Coming into the 2015 season, not much was expected from the Cleveland Browns, especially on offense. With 36-year-old Josh McCown at quarterback and zero threats in the receiving corps, many pundits felt the Browns would be lucky to grind out more than ten points a game. As a result, it was determined Cleveland’s defense would be the team’s saving grace.
Such a claim certainly made sense on paper. The secondary featured returning Pro Bowlers Joe Haden, Tashaun Gipson and Donte Whitner. Linebackers Karlos Dansby and Paul Kruger were coming off stellar seasons as well. Additionally, rookie nose tackle Danny Shelton was brought in to bolster the line and help improve the overall run defense.
So, yes, on paper it really seemed like the Browns had themselves a stout defense on their hands.
On the field, it’s been nothing but a hapless, dysfunctional mess. At the halfway point of the season, Cleveland’s defense is one of the worst in the NFL, and it’s incredibly doubtful this is going to change anytime soon.
As a result, a shakeup needs to happen with the Browns. I’m not suggesting the team blows up the coaching staff and front office (that’ll happen in January). However, someone needs to pay for how badly this side of the ball looks.
That person is defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil.
For the sake of argument, let’s take a look at some of the astounding stats from a Browns defensive unit many within the walls of the team facility felt would be truly dominant this year. I warn all Cleveland fans to either shield your eyes or grab some Pepto.
The defense as a whole has given up 3,243 total yards in eight games, better than just two other teams. They’ve also allowed 216 points, good for 29th in the NFL. Where it gets really bad, though, is how Cleveland has fared against the run.
Overall, the Browns have allowed 1,176 yards on the ground. This puts them at last in this stat, and the difference between them and the Detroit Lions – the only other team to have allowed 1,000+ yards rushing to this point – is 106 yards. Believe it or not, the 147 YPG Cleveland has allowed on the ground is good for last place, as well.
There’s literally no other way to look at this, other than doing so while cringing. The Browns defense has been an abomination, and is a major reason why the team is in the middle of yet another losing season.
As a result, something has to be done. Something has to show the team this kind of performance isn’t acceptable. As mentioned, firing O’Neil would be a great start.
Outside of the awful stats, there was also an article on Sports Illustrated claiming Browns players are frustrated about the scheme O’Neil is running, which apparently involves having to guess at the last second what hole the opposing running back is going to head towards after the snap.
Nobody in Cleveland is happy about how terribly the team has played defensively. And yet, there’s been no indication such a miserable performance is intolerable.
This is why O’Neil needs to go. The Browns defense wasn’t that great last season, and is alarmingly worse this year. Whatever O’Neil is doing to try to make Cleveland intimidating on defense has instead make the team a laughingstock.
Nobody up front can stop the run. Haden, when healthy, is having one of the worst seasons of his career. Yesterday, after being gifted a 20-7 lead, the defense allowed 27 consecutive points from the Arizona Cardinals. Kruger, coming off a career year last season when he collected 11 sacks, has just 0.5 through eight games.
Of course, this last note is due to the fact O’Neil is inexplicably taking a talented pass rusher and making him drop back in coverage on almost 90% of his snaps. Believe it or not, such a thing has annoyed Kruger.
As you can see, it’s tough to find anything proving O’Neil deserves to stick around. The defense, which the front office spent the most money on, has been putrid. Until something serious is done, fans and players are left to assume this is fine, that the front office just thinks things are eventually going to turn around.
Unfortunately, I’d be surprised if the Browns made any sort of midseason firing, especially O’Neil. He’s a close friend and preferred hire of coach Mike Pettine, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this fact was saving his job for the time being.
Still, something has to change. You can blame injuries all you want, but if you’ve been watching Cleveland at all this year, you know we’re far beyond that being a valid excuse.
The Browns defense is an atrocity, and as a result, the man running it needs to go. Soon.