I remember, back in the offseason, hearing various Cleveland Browns optimists explain why the team could have a decent season this year despite a brutal schedule. All of the positive vibes seemed to be focused on one thing: Cleveland’s defense.
Theoretically, the Browns boasted a solid secondary, especially with Pro Bowlers Joe Haden and Tashaun Gipson. The defensive line was deep, and rookie Danny Shelton was drafted to come in and fix the team’s biggest problem of stopping the run.
Sure, Cleveland’s offense was devoid of anything resembling a play-maker. However, with a stout defense, all the team needed to do was put up 10-17 points and that should do it, right?
Wrong. Dead wrong, in fact.
Cleveland’s defense – the focal point of the team – is 27th in the NFL right now. Oh, and the efforts the Browns put forth to fix a bad run defense? Well, if the goal was to have all those solutions turn Cleveland into the worst rushing defense in the league, then mission accomplished.
If this is what the Browns are going to bring to the table on a weekly basis, they might as well not show up. The team spent all offseason taking pride in the defense, but said unit has looked absolutely heinous so far.
Take yesterday’s game for example. The Oakland Raiders came in to Cleveland having rushed for a combined 160 yards in the first two games of the year. However, instead of stifling what appeared to be a weak running attack, the Browns instead let the Raiders run wild for 155 yards on the ground.
Of course, it doesn’t stop there. Cleveland’s secondary – which some within the organization felt was near the top of the league – spent much of yesterday looking like a JV squad. The amount of times you could see Browns cornerbacks attempting ill-fated arm tackles was way too high for a professional football team.
Meanwhile, Haden appears to have kept up his trend of starting seasons slow, as he was continually worked over by Raiders rookie wideout Amari Cooper. Safety Donte Whitner also had a day to forget, continually missing assignments and tackles. Of course, when he actually did make a tackle, he didn’t forget to showboat, so that was great to see.
In summary, we have a reportedly improved run defense which couldn’t stop me if I was going up the field in a rusty wheelchair. We have a secondary which labeled itself one of the league’s best, but can’t tackle the wideouts they consistently leave wide open.
Don’t forget, all of this took place in what many considered the soft spot of Cleveland’s schedule. The competition only gets better from here on out, which unfortunately means, yes, this defense could actually get worse.
One of the biggest concerns is that, for two of the three games this year, the Browns’ defense didn’t even look remotely prepared to play. Twice this year the players on this “potentially great” unit looked as though they went out drinking until early Sunday morning.
To make things worse, this was a defense which made GM Ray Farmer comfortable with the idea of giving the offense zero weapons to work with. Why would there be a need for explosive wideouts or game-changing running backs when Cleveland’s defense is just going to be shutting down opponents on a weekly basis?
Apologies if this all sounds a little too venomous, but can you blame me? Cleveland is supposed to be built around its defense, and right now this side of the ball looks like garbage.
Whether it’s coaching or a lack of sync between players, something has to change. The Browns aren’t going to win in any sort of shootout this year, and if this is the kind of defense the team is going to provide, fans better prepare for a ton of blowout losses in the next few weeks.