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Marshall Faulk Asks if the Browns' Defense Can Reach Elite Status

As part of a sponsorship this week, player-turned-analyst Marshall Faulk asked us the following question:

For Cleveland to take their defense to an elite status, they turned to innovation, adding smart players with a complex scheme. Can this get it done? Innovation is a key component to being GMC Professional Grade. With these changes, how soon will Cleveland reverse the course on this one-sided rivalry against Pittsburgh and be considered an elite team?

Anyone who watched the Seahawks' defense Thursday night against the Packers knows that it's not even fair to try to put the Browns' defense into the same category as the Seahawks' defense. If we look at Seattle as the standard for an awe-inspiring defense, though, Cleveland's two-year revamping of the defense at least puts them on track toward being an elite and innovative defense.

  • Mike Pettine knows how to get the most out of his defenders, as he helped facilitate the emergence of Kiko Alonso as a rookie in Buffalo and led a unit that had the most sacks in the NFL. He'll have the respect of the Browns' defensive unit as a whole.
  • In terms of adding smart players to play in a complex scheme, we summarized that in our review of the offseason. The Browns let of their better veteran players walk away this offseason -- ILB D'Qwell Jackson and SS T.J. Ward. Both guys were quality players, but they had each reached their ceiling. General manager Ray Farmer went out and got two players who have established higher ceilings during their NFL career with affordable contracts -- ILB Karlos Dansby and SS Donte Whitner.
  • Two rookies -- CB Justin Gilbert and ILB Chris Kirksey -- are expected to play key roles on defense this year. All of the new additions excel at defending the pass, so when Pettine unleashes our threatening front seven on opposing quarterbacks, the Browns will have defenders at many positions on the field who can cover, drop back into coverage, etc. at an efficient level.

The Steelers have tried to start re-building their defense too, but they are a couple of steps behind the Browns right now. To compensate for that, they are still relying on a few veteran players who might be past their prime. If Cleveland's going to reverse the course against Pittsburgh, there's no reason it can't start this Sunday. If we're going to pride ourselves in being on the verge of having an elite-level defense, then let's see it right off the bat.

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