In 2020, the Cleveland Browns snapped a 26-year playoff win drought. Falling to the Chad Henne led Kansas City Chiefs in the waning moments in the fourth quarter. What would be the next moves to take a step closer to Super Bowl contention? Finding their flaws and correcting them.
Usually, teams build their rosters to win their division. This guarantees they will host a playoff game in their home stadium. The Cleveland Browns offensive chemistry grew during the season under first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski.
To say the least, defensive coordinator Joe Woods’ hands were full. Injuries and a lack of talent at key positions hindered the Browns’ defense from keeping pace with their growing offense. This off-season General Manager Andrew Berry aimed to correct their defensive woes. Berry had a plan to complete heading into this off-season and executed it well.
Cleveland added potential impact players through the draft and during free agency. Here are the additions made this off-season.
Notable Free agent signings
- S John Johnson
- DE Takk Mckinley
- CB Troy Hill
- DE Jadeveon Clowney
- DT Marvin Wilson (UDFA)
NFL Draft selections
- Greg Newsome, CB, Northwestern
- Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame
- Tommy Togiai, DT, Ohio State
- Tony Fields, LB, West Virginia
- Richard LeCounte III, SAF
Why this needed to happen?
Cleveland needed to improve and create a versatile/flexible defensive unit. In their division alone, they will face diverse offensive concepts and personnel groupings. The lack of athleticism on the second level hurt them against the Baltimore Ravens’ diverse rushing attack. As a result, they added speed at the linebacker position. Cleveland’s lack of talent in the secondary was evident last season. They allowed 722 passing yards and six touchdowns to rookie QB Joe Burrow through two matchups last season. Even Ben Roethlisberger eclipsed 500 yards passing in their wildcard match-up and as the defense gave up 37 points. Therefore, signing veteran defensive backs and drafting young talented prospects to combat this issue.
What to expect?
The projected nickel formation has three talented corners. For example, Denzel Ward, Greedy Williams, and Newsome match up well with the rest of their division. Furthermore, the talent in their secondary complements their defensive line nicely. John Johnson can step into a big nickel or dime role. Against opposing tight ends, he can help to limit their damage in the middle of the field.
The Cleveland Browns are hungry with NFL championship desires. As a result, they addressed their biggest needs. This defense has more flexibility to adapt depending on their opponent’s offensive philosophy. Adding Clowney and McKinley creates more alignment matchups with the offensive lines.
Garrett can kick inside with Clowney as the 3T and McKinley faces single coverage. Against the run, Togiai and Wilson can add occupy blocks with their ability to reset the line of scrimmage. In addition, the new athletic linebackers can stay clean to scrap and play sideline to sideline.
Tony Fields is the player to watch closely during camps. Fields is an intelligent LB with the ability to diagnose runs and drop into coverage. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah adds alignment versatility. He can play as the overhang, will linebacker, and safety. His coverage ability is the best in the class among linebackers.
Can Jadeveon Clowney return to form?
Is Jadeveon Clowney a generational sack artist? No, but he can create pressure playing across from Garrett. This opportunity can create advantageous scenarios that result in more sacks for Clowney. Therefore, Clowney could become the defender we knew with the Texans when paired with J.J. Watt.
The Browns defense was in need of more athleticism. Joe Woods has the tools at his disposal to test his creativity as a play-caller. Football thrives on finding and exploiting mismatches. As a result, the Browns are building a defense that lessens their mismatches. As they create plenty for the opposing offenses.
I am excited to watch this defense evolve in 2021. Offensively, they are expected to reach a higher level with more time to gel. In other words, the Cleveland Browns are in a position to challenge and possibly win the division this season. Championships are not won on paper. The Browns must take this newfound talent and capitalize on the field every week. The foundation has been laid and execution must begin.
The culture in Cleveland, Ohio has changed for the better. As a result, the “Dawg Pound” fanbase deserves to be excited about the present and future.