As I was watched the Seattle Seahawks overwhelm the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII earlier this month, three things were running through my mind.
1. Homemade Chex Mix is way better than store bought.
2. This game is bringing back to a great memory I have of the 1980s: Watching a John Elway team getting steamrolled in the Super Bowl.
3. The Seahawks sure have a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball.
After the Cleveland Browns held their annual offseason reshuffling and considering the amount of draft picks and free agent money the team has spent on the defensive side of the ball in recent years … are the Browns actually on the right track?
Reports of the demise of a strong defense leading a team to a Super Bowl victory has been a bit premature. A suffocating defense coupled with a run-first offense just won the NFL title.
How did I make the leap from an NFL champion to the 4-12 Cleveland Browns? There may be a little faith involved, but bear with me.
First, the head coach. Mike Pettine was a defensive coordinator at his previous two stops - Buffalo and New York. The arrival of Pettine means gone is the “offensive innovator” that was Rob Chudzinski. At Pettine’s introductory press conference he said that to compete in the AFC North, “this team will be build on toughness.” It wouldn’t get much tougher than a defense that, again, using Pettine’s words, are “willing to bloody your nose a little bit.”
The Seahawks epitomized that from the opening series of the Super Bowl and, really, all season long. If the Browns could mirror that type of defensive intensity their opponents within the AFC North won’t be seeing Cleveland as an automatic victory.
So why focus on improving the defense? Three out of the last four NFL Drafts, the Browns selected a defensive player with their first two picks.
2010: Joe Haden and T.J. Ward
2011: Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard
2012: Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden (OOPS!)
2013: Barkevious Mingo and Leon McFadden
This is easy: Haden, Taylor and Ward are studs. Sheard and Mingo still have some room to grow, but have shown glimpses and, well, McFadden was a bust. Oh, and can we agree that 2012 never happened?
Meanwhile, last offseason’s free agency period netted defensive end Desmond Bryant and linebackers Quentin Groves and Paul Kruger. Kruger was disappointing and Bryant and Groves didn’t finish the season because of injuries. Also, Ward is a free agent. He may be franchised tagged or he may go to another team.
Regardless, the Browns defense still has pieces and talent to build around.
Sure, today’s NFL rules are skewed toward offenses, but the clichéd adage held true this year: defense can win championships.
Finally, the Seahawks’ offense didn’t overwhelm, but played solid, mistake free-football led by a slightly above-average, but mobile quarterback. Can that type of quarterback be Brian Hoyer?
It’s a fun offseason debate whether or not the Browns can move forward with Hoyer or if they need to take a quarterback at No. 4, but the idea that you need an “elite” quarterback to win an NFL title was debunked with the Seahawks victory.
So, thanks to the Seahawks, this postseason proved a team can win in the NFL with defense and you don’t need a Tom Brady, Drew Brees or Peyton Manning at quarterback.
In the end, what this last Super Bowl should do is give Browns fans hope. Keep improving that defense and find a good running back to carry the load and the Browns may just have what it takes to take down their AFC North foes on a consistent basis.
This all may be foolish. This team certainly has its problems, but remember: it’s mid-February. It’s time to hop on board the Hope Train, which will arrive at its final destination -- Berea, Ohio -- in late July.