It may become a talking point that goes from being under-discussed to over-discussed but the transition from DC Joe Woods to DC Jim Schwartz could be the second biggest thing for the Cleveland Browns in 2023. Improvement from QB Deshaun Watson will be the most important.
Under Woods, the Browns defense rarely seemed in the right place, often were in coverage that didn’t make sense and undervalued the importance of the interior of the defensive line. With cornerbacks in Denzel Ward, Greg Newsome II and Martin Emerson that thrive in physical, man coverage, Woods played zone too often.
We’ve already seen the change in focus in personnel with an overhaul of the majority of the defensive line. If Schwartz’s only other change is to bring more man coverage, last year’s success tells us Cleveland’s defense could be top tier quickly:
Last year, when the Browns defense played zone they ranked 24th in EPA/play—in man coverage, they ranked 2nd and allowed the lowest QBR in football.— Mina Kimes (@minakimes) May 15, 2023
Expect new DC Jim Schwartz to call a more aggressive defense. pic.twitter.com/PcssAVOIVO
It is hard to overstate how silly it sounds to say that Woods had the Browns defense in zone coverage about half the time despite being 24th in zone coverage and second in man defense. Obviously, most fans would love to see more blitzing but, with the pass rushers GM Andrew Berry has brought in and a more stout interior, pressure should not be a problem.
Thankfully, we also have data from the last time Schwartz was a defensive coordinator, with the Philadelphia Eagles, and his history fits well with the players he has in the secondary:
I will write up some bigger angles on Schwartz's defense by the end of the week. One thing is noticeable (outside of the DT stuff we all know).— Jake Burns (@jake_burns18) January 17, 2023
Eagles' use of man coverage under Schwartz (NFL rank):
Woods was 27th, 28th, 23rd https://t.co/rVZo6dmfPq
If Schwartz can use his players to their strength, Cleveland’s defense should take a big leap forward. Adding all the talent to the defensive line will also help that jump.
Given the improvements in the personnel and the expected improvement in the scheme, a top 10-level defense (in most/all metrics) seems realistic.
Are you surprised by the 2022 data? What are your expectations for the ‘23 defense?