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Projecting What the Cleveland Browns Defense Will Look Like in 2022

Cleveland Browns Defense
CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 09: Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett (95), Cleveland Browns linebacker Anthony Walker (4), and Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Tommy Togiai (93) at the line of scrimmage during the fourth quarter of the National Football League game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns on January 9, 2022, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, OH. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

The Cleveland Browns’ defense will take a big step forward in 2022.

The Browns’ defense was simply outmatched by opposing offenses in 2020. They were 21st in points per game with 26.2 and 17th in yards per game with 358.4. The front office knew it was time to invest in the defense and they certainly followed through.

The Browns have invested heavily in defense through free agency.

They signed John Johnson III, Troy Hill, Takk McKinley, Malik Jackson, Anthony Walker, and Jadeveon Clowney. Additionally, they rolled the dice on the troubled but immensely talented Malik McDowell. In the draft, they added Greg Newsome, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (JOK), Tommy Togiai, and Richard LeCounte. It was almost a 50% turnover on a roster that already had Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward, and previously injured but talented prospects Greedy Williams and Grant Delpit.

This heavy investment returned great dividends. In 2021, the Browns’ defense allowed 21.8 points per game (13th in the NFL) and 311.5 yards per game (5th in the NFL). This is despite games early in the season where they gave up 33 points to the Chiefs, 47 points to the Chargers, 37 points to the Cardinals, and 45 points to the Patriots. The defense came together and in the last seven games held the opposition to 26 points or less.

During the week three game against the Chicago Bears, the Browns sacked Justin Fields nine times, including 4.5 from Myles Garrett and 2 from Jadeveon Clowney. The Bears scored only 6 points and it was one of the most dominant performances since the return of the Browns in 1999.

Running Mates for Myles

Following their heavy investments prior to 2021, the Browns once again invested heavily in the defense, specifically the defensive line. They signed free agent Taven Bryan to a one-year deal and brought back rotational tackle Sheldon Day. In a rare player-for-player trade they brought in Chase Winovich from the New England Patriots, sending Mack Wilson in return.

The Browns are building their defense through the draft.

Through the draft, the Browns once again showed a desire to continue to invest in the future of the defensive line. Alex Wright, a defensive end from the University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB), was drafted in the third round. Wright is talented but raw. Under the mentorship of Myles Garrett, he has a chance to be a standout bookend on the other side.

Perrion Winfrey, a defensive tackle from Oklahoma, was drafted in the fourth round after falling down the draft board inexplicably. Winfrey has a motor that just will not quit, both on the field and off. He is an intense player who truly defines the “Dawgpound mentality.” Winfrey wasn’t as productive in college as he likely would have been because he was played at nose tackle, as opposed to his more natural 3-technique (between the guard and tackle) position he will be playing in Cleveland.

Later in the draft, in the 7th Round, Winfrey’s Oklahoma teammate Isaiah Thomas, a defensive end, was drafted. Thomas has the size and speed you look for in a defensive end, but he’s not an explosive athlete. He was productive with 8.5 sacks in 2020 and 8 in 2021. He will be a good addition as a rotational defensive end with the Browns.

The Browns hope that they have long-term answers now in Winfrey and Wright and are hopeful that Bryan, Thomas, and Winovich can prove they belong on this team. Overall, the Browns knew one of their biggest issues was the defensive line and they attacked the issue through free agency, the draft, and trade.

Joe Woods’ Cleveland Browns Defense

Joe Woods, the Browns’ Defensive Coordinator, runs a 4-2-5 Nickel Defense as his base defense. This means there are four defensive linemen, two linebackers, and five defensive backs. Woods depends heavily on the defensive line.

On pass plays, Woods rushes just four most of the time. The Browns do not blitz a lot, rushing five or more defenders on 22.1% of passing downs. This allows for more creativity in deciding who is blitzing. More on this in a moment.

He also loves to use what is sometimes called the “Ferrari” package, where Woods lines up his top-four pass rushers. Last year this meant that Garrett, Clowney, McKinley, and then either Malik Jackson or Malik McDowell were on the field together. This is a nightmare scenario for opposing offensive lines, especially ones that do not have particularly quick guards.

The other key to Joe Woods’ defense is a strong secondary. In 2021, the defense transitioned to a lot of man coverage on the outside with Ward and Newsome. They typically had one or two safeties in a shell over the top to prevent the deep pass. The fifth defensive back, the nickel, was often a safety. Woods loves to move this guy around. Last year the nickel defensive back lined up on the defensive line, in the “box” (with the defensive line and linebackers), or in the slot.

This variety of alignments and personnel changes masks the defensive coverage and is more effective in the rare case that the Browns do blitz. With outstanding athletes at the linebacker position in the middle of the defense, the Browns are able to field one of the fastest defenses in football.

Versatility is Key

When looking at the Browns’ defensive personnel, there is a common thread among the players: versatility. The three main safeties, John Johnson III, Grant Delpit, and Ronnie Harrison, all possess similar skillsets with similar strengths. This allows them to be moved around almost interchangeably.

Myles Garrett, as well as Jadeveon Clowney last year, showed that he is able to generate pressure from the interior of the defensive line as well as from the edge. It is believed that Alex Wright possesses this ability as well.

Finally, with the cornerbacks, the ability to play both on the outside and in the slot is an important skill set. Newsome and Ward possess this and Martin Emerson displayed this in college. AJ Green had a promising showing late in the 2021 season and looks to build on that, as a backup both in the slot and on the outside. Greedy Williams, is best as an outside corner but could play the slot in a pinch.

Looking Ahead to the NFL Season

The first four games for the Browns in 2022 are against three of the worst offenses (Jets, Panthers, and Falcons) from 2021 and the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are bound to have a significant setback at the quarterback position. They should be able to find a good rhythm during those games and they are going to need that.

In the next four games, the Browns face Justin Herbert, Lamar Jackson, and Joe Burrow. They also play the Patriots in week 6, but it is uncertain how good that offense will be. With those games leading to the bye week in week 9, it should be pretty clear if the Browns’ defense can perform at an elite level or not. The personnel on the roster indicates that they should be.

It is fair to expect that this defense will be making a lot of electrifying plays that lead to Brown’s victories. If the defense can win even one game for the Browns, this is going to be a very fun and hopefully very long season.

What do you think?

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Written by Andy Gibbs

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