One of the most unique elements of this season’s struggles is the fact that the root of Cleveland’s problem is no longer at the quarterback position. In fact, the offense as a whole has looked promising throughout a winless first ten games.
The defense, on the other hand, has been nothing short of a complete disaster. Some of this can be blamed on a lack of talent, as the secondary is undeniably depleted. But looking at talent alone, the Browns shouldn’t be as poor against the run as they have been. Even with a big defensive line including first-round draft pick Danny Shelton who is entering his prime, the unit is ranked second-last against opposing rushing attacks, allowing 146.7 yards per game.
The only solution is to take a serious look at Ray Horton‘s scheme. His 3-4 defense may be trendy, but it isn’t working for Cleveland. With linebackers that struggle dropping back into coverage, and cornerbacks who are simply overmatched, the Browns must rely on a strong pass rush in order to slow down opposing offenses. This is not happening this season partially because of Horton’s unwillingness to rush the passer aggressively, but also because of the team’s 3-4 scheme.
Switching to 4-3 and replacing the defensive coordinator if necessary is not a step that will make the top headlines, but it is the most important step to begin with. Having four defensive linemen will help the Browns stop the run and rush the passer. Without an extra linebacker, they won’t get the extra spy, but they won’t need it. A fourth defensive lineman to wear down the offensive line is a much better use of a player.
Changing the scheme on defense is just one step to contention, and won’t make Cleveland suddenly relevant. However, it is necessary to begin with, as the rest of the process works around what the established scheme must be. This is how every NFL organization should operate, finding what works best, the coaching staff to implement it, and then the players that will perform well within it.