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Opinion

Cleveland Browns’ defense analysis: danger to AFC North

If one could describe the Cleveland Browns attitude in the 2019 offseason it would be “dangerous.” A losing streak of 19 games that was barred by draft busts, lack of a franchise quarterback, and multiple head coach changes ended the 2018-19 season with a record of 7-8-1. This offseason has already included some big signings…
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/laguisiii/" target="_self">Luis Aguilar</a>

Luis Aguilar

June 2, 2019

If one could describe the Cleveland Browns attitude in the 2019 offseason it would be “dangerous.”

A losing streak of 19 games that was barred by draft busts, lack of a franchise quarterback, and multiple head coach changes ended the 2018-19 season with a record of 7-8-1. This offseason has already included some big signings and changes to the offense — including the additions of Odell Beckham Jr. and Kareem Hunt.

There is no doubt that the new offense will be explosive and dynamic, thus rightfully giving them their spotlight. However, the offense is only one part of the story and if the Browns are looking to win the AFC North and develop into playoff contenders, we all know that “defense wins championships.”

The organization has managed to land a handful of new defensive players who will add to the arsenal that new defensive coordinator and former Arizona Cardinals head coach, Steve Wilks, has to his disposal in the pursuit of the AFC North title.

The New Front

The trade for Odell Beckham Jr. reached highlights and reception all across media and sports news, but there was an additional player traded to Cleveland that was included in the deal, Olivier Vernon. The 6-foot-2-inch, 270 pound defensive end from the New York Giants might not hold the most impressive statistics on paper but his performance on the field speaks for itself.

He brings a tenacious attitude that never gives up on a play until the very end, can utilize both the brute force bull and hands effectively, and creates the pressure in the pocket. On the run, Vernon is not expected to break up run plays when head-to-head with the offensive line, but his ability to read the backfield and track the hip of the running-back makes up for his inability on penetrating gaps.

The defensive line did not only give itself an upgrade on the exterior but on the interior as well with the introduction of one of the top free agents this offseason and former Vikings defensive tackle, Sheldon Richardson. Coming in at 6-foot-3-inches and 295 pounds, Richardson may seem a bit smaller in comparison to other players in his position but that does not let Richardson define his playmaking ability.

Richardson’s ability to use his hands and create moves sets him apart from other defensive tackles who mostly on their bull rush ability and strength to win in the trenches. His run stop also matches his pass rushing, by having good vision and being able to shed off a block and go for the tackle.

Richardson’s addition to the Browns however also adds some flair and personality that I believe will vibrant up the defense both on and off the field.

Although Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson are no stellar players nor the stars of the defense, the Browns have gotten a bargain through obtaining “bang for the buck” value players that will aide their goal.

The Browns’ vision and needs are a defensive line that can create pressure in the pocket to aide the secondary and it seems they got what they were looking for.

The Secondary

This is where the Browns defense will shine and make their plays. With a defensive line that is able to pressure the quarterback sufficiently, this is where tight coverage comes into play. Although the loss of strong safety Jabrill Peppers came as a loss of their best safety, the acquisition of Eric Murray and Morgan Burnett brings in two “plug and play” players in the strong safety position.

Both of the safeties bring zone coverage to the table on the top that will also be able to assist and complement the cornerbacks in both zone and man coverage. The same philosophical approach to the defensive line carries over to the secondary, with the sense of a unit being made instead of having one or two key players to rely on.

This makes things a whole lot more interesting as cornerback Denzel Ward is already a pro-bowler as a rookie and is only entering his second year in the NFL.

With talent, capabilities and a relatively young overall secondary, the most interesting part has not come yet. New defensive coordinator Steve Wilks spent 12 years of his career as a defensive back coach in the NFL and working with the secondary alongside working two years as assistant defensive coordinator prior to his head coach position at the Arizona Cardinals.

Wilks brings expertise and ability to turn what are young players like Eric Murray and Denzel Ward into talented veterans with franchise potential while working with coverage tunings for the more seasoned defensive backs.

But Wilkins is also the new defensive coordinator, meaning that he can take full advantage and ploy a defensive scheme that fits the coverage ability of the secondary by taking advantage of creating pressure with blitz packages utilizing a strong safety or linebacker, opting for the slot nickel or dime packages,  and the use of both man and zone options.

Age of the Cleveland Cleaver

Whether it be on the offensive or defensive side of the ball, the Cleveland Browns are the team to watch this year and are beginning their run in the pursuit of appearing in the playoffs and making a championship run.

While it may not come in one season, there is definitely a new kid on the block and with the Pittsburgh Steelers having internal conflict and head coach issues, serious questioning with the offense and losing key players on defense at the Baltimore Ravens, and the Cincinnati Bengals being about as ferocious as a kitten, it appears that the new King of the AFC North has arrived.

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