Ever since the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2001, there has been a theory that “defense wins championships,” even if the offense has just as strong a hand in these things. Illogical phrases aside, the NFL has been steadily moving to a more offense-happy league ever since. At the risk of an accidental several-thousand-word diatribe about how stupid the new NFL rules are and about player safety and about encouraging more passing and making rules that favor offense at every turn and about how defenders can barely touch a player without getting flagged, I’m going to take the high road and just talk about the Browns.
It’s bizarre. They’re middle of the road in almost every defensive category, they blew people away occasionally, but usually were slightly below average, and they just didn’t do anything spectacular in 14 out of 16 games. There is almost no story here. I can’t figure out what they were.
The Browns allowed 23 points per game. During the five games Haden missed, they allowed 23, 23, 24, 34, and 41 points. So that’s 29 points per game without Joe Haden and just under 21 points per game with Joe Haden. That’s the story of the defense.
After that, what’s the story? Turnovers are a huge thing in football. Everyone knows that. The Browns managed to force 29 turnovers this season, yet only won the turnover battle five times out of 16 games. The Browns’ defense had one or zero turnovers in 12 out of 16 games. That’s a mess. I mean, that’s a huge mess. That’s the kind of mess that you have to call The Wolf in to fix.
It was hard to really put the season into proper packaging: flashes of dominance, overworked because of a subpar offense, missing key players due to suspension and injury, playing a tough schedule, and just generally getting some bad breaks. How do you summarize that? The defense kept the offense in many games, and that’s their responsibility. Week One, they did everything within their power to actually win the game by themselves, butBrandon Weeden’s first game jitters didn’t really help.
Somehow it didn’t feel like the Browns were a touch ahead of the average, with 38 sacks on the season. It seemed as though they came in waves. And I already mentioned that turnovers were the same thing, so maybe it was just a hot/cold team on defense.
Go to the team defense stats page on Pro-Football-Reference.com and you’ll see what I mean – every category seems to be middle of the road, ranging as high as eighth and as low as 23rd, but the majority are in the 13-18 range. Just…unremarkable.
Maybe that’s a good thing. The defense’s best player sits out for five of 16 games and the team still puts up respectable defensive stats. I’ll take it because there’s nothing else to take, but it’d be fun to write this article and say, “Man, the Browns’ defense really dominated this year” instead of, “Man, the Browns’ defense really dominated two games this year.”
I’m frustrated. It’s February. The draft is eight weeks out, the season is almost seven months out, and the past season is out of sight, out of mind. I don’t know what would really fix the team, and even if I did, it wouldn’t matter. Decisions will be made, improvements will (hopefully) be made, players will get healthy, and with a little luck, the 2013 Browns will move back towards the very good 2011 totals instead of the still decent 2012 ones.
This was a weird season, folks.