Much of the blame for the Browns record has been the result of our sluggish offense. Our defense has played exceptionally well, considering the injuries we have had to endure in our secondary. Before we get to the positions, let's take a look at some key stats regarding the Browns' defense thus far:
Total Defense: 335 yards average, which ranks 23rd in the league.
Rushing Defense: 143 yards average, which ranks 27th in the league.
Receiving Defense: 192 yards average, which ranks 12th in the league.
First Down Ratio: We have allowed 91 first downs so far. 57 of them have been through the air, 28 of them on the ground, and 6 of them via penalty.
Third Down Conversions: The Browns have allowed opponents to convert on 28 of 73 third downs, for a 38.4% conversion rate.
Our defense pretty much looks the same as last year. We hoped to improve in our run defense, and despite the positive signs we saw in the preseason, that has not translated into the regular season. We have already allowed several 100 yard rushers, although we appear to be doing a good job in power to power type formations, where opponents are forced to run it inside where big Ted Washington is waiting.
1) Defensive Line:
Last year, Jason Fisk was the placeholder for the first year of our 3-4 defense, but he wasn't a very good one. This year, the Browns were able to sign big Ted Washington, who is intended to be another placeholder. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem as if there's anybody that he's holding the position for...do you see a future nose tackle on our roster yet? Orpheus Roye and Alvin McKinley were the other starters, so let's take a look at how they've done:
Ted Washington: 14 solo tackles, 2 assists, 16 total.
Orpheus Roye: 12 solo tackles, 2 assists, 14 total.
Alvin McKinley: 10 solo tackles, 6 assists, 16 total.
Simon Fraser: 5 solo tackles, 2 sacks.
None of our starters have recorded a sack this year. Our defensive line really isn't built to get sacks though; it's expected to plug the line and allow the linebackers. Still, on almost any team in the National Football League, your defensive lineman have to strike some more fear into the quarterback. We have not created enough pressure, and when Washington is spelled out of the game, teams seem to be able to run it up the middle without much trouble. Washington is not capable of running across the field effectively, which almost eliminates his presence any time a play is ran away from him. Grade: C-. The line has held up well, but are not playing anything better than average. If we want to play above average, we'll need linemen like we've seen in two of our past three games with the Baltimore Ravens and Carolina Panthers.
Entering the season, this was expected to be our most improved position. We added so many new faces, all of whom were expected to generate the pass rush that we didn't have a season ago. Those players included veteran Willie McGinest and rookies Kamerion Wimbley, D'Qwell Jackson, and Leon Williams. Those guys, along with the return of Andra Davis, Chaun Thompson, and Matt Stewart made this one of our deepest positions on the team.
Willie McGinest: 10 solo tackles, 1 assist, 11 total. 2 sacks.
Andra Davis: 26 solo tackles, 9 assists, 35 total. 1 sack, 1 interception.
Chaun Thompson: 4 solo tackles, 1 assist, 5 total. 1 sack.
Matt Stewart: 4 solo tackles, 4 total. 1 sack.
Kamerion Wimbley: 11 solo tackles, 3 assists, 14 total. 3 sacks.
D'Qwell Jackson: 20 solo tackles, 12 assists, 32 total.
After five games, the Browns linebackers have a total of eight sacks. That may seem like an "ok" amount, but what really matters is the lack of a pass rush we have seen. The only game so far that I've seen some crafty blitzes were in the game against Baltimore, when McNair kept making crazy throw after crazy throw. One reason you can tell the Browns aren't getting to the quarterback enough is the fact that were aren't causing any fumbles. It's a fact: quarterbacks will fumble the football when you bring a good blitz; we've seen Charlie Frye do it a couple of times already. However, if the Browns get a sack, it's usually more so of a coverage sack, when the quarterback knows he's about to get hit and starts to scramble away. The only exception would be Wimbley, who has beaten offensive tackles on numerous occasions this year already. Andra Davis is putting up a similar performance to last year, but I'm starting to think D'Qwell Jackson is taking a little too much playing time away from Chaun Thompson. Granted, I'm not overly high on Thompson, but there's no way he should be averaging less than a tackle per game. Grade: C+. The pass rush has been better than last year, but still needs more work, or more aggressive. I do believe we cut down on some blitzes due to the injuries to our secondary, so that we could drop more linebackers into coverage. With our top corners coming back, perhaps we'll see some more risks by our linebackers in the coming weeks.
