The Cleveland Browns run defense was a welcoming sight for opposing running backs in 2022.
Cleveland finished the campaign ranked No. 25 in rushing yards allowed, No. 25 in yards per carry, No. 29 in rushing touchdowns allowed, and No. 25 in rushing first downs allowed. “Highlights” of the season included allowing 202 rushing yards to the Atlanta Falcons, 238 rushing yards to the Los Angeles Chargers, and 195 rushing yards to the Miami Dolphins.
The team went to work in the offseason addressing the issue with the hiring of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, the signing of free agent defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson and the drafting of defensive tackle Siaki Ika, among other moves.
Schwartz’s defensive system and the rebuilt run defense will be tested throughout the upcoming season as the Browns face several of the league’s best returning rushing attacks, a list that includes:
- The Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 2, who finished last season in a tie for 10th place with an average of 4.2 yards per carry.
- The Tennessee Titans and running back Derrick Henry in Week 3, an attack that averaged 4.4 yards per carry, tied for eighth-best in 2022.
- The Baltimore Ravens and quarterback Lamar Jackson (a career average of 6.1 yards per run) in Week 4, The Ravens finished second in the league with an average of 5.2 yards per carry.
- The San Francisco 49ers and running back Christian McCaffrey. The 49ers finished last season tied for fifth at 4.7 yards per carry and fifth in rushing touchdowns with 20, all with McCaffrey not joining the team until six weeks into the season.
- The Indianapolis Colts in Week 10, a year after the Colts were 10th in the league with an average of 4.2 yards per carry.
- The Seattle Seahawks in Week 8, who averaged 4.8 yards per carry last season, which was tied for fourth-best in the league.
- The Arizona Cardinals in Week 9, a run game that was ninth-best in the NFL last season at 4.3 yards per carry.
- The Denver Broncos in Week 12, who were tied for eight-best last season at 4.4 yards per carry.
- The Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 14, a club that was fifth-best with an average of 4.7 yards per carry last season and feature running back Travis Etienne, who averaged 5.1 yards per carry.
- The Chicago Bears and quarterback Justin Fields, who rushed for 1,143 yards last season, in Week 15. The Bears closed out the season at No. 1 in yards per carry (5.4) and No. 7 in rushing touchdowns (18).
- The New York Jets in Week 17, with the Jets coming off a season where they finished tied for 10th at 4.2 yards per carry with a rushing attack that can take some pressure off of 39-year-old quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The Browns put a renewed emphasis on fixing the run defense this offseason, so there is hope that the unit will see some improvement this fall. And while there is no guarantee that last year’s top rushing teams will again be stout this season, there is no question that Cleveland’s new-look run defense will repeatedly be put to the test in 2023.