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Browns Season Review: What we learned about the Jim Schwartz defense in 2023

A quick look at how Jim Schwartz’s defense faired in his 1st season in Cleveland

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

The Cleveland Browns made a splash in the coaching realm last offseason by hiring Jim Schwartz to be their new Defensive Coordinator, and needless to say, it’s worked out pretty well for them so far.

The Browns’ 2023 defense was the definition of dominant due to the multiple types of “looks” and pre-snap deception that Schwartz utilized regularly. His number one goal is to put as much pressure on the opposing quarterback as humanly possible so that it makes everything easier for the linebackers and defensive backs on each play.

We saw that come to fruition this season, especially in terms of the pass defense. Quarterbacks constantly had to get the ball out of their hands at an incredibly fast rate which limited what opponents could do from a route combination standpoint. If Myles Garrett’s average time to pressure the quarterback is 2.32 seconds, then offenses aren’t going to be able to throw the ball downfield consistently. This forced teams to narrow their passing game down to a lot of screens, slants, quick outs, and hitch/curl variations for the most part.

As shown in the graphic below, Jim Schwartz used man coverage at the 6th highest rate in the league, which is a significant difference from the 2022 season when Joe Woods was at the helm. There’s no reason to use zone coverage in tight spots when you have the type of talent at cornerback that Cleveland does with Denzel Ward, Martin Emerson, and Greg Newsome and the QB has to get rid of the ball quickly.

Image generated by 33rdteam.com

Schwartz’s defensive identity and tendencies come together and fit like a beautiful puzzle when it comes to how each aspect works together. He used 4 rushers a majority of the time and was successful in getting pressure with defensive line stunts and twists which allowed him to stay in Nickel throughout the year. This led to the Browns having an “upper hand” right off the bat in today’s pass-happy NFL.

Here are some of the main defensive statistics and where Cleveland’s defense ranked in the 2023 season:

  • 274.9 total yards per game (1st in the NFL)
  • 103.8 rushing yards per game (10th in the NFL)
  • 28.99% Opponent 3rd down conv. (1st in the NFL)
  • 171.1 passing yards per game (2nd in the NFL)
  • 5.5 pass yards per attempt (4th in the NFL)
  • 49 sacks (6th in the NFL)

Overall it was a very successful season for the Browns’ No.1 ranked defensive unit in 2023, but when the playoffs came around it sadly ended up being a different story.

In summation, Houston Texans Offensive Coordinator Bobby Slowik was successfully able to take advantage of Cleveland’s overly aggressive defense. He was effective in using motion and misdirection to attack the perimeter, negate the Browns’ ability to press Houston’s receivers at the line of scrimmage, and significantly “slow down” the pass rush. It also didn’t help that Texans’ QB C.J. Stroud performs extremely well under pressure and accurately gets the ball out of his hands quickly.

What we observed in the 2023 season is that Schwartz is still a world-class Defensive Coordinator, but he unfortunately failed to make the necessary in-game adjustments against Houston which played a key role in the playoff loss.

This is going to be something to keep an eye on in 2024 and an attribute that will most likely determine Cleveland’s playoff success going forward.


What were your thoughts on Jim Schwartz’s 1st season as Cleveland’s Defensive Coordinator? Join fellow Browns fans in the comment section below.