It appears as if the Cleveland Browns run defense received a major upgrade last week. The selection of Baylor defensive tackle Phil Taylor gives the Browns two solid tackles and a defense that appears strong up the middle.
In the last two seasons, the Browns have shown their ability to run the ball. Now they just may be able to stop the run. How many times have you heard that the ability to run the ball and stop the run is the key to winning games in the NFL?
Since 1999, the Browns have simply not stopped the run. In terms of yards allowed per game, the Browns have not ranked better than 23rd since 1999 and their average slot is 28th out of 32 teams. Here is how it breaks down:
1999: 31st (171.0)
2000: 29th (156.6)
2001: 29th (138.0)
2002: 27th (129.9)
2003: 23rd (132.1)
2004: 32nd (144.6)
2005: 30th (137.6)
2006: 29th (142.2)
2007: 27th (129.5)
2008: 28th (151.9)
2009: 28th (144.6)
2010: 27th (129.4)
So the Browns have not been able to stop the run. The Browns also have not been able to win many games. Is developing a strong run defense the answer to more consistent winning in Cleveland?
Yes and no.
The Browns can’t stop the pass either. In the current NFL, throwing the football rules the air (pun intended, sorry). Nowhere was this more evident than on the game’s greatest stage, Super Bowl XLV. Green Bay and Pittsburgh combined for 36 rushing attempts and 79 passing attempts.
Here is what the Browns’ three AFC North opponents did through the air last season. Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger, Baltimore’s Joe Flacco and Cincinnati’s Carson Palmer combined to finish 104-for-158 passing (65.8 percent complete) for 1,481 yards with 12 touchdowns and two interceptions. Individually, Flacco was 34-for-50 for 364 with five touchdowns and one interception, Palmer was 39-for-59 for 580 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions and Roethlisberger was 31-for-49 for 537 yards with five touchdowns and one interception.
Yet if the Browns can’t stop the run or stop the pass, guess what?
The team gets beat week in and week out.
The last two years of Browns first- and second-round draft picks have addressed their weaknesses in run and pass defense. Since 1999, only two Super Bowl winners have had a run defense ranked above 20th with the average ranking is 10th.
So, yes a stronger run defense will help. So, too, will a stronger pass defense.
In general, they just need a good overall defense. How’s that for hard-hitting analysis?
Yes, having a strong pass defense is critical in this era of the NFL, but stopping the run will go a long way. Since 1999, the Steelers have ranked first in the league in rushing yards allowed per game four times, second once and third once. The latter two seasons were the team’s Super Bowl winning seasons. Sorry to bring up those bad memories.
Pittsburgh employs a 3-4 defense. The Browns had attempted to do the same, much to the chagrin of most fans. Now the Browns and new defensive coordinator Dick Jauron will use the 4-3 scheme.
Slowly, the Browns are assembling pieces to create a strong defense that can stop the run. Last year’s first two picks – Joe Haden and T.J. Ward – have shown to be strong tackling defensive backs. The defensive line added a big, talented player to clog up the middle in this year’s draft and finally, the 4-3 scheme helps the Browns traditionally weak linebacking corps by, well, removing one linebacker.
This is why we love the game of football. The key to winning games may sound simple, “Stop the run and run the ball.” Yet, especially here in Cleveland, we know things can be very complex.