When the Cleveland Browns defense turned it around in the second half of 2021, fans were hopeful that Joe Woods’ unit would continue to thrive in 2022. It seemed that newcomers like John Johnson III were finally putting it together with the rest of the holdovers in 2021 so continued development in 2022 was easy to forecast.
Instead, the Browns defense once again looked lousy to start the season and was one of the primary reasons the team lost a few games that they could have or should have won this season. Teams ran the football at will against Cleveland and huge missed assignments left receivers running wide-open.
On paper, things have gotten better, once again, later in the season for Woods’ group. Since getting blown out by New England in Week 6, the data looks overall good. Despite giving up 39 points to Miami and 31 to Buffalo in back to back weeks, Cleveland’s defense has some impressive stats:
#Browns defense since Wk 7:— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) January 4, 2023
Opposing raw QBR: 1st (35.2)
Opp total QBR (adjusted for QB strength): 2nd (42.7)
Opp QBR vs. man coverage: 1st (24.1)
EPA: 5th (20.26)
Efficiency: 5th (63.03)
Pass yds allowed: 1st (176.8 ypg)
INTs per attempt: 7th
Yds allowed/dropback: 4th (5.50)
As always, statistics don’t lie but perspective is vital.
First, while the quarterback data is good, teams have mostly figured out that they don’t need to pass as often to beat the Browns. Of their five losses since Week 7, the fewest rushing attempts against the team is 26 (Cincinnati) with the other four teams running the ball 33 or more times.
Quarterbacks haven’t had to do much to beat Cleveland.
Second, a look at the list of quarterbacks and situations in those games only has a few quality passing situations:
- Lamar Jackson - Only attempted 16 passes, still won
- Joe Burrow - He’s great, no Ja’Marr Chase, struggles versus Browns somehow
- Tua Tagovailoa - Tore up the defense for 285 yards, 3 TDs
- Josh Allen - He’s great but the blizzard and illness really threw off Bills prep that week
- Tom Brady - Looked very old against Cleveland, has been up and down, mostly down this year
- Kyle Allen - Journeyman who has been replaced in Houston
- Burrow - Again, this time without Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins
- Tyler Huntley - Makes Jackson look like a great throwing QB
- Andy Dalton - In frigid temperatures and tons of wind. Only attempted 15 passes
- Carson Wentz - Who has been horrible, been benched and likely benched again
The recap: Four games against good to great quarterbacks, three of the four were losses. Both Burrow games lacked key receivers, Tagovailoa played great and Allen did enough in an odd week for the Bills.
The other six games came against quarterbacks who are either not good or were showing their age (Brady).
Finally, despite what looks like an improvement, we continue to hear a variety of statements from defensive players that seem to throw Woods under the bus without being direct about it. CB Greg Newsome II, for example, thinks things should be different in how the cornerbacks are used.
Does the data suggest the Browns defense has improved? Yes. Is that data skewed by teams running the ball a ton, bad quarterback play and unique circumstances due to weather and injuries? Also, yes.
Even if Cleveland beats the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 18 with a solid performance by the defense, beating a rookie quarterback in his first high-pressure game with a poor offensive line won’t buoy Woods’ resume.
Is there anything that could save Joe Woods’ job at this point or has his fate been sealed most of the year?