the Cleveland Browns competitive by investing in defense. The Baltimore Ravens have proven time and time again a good defense can allow the offense time to catch up. Some ideas of how the Browns can increase their defensive presence are as follows.
1. Strengthen the defensive line by drafting Da’Quan Bowers from Clemson in the first round if he is available, or select a top cornerback to couple with Joe Haden.
Alternative Choice: Draft Cameron Heyward in the second round. Heyward showed he can play inside or outside on a defensive line. He was unstoppable in the Sugar Bowl. Additionally, Richard Seymour is a free agent and could be a strong presence allowing the Browns a strong rotation at the position.
2. Replace Eric Wright as a starting cornerback with one of the top available free agents, Nnamdi Asomugha from Oakland, Champ Bailey from Denver or even Ike Taylor from Pittsburgh. All those choices are a great improvement over Eric Wright’s poor performance this season.
Alternative Choice: Select Patrick Peterson from LSU at cornerback. The 6'1", 221-lb. corner runs a 4.37 40-yard dash. The Cleveland Browns can have one of the elite defensive backfields in the NFL. Move Sheldon Brown to safety next to T.J. Ward, extending his career a la Rod Woodson.
3. Get a potential starter at middle linebacker in Martez Wilson, who is a monster out of Illinois. At 6'4", 250 lbs. he is a big middle linebacker with very good speed. His body says 3-4, but his speed allows 4-3. Casey Matthews in the fourth or fifth round still makes sense. He is one of those players whose stock may rise as the combine wears on.
Alternative Choice: Paul Posluszny may want to re-sign with the Bills, but he would be a huge get for the Browns. The Cleveland Browns could bring in a solid tackling machine in Posluszny, which would give them a very competitive linebacking corps with D’Qwell Jackson and Scott Fujita. Chad Greenway is also another option in free agency.
With free agency, the draft and the re-signing of some pieces, the Cleveland Browns defense could look like this:
Defensive ends: Matt Roth, Da’Quan Bowers from Clemson or Cameron Heyward from Ohio State and Marcus Bernard
Defensive Tackles: Ahtyba Rubin and Shaun Rogers, Robaire Smith, Brian Schaffering, Kenyon Coleman and Richard Seymour
Cornerbacks: Joe Haden and Nnamdi Asomugha or Patrick Peterson from LSU
Nickelback: Mike Adams or Eric Wright
Strong Safety: Sheldon Brown
Free Safety: T.J. Ward
Inside Linebackers: Martez Wilson from Illinois or Casey Matthews from Oregon, or Paul Posluszny
Will Linebacker: D’Qwell Jackson, Marcus Bernard
Sam Linebacker: Scott Fujita or Chris Gocong
The Browns organization has to be able to attract some of the better free agents available to be successful, but that will be a tall order if they are presenting a rebuild situation. If the Browns can show that they are serious about winning now, there may be more buy-in from potential free agents.
The Browns can spend limited draft picks on defense this year and completely change their entire talent level and effectiveness. Improvements on the defense can offer validity to a new coaching staff by making them instantly competitive. Building a winning organization starts with the draft, and the Browns have done well thus far under the new regime. The switch to the 4-3 defense will allow the organization to utilize the talent already there.
In Cleveland the word "rebuild" sickens all the fans and supporters of the organization. Fair or not to Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert, nobody cares about what pressure they are under or how challenging it will be. In 2011 the fans are ready and deserve a winner. No more excuses, no more "what a great tradition" the Browns have and no more simply being competitive only to lose.
Coach Pat Shurmur has no speech prepared the fans have not already heard before if they lose. Win and win now—and the best way to do it is to build the best defense you possibly can and allow the offense to catch up.