3) Defensive Backs:
Heading into the bye week, our top three cornerbacks - all of whom I consider to be good - missed time due to injury. Daylon McCutcheon didn't play a down before being placed on the injured reserve, Gary Baxter has basically been injured the whole season, even when he did play the first two weeks, and Leigh Bodden missed last week's game against the Panthers. Past those three men, we were searching the free agency list and waiver wire in the preseason and came up with two men: Ralph Brown and Daven Holly. As far as our safeties go, Brian Russell, Sean Jones, and Brodney Pool have played exceptionally well.
Gary Baxter: 10 solo tackles, 5 assists, 15 total.
Leigh Bodden: 11 solo tackles, 2 assists, 13 total. 1 interception.
Daven Holly: 16 solo tackles, 1 assist, 17 total.
Brian Russell: 18 solo tackles, 6 assists, 24 total.
Sean Jones: 21 solo tackles, 15 assists, 36 total. 2 interceptions.
Brodney Pool: 15 solo tackles, 2 assists, 17 total. 1 sack.
Stand up and applaud our secondary, because right now, they've been the best unit of our defense, despite the injuries suffered. To be ranked 12th in pass defense is almost incredible to imagine. Granted, you can make an excuse that teams are simply running the ball against us so much that they don't need to pass, but that usually has not been the case. Gary Baxter struggled in the game that he was taken out of due to injury, and Ralph Brown absolutely stunk the first several games, but besides that, things have gone very well. Bodden has not been burned once this season, and Daven Holly has shown some very promising signs the past couple of weeks. Meanwhile, our it seems as if teams are not even attacking our safeties, which is a good sign. Brian Russell has created the big hit several times this year already, and Sean Jones has been the best player on our defense. Brodney Pool, the other safety, has been used at several positions very well. With Bodden and Baxter returning after the bye, things should continue to improve for our secondary. Grade: B. Now comes the complaint: Through five games, our secondary only has three interceptions. There have been countless interceptions dropped, something that has killed our chances of giving our struggling offense a very short field to work with. If we had held onto those balls, the secondary would have received an "A".
4) Special Teams:
It's a great asset to a football team that anytime your special teams unit takes the field, you feel like something positive is going to happen. That's certainly been the case this year.
Phil Dawson: 6 of 7 on field goal attempts, with a long of 47 yards.
Dave Zastudil: 28 punts for a 45.1 yard average. 7 punts have been placed inside the 20, 3 of them falling inside the 10. Only 3 of his punts have gone for touchbacks.
Joshua Cribbs: 18 kickoff returns, with a 28.2 yard average. 2 punt returns for a 21.5 yard average.
Dennis Northcutt: 12 punt returns for a 12.4 yard average.
Our special teams unit has been masterful. Phil Dawson's kicks are suddenly traveling into the endzone, Dave Zastudil has brought stability back to the punting position, Joshua Cribbs has nearly broken four touchdowns already, Northcutt almost broke one, and Cribbs and Mason Unck along with the rest of our special teams coverage are stopping opponents from getting very far. Grade: A+. Did I mention the best thing of all? I can't even remember us having a special teams penalty called against us yet.
Our defense has played better than our offense most of the time. And, if our offense could stay on the field a little longer, I can almost guarantee that our run defense would be significantly better. Our defense will wear down at the end of a game against a good running back. However, the defense needs to also help themselves out by creating more turnovers to make things easier on the offense as well. I can't think of any drastic changes that should be made on the defensive side of the ball, but here we go:
- Chaun Thompson needs a few more reps with the defensive unit. He may have been a bust overall so far, but he still has some playmaking ability left in him.
- Kamerion Wimbley shouldn't be the only one blitzing off the edge. Imagine Wimbley and someone else coming at the same time, which would allow one of the two to have a better chance at making a play. Of course, we'd have to compensate with zone coverage from the blitzing side.
- Brodney Pool should become the nickel back/third defensive back in a three receiver set. If not Pool, then Holly. With Baxter and Bodden returning, Pool's tight coverage is definitely what we need, unlike Ralph Brown, who played twenty yards off of his man in the first few games.
- Sean Jones should bring the safety blitz at least twice a game. That is the type of blitz that is going to cause a turnover if it's set up correctly.
- Gary Baxter needs to stop hurting his damn pectoral muscles.