If Phil Savage and Romeo Crennel need any more proof as to what their No. 1 need is this off-season, all they need to is watch a highlight film from Super Bowl XLII.
No. I’m not talking about the game-winning pass from Eli Manning to Plaxico Burress that gave the Giants their 17-14 lead with less than a minute to play. Or any of the other plays made by Peyton’s younger brother, who was named the MVP, only because those doing the voting can’t seem to comprehend the fact defense wins championships.
The New York Giants are the World Champions for one reason and one reason only … the defensive line made life a living hell for the guy who many claim to be the greatest quarterback of all time, New England’s Tom Brady.
As Michael Strahan and his linemates proved over and over and over again during their impressive playoff run, no quarterback – be it a Pro Bowl quality guy like Tampa Bay’s Jeff Garcia, a potential future superstar like Dallas’s Tony Romo, a living legend like Green Bay Brett Favre, or maybe the greatest of all time in Brady – can win when he’s consistently pressured.
And, what was the one thing the Browns’ defensive line didn’t do this past season? You got it; pressure the quarterback.
Other than the defensive line, I’m convinced the Browns are every bit as good as the Giants. In fact, in some areas the Browns are better. Offensively, there is no question in my mind the Browns are better than the Giants, especially when Derek Anderson isn’t turning the ball over.
Jamal Lewis is a better runner than anything the Giants have to offer; the Browns’ offensive line is one of the best in the business; Kellen Winslow is a great tight end; and the wide receivers, led by Braylon Edwards, are at least as good as those of the Giants.
Defensively, the Giants’ backfield is nothing special without the pass rush. And the Giants’ linebackers won’t ever make you forget Lawrence Taylor, Pepper Johnson, Harry Carson or Jim Brown’s nemesis, the great Sam Huff.
That being said, is there any question as to what Savage MUST do as he studies he list of free agents? A pass-rushing defensive end and a nose tackle who can both stop the run and occasionally apply pressure on the quarterback are No. 1 and 2 on his must-do list.
Unless a trade is made and the Browns move up into a Top 10 spot in the draft, there will be little chance of the team gaining immediate defensive line help in the draft. That’s why free agency is ultra critical for Savage, who has had a tremendous amount of success attracting top offensive linemen the past two years.
In 2006 he managed to lure the best offensive lineman, possibly the best overall free agent, in Pro Bowl center LeCharles Bentley, who has unfortunately never gotten a chance to prove himself due to the knee injury he suffered on the first day of training camp in ’06.
Last year he got the best free agent offensive guard in Eric Steinbach, who teamed with rookie Joe Thomas to give the Browns a great left side of the line this pst season.
Much of the reason for the success enjoyed by Anderson and Lewis can be traced directly to Steinbach and Thomas.
Now, if Savage can do something similar on the defensive line, it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising for the Browns to make the playoffs next season. And, as the Giants proved once again, anything can happen once you reach the post-season party. Anything, that is, if you have solid offensive and defensive lines.
Right now, the Browns are halfway there. Savage’s success in completing the task will go a long way in determining whether the Cleveland Browns can finally win their first-ever Super Bowl. Or at least reach one.