Browns Key is the Pass D


The Cleveland Browns are 1 – 1 on the young season. There are a bunch of statistics that are interesting about where the Browns stand at this point. With such a small sample size most of those statistics are more entertaining than informative.

Yet one thing seems clear from watching the first two games of the season: The Browns Key is the Pass D.

We all know that the NFL is a passing league. We also know that Mike Pettine likes big physical corners that can match-up 1 on 1 on the outside giving him the ability to be creative in other coverage as well as in the pass rush. The Browns paid Joe Haden a great deal of money on his extension, made Justin Gilbert their first pick in the NFL draft, and signed Donte Whitner and Karlos Dansby all with pass coverage in mind. It doesn’t hurt that Haden, Whitner and Dansby are very good run defenders as well for their positions.

So we knew coming into the season the Browns were focused on stopping the pass. Yet as we watch the first two games we have also noticed that the Browns have made a conscious decision to make the other team beat them with the run and try to stymie the pass game as much as possible. Dealing with Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees in back to back weeks has made it difficult, leading to their current rank as 29th against the pass, but the plan and the scheme is crucial.

Much like in basketball, where teams will let LeBron James get 50 but want to hold down the rest of the players, the Browns are focused on the pass (the others) and have been okay with giving up the run (LeBron). This scheme has allowed both the Steelers and the Saints to get good yardage against a defense that last year was top notch against the run.

So why does it make sense, since the Browns are giving up big yards in the pass game AND the run game?

It is simple really. Brees and Big Ben are going to get their numbers so seeing the Browns averaging almost 300 passing yards in 2 games is not shocking. Yet with those 2 QBs many may have guessed that the Browns were closer to 400 yard average after the two games. Most teams have went away from the run game in favor of a passing league. That means the Saints and Steelers, who haven’t been strong traditional running teams in the past few years, spent more time running the ball than they normally would planned. The Browns force that with their defense.

This strategy also allows the Browns to make big plays on defense and keep the opposing team from making their own. While a run play here or there, especially with missed tackles, can be huge, generally it will only get yards in chunks. This keeps the opposing team from scoring quickly, adds snaps that they can make mistakes and shortens the game as the clock runs.

With the Browns depth on the defensive line and line-backing corp this plays well into their hands. While having the defense on the field for a long time isn’t the best answer, the Browns are uniquely suited, especially when everyone is healthy, to do just that. The added snaps gives the aggressive defense Pettine runs a chance to get sacks and create turnovers as well.

A shorten game with few big plays is also complimentary football with the Browns offense. Brian Hoyer leads a team that thrives on the run game and play action passing. They haven’t shown a knack for big plays, Jordan Cameron‘s 47 yard reception in Week 1 is the only over 30 yards, which means high scoring games could be a struggle for the offense. By having a defense that keeps the game close, the offense can stay in rhythm with what it does best. Even when they came back against the Steelers the Browns didn’t abandon the run, instead they just turned up the speed at the line of scrimmage to conserve time.

In the NFL you cannot take everything away. You have to give here to take there. For the Browns, at least in the first 2 games, they gave the Saints and Steelers some in the run game to take from the passing game. Instead of the Browns allowing the opposing offense to dictate what they defense is doing, they stay in control.

This could change depending on the opponent but there are very few run dominate teams in the NFL today. Next week against the Ravens expect more of the same. With Ray Rice out and Bernard Pierce not showing that he is feature back material the Browns will try to force the Ravens to win through the run. Having players like Whitner, Dansby and Christian Kirksey who can fly all over the field comes in handy for the defense when they do so.

It will be interesting to see if the strategy works all season long but for now Mike Pettine and the Browns seem comfortable and confident in controlling the passing game to keep the Browns in the game.

What do you think of the strategy we have seen employed by the Browns so far?