You know, as one who does the whole C-Town holy trinity of the Browns, the Tribe and the Cavs (not to mention the Buckeyes); it's a little challenging to think about the Browns on bye week in the wake of the Indians playoff exit. But we're going to give it a shot. After the great extra inning ALCS game two thriller, complete with much nervous sipping and much post game revelry that went into the wee hours, and heading into The Mother of All Tailgates on almost no sleep and even less detox, I had to check out the game on the NFL Network's replay because I was pretty sure I was sauced and saw D'Qwell Jackson get his ass run over by Cleo Lemon for a touchdown. Well, I was ripped, but it was true. Their quarterback ran over out middle linebacker on the goal line with both squared up. Eddie Johnson just rolled over, God bless him and his.
I should just let it go. All is right with the C-Town sports world. Jobu slumbers, sated by the 151 rum of Pablus offered in copious amounts in Muni Lot last weekend that KO'd me. The Indians are on the cusp of yet another C-town Sisyphus-esque effort, ready to push the boulder over the top and break the hated "1948, 1964, Never" syndrome. The Buckeyes are incredibly ranked number one after filling up half the NFL draft. The Cavs stand ready to take the next, last step, and perhaps most incredibly after the 34 - 7 opening day debacle, the Cleveland Browns are 3 - 3 in the bye week. Maybe this week's column should be about lionizing that accomplishment heading into the soft, creamy center of the schedule and dedicated to eating crow for criticizing the brilliant Braylon Edwards, Phil Savage's plan, and the savant first year coordinator, Rob Chudzinski. Averaging 32 points is simply an amazing feat for this collection of mostly new players and a new coordinator. It is an offense that should have us legitimately thinking wild card possibility. Except for the defense.
Aye carumba, what the heck happened there?
It is not pretty.
Third worst in the NFL in points allowed per game.
Last in the league in total points allowed
Second worst in yards per game.
Worst in first downs given up per game.
They've allowed the most plays from scrimmage per game.
Here's a bright spot: fourth worst in yards passing surrendered per game. Then again, why pass when you can rush for 150 yards per game, the third worst in the NFL.
Hey, at least we're consistent.
This is completely befuddling to Mansfield. I foolishly thought that the defense would carry the offense early this season. So I say to myself, "self, why do we suck so bad on defense?" And then I try to answer.
Is it the draft picks?
The Browns aren't blessed with a richness of middle career draft picks based on their futility since 1999 and the resulting too frequent regime change. We know the reasons for that. But the defense hasn't been completely ignored either. In the three drafts that Savage has had, here's who he netted:
2nd round Brodney Pool
4th round Antonio Perkins
5th round David McMillain
6th round Nick Speegle
6th round Andrew "Keg" Hoffman
1st round Kamerion Wimbley
2nd round D'Qwell Jackson
4th round Leon Williams
5th round DeMario Minter
6th round Baba Oshinowo
7th round Justin Hamilton
2nd round Eric Wright
5th round Brandon McDonald
6th round Melila Purcell
7th round Chase Pittman
Now I am NOT going to be one of those guys who brings up opportunity cost with the draft such as why did we pick Leon Williams (or Ike Sowells) over home boy Barry Cofield, as many of us questioned real-time. That's not really fair to play that game. But daaaaaang, I know we need to see what this year's project players do, but I'm still looking at half-dozen cuts, two good picks, and two probable first day busts based on what we've seen so far. And it looks as if we've whiffed on every single day two project so far unless Leon Williams can translate the athleticism into some actual game. We just flat out haven't drafted well to either stock the defense with role players or take impact players who sustain quality play. Pool and Jackson have been particularly disappointing. We lack a number one pick next year and have a question at the running back position this coming off season. Improving the talent on defense as a result of all these blown picks is going to be a challenge even if the drafting improves.
Is it the Free Agents?
