The Evolution of the Browns’ 3-4 Defense Part II – The Linebackers

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Out on the Edges

We now move to the edges –  and back to my stupid car analogy.

In Part I, I likened the nose tackle to the keys of a car ignition. My reasoning? These big boys get the process rolling by controlling the line of scrimmage and occupying blockers, but like your car keys,  they don’t guarantee success in and of themselves. As I mentioned previously in this post, it’s the two inside linebackers that must capitalize on the efforts of the nose and bring down the ball carrier. For all intents and purposes then, they’re the brakes.

Continuing my clever automobile theme and moving on to the all-mighty outside linebackers of a 3-4 defense, well they’re the engine that makes that baby purr – or whimper.

A lot is asked of the two outside linebackers in a 3-4 defense. First and foremost, they MUST be able to apply pressure from the edges.  They also must be stout against the run and have the ability to drop into coverage.

Versatility and athleticism are an absolute requisite for OLB’s of a 3-4 defense, and effective defenses must get consistency from these two very important spots.

Ideally, though, you want these two not just to be solid, but to be disruptive. That’s what you shoot for, and as much I hate to say anything positive about the Pittsburgh Steelers, there’s not a better pair of outside linebackers than James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. These two just create absolute chaos for opposing offenses around the league (and against us twice a year). Over the past two seasons, this duo has combined for a ridiculous 51 sacks and 15 forced fumbles. Those are the kind of numbers that keep both offensive coordinators and quarterbacks up late at night.

In short, offensive coordinators won’t be losing much sleep over any outside linebackers the Browns may use on the edge. And it’s safe to say there’s not a DeMarcus Ware hidden in the bunch.

Instead, there’s Matt Roth, newcomer Chris Gocong from the Eagles, old steady David Bowens, and possibly second-year player Marcus Bernard. None of these guys are dominant, disruptive outside linebackers individually – there’s no getting around that. But that doesn’t mean that the Browns defense can’t be disruptive.

After all, Roth demonstrated his ability to get to the quarterback last season by posting 4 sacks in 6 games, as did Bowens (5.5) and Bernard (3.5) in his limited action.

Meanwhile, there’s a lot of pass rushing potential from Gocong – in spite of his limited production over 3 seasons with the Eagles (just 4 sacks).

None of these guys are studs, but all four have the potential to pressure the Quarterback under the right coaching and strategy.

It’s on You, Coach Ryan…

Ultimately, what we’re really going to learn from our linebackers is how good of a defensive coordinator Rob Ryan really is, because he’s going to have to coach and scheme his ass off this year with this unit.

Individually, none of our linebackers will wow you, but collectively they are all versatile, smart veterans that are capable of solidifying a position that has long been a weakness for the Browns.

Ryan’s gonna have to mix-and-match with this group and get creative in applying pressure, but for whatever reason I’m drinking the pre-training camp koolaid.

I may be going out on a limb here, but I think that this group of guys can get the job done.


(Stay tuned for Part III, where I’ll briefly look at the secondary. And sorry for the delay between Part I and II. I was out of town.)