May 28, 2014; Berea, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns defensive back Joe Haden (23) during organized team activities at Cleveland Browns training facility. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Could New "Emphasis" from NFL Officials Harm Browns Defense?

As Training Camp opens for all Cleveland Browns players on Friday excitement is in the air. The Browns have a new regime which always intrigues fans and gets them excited that their team will look different then last year. For many fans Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine’s straight forward talk and approach is a breath of fresh air. It will not mean anything if the team cannot perform, withholding judgement till after their second year would be prudent for fans though.

Yet could the Browns plans be impacted by the “new NFL”? The NFL is now a passing league, according to most, yet the Browns have spent much of their offensive resources on the line and running back positions. A bigger concern is now on the defensive side of the ball if ex-referee Mike Pereira’s tweet is any indication of the direction of the league:

More emphasis on illegal contact and defensive holding is the NFL’s way of trying to continue to increase the offense. When the NFL gives emphasis to something it means the officials will be graded very tightly on that area of the game. This is not a new rule mind you, just an emphasis of old rules that may have been taken advantage of. The Seattle Seahawks are a team that often were seen grabbing and holding, knowing the refs weren’t likely to call it on every play.

This could be a big problem for the type of Browns defense that Mike Pettine wants to play. With strong corners Joe Haden and Justin Gilbert, along with Pierre Desir as the nickle or dime man, Pettine wants to be physical on the outside. Having Haden and Gilbert on islands will allow Pettine to unleash his creative defense and play zone in the middle of the field. If the officials are emphasizing no contact after 5 yards the Browns style could be greatly impacted.

Will they, like the Seahawks, continue their physical play and hope the refs don’t call it too often. How will Pettine, who trains physical play from his secondary, counteract this new emphasis? The Browns can play more zone underneath the outside receivers with either the corners or linebackers. The top end coverage then goes to either the safeties or corners depending on the defensive call. Those type of moves will minimize the need for physical play from the corners but also severely hinder the creativity and availability in the pass rush.

Likely Pettine will continue with the style he has grown to love and perfect. Expect Haden and Gilbert to get called a ton at the start of the season but as refs get back into their own habits those calls to die down. The Browns expect to play close, low scoring games, especially early in the season, and could have one of these calls cost them the game. They know in advance the new emphasis and will have to adjust or accept the consequences. Just bad timing for the Browns given the new direction of the defense.

What do you think of this new emphasis?

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