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Talking Cleveland Browns With Football Outsiders, Part 1 - Phil Taylor & The ILB Position

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With the preseason about to begin for the Cleveland Browns, that means it is time to post our annual interview with Football Outsiders! This year, our interview was conducted with Robert Weintraub, who wrote the section on the Browns in their 2014 Football Outsiders Almanac.

The Almanac is only $12.50 in PDF format, and consists of 500 pages of unique analytical research for every team in the league, as well as many players. If you're looking to bone up on your knowledge about all 32 teams in the NFL before the season starts, this is certainly worth the purchase to buy, print out, and then read up on one team per day.

The staff at Dawgs By Nature compiled a list of questions for Robert, and I am breaking the interview up into two parts. Part 1 asks him about DL Phil Taylor and the inside linebacker position, while Part 2 focuses on the secondary and the running back position.

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DBN: "Phil Taylor is a guy who seems like he is at a crossroads. What was his story last year and when is he at his best?"

Robert: "Big Phil had a strong year, actually.  His Stop Rate was in the top ten in the league, and the average run gain when he made the tackle was 1.4 yards, which is pretty robust.  He's just 26, and if John Hughes and Billy Winn, both sturdy run defenders, get more playing time, he will look better by association.  Obviously the big concern with Taylor is continued health, but at just 26, if he can stay on the field, the Browns are OK with him clogging the middle."

In their almanac, Football Outsiders said that the Browns' starting defensive end duo of Desmond Bryant and Ahtyba Rubin wasn't very good against the run in 2013: "The ends were the main culprit in Cleveland’s league-worst showing in Power situations, a weakness that doesn’t figure to improve greatly unless reserve ends Billy Winn and John Hughes get more playing time."

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DBN: "Inside linebacker was a major pain point for Browns fans last year, specifically with the play of Craig Robertson. First, how bad was Robertson, really? And secondly, is Karlos Dansby an upgrade over D'Qwell Jackson?"

Robert: "Robertson isn’t great, but he isn’t as bad as the fans and press made him out to be.  As with Taylor, and in part because of Taylor, Robertson’s run numbers were strong (ninth in the league in Average Rush Yards against), and while he was stiff against the pass, and of course not as healthy as you’d like as a fan, you could do a lot worse at ILB.

As for the Jackson/Dansby swap, it will be an upgrade against the pass (significantly so if Dansby can repeat his incredible season batting down throws both in coverage, where he led all LBs in passes defensed, and at the line, where he had four knockdowns, twice as many as any other ILB).  Jackson is the better run stuffer, however, so it will be on Robertson, Taylor, and the other run stoppers to make up the difference."

At outside linebacker, while Football Outsiders acknowledged the disappointment in terms of sacks for Paul Kruger in 2013, they think he had enough hurries to indicate that the sacks will start to pile up in 2014: "Better things should be ahead for Kruger: normally a player with 26.5 hurries and just 4.5 sacks is going to have more sacks the next season."

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Thanks to Robert and Football Outsiders for their time; we will be posting Part 2 of our interview with them a little bit on Saturday.