I'm not sure I completely understand the free agent strategy, other than it must be one of "let's get older". 2005 brought in Joe Andruzzi, Trent Dilfer, Jason Fisk, Ray Mickins and Bryan Russell. Not a single building block in the bunch. Hopes were high in 2006 when LeCharles Bentley signed, but we know the rest of the star crossed story. Still, not a defensive signing. Willie McGinest and Ted Washington were supposed to come in and provide leadership and 3 - 4 know-how as well as fill in for a couple solid years to help out. Ralph Browns was also added. I'll give McGinest more credit that most. He could have taken the money and skated with an injury. But he pushed himself back and while he's lost two steps and his production is a shadow of what it was when he really was the Willie McGinest we're paying for, his positioning has been outstanding. Ted Washington is just plain done. Gary Baxter was a high priced signing of an average NFL player who would have helped and would be a great option to sit down Pool, but his fate is also well-documented. This year's free agent signings of Antwan Peek, Mike Adams, Robaire Smith and Shaun Smith have added absolutely nothing. Most disappointing to me has been the play of the Smith Brothers, who have been far better purveyors of cough drops than defensive linemen. I really thought between them and the now one-legged Orpheus Roye that we'd have a collection of veteran starters worthy of rotating into a decent defensive line.
The bottom line is that while I admire the single mindedness by which Phil Savage has addressed and obviously fixed the offensive line, partially by good free agent signings, every single defensive free agent signing has pretty much ranged for disappointing to disastrous. No real help at all has come via free agency.
It is the coaching and scheme?Three years ago the decision was made to pull the plug on the Butch Davis one-gap 4 - 3 defense and the heavy investment made on the defensive linemen and bite the bullet to go to the 3 - 4 before the players were here to play that scheme. Much was made of the arrival of Romeo Crennel and his defensive affiliation with Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick. He is paired with a Dom Capers' student, Todd Grantham, and Dom was the co-architect of the zone blitzing "defense of the 90's" Pittsburgh scheme along with Bill Cowher. Todd Grantham interviewed for the Michigan State job and his name was said by some to be on a short list of the next generation of young coordinators meriting head coaching consideration. I'm going to guess the words "cold product" might be creeping into those same conversations. The three year running partnership of these two distinct 3 - 4 styles of defense has so far yielded the sad litany of statistics appearing near the start of this piece. Truly, if anyone has any idea whatsoever whet this 3 - 4 defense is trying to accomplish, please break it down for us in the boards. I really have no idea. It neither contains nor pressures. It neither blitzes nor fills gaps well. The defensive linemen getting blown off the ball do not disguise the linebackers being way out of position, and when things do work right, no one can tackle worth a damn. At some point, even with this sad collection of players that has allegedly improved the overall talent level from that of Ben Taylor and Kevin Bentley - doubtful - you'd think two veteran NFL coaches who have their staff assistants intact and who have been running the same scheme for three years now could come up with something they could teach to scheme and rotate their way into the upper reaches of sub-mediocrity. If these two could literally get anything out of this bunch to the point where we were only giving up 21 points a game, we'd be a legitimate threat to win 9 or 10 games with Derek Anderson at the helm of the offense that has a new scheme, a new coordinator in his first year, a new staff of assistants, and six new starters at their positions. I dare you to really think about that for a Lodi minute and explain how that is possible.When I ask the three questions above and the answers I get are "yes", "yes", and "yes", I just don't have a real good feeling about this. I am close to writing off Jackson and Pool as guys who are just lacking; one lacking in sufficient physicality, the other in feel for the game. Andra Davis never took a step forward since his first game, and there's not a single bona fide NFL starter on the defensive line, and the two-deep rotation is just bad. We have an over the hill player getting by on guile at one outside linebacker, and two talented athletes who are unfortunately one dimensional as the other outside backers.The whole front seven will need a complete overhaul except for Wimbley, we need a real free safety, and then they need to learn how to play whatever scheme we are taking over 3 seasons to incorporate. I know I am the classic half-empty kind of fan, but it is very, very difficult to look at the defense and be optimistic we are a bolt tightened there and a paint touch up here away from being ready for prime time.I've always been a big fan of offensive football and games that are shootouts. Looks like I've gotten my wish.