The Cleveland Browns officially hired Gregg Williams to run the defense. What can fans expect from the team’s new defensive coordinator?
The Cleveland Browns made it official on Sunday by announcing that they have hired Gregg Williams to be the team’s defensive coordinator.
Williams, a 26-year NFL veteran who has spent 15 of those years as a defensive coordinator, replaces Ray Horton, who was “relived” of his duties (according to the Browns) after his second one-and-done stint in Cleveland.
“He is one of the better coordinators in the National Football League, and I think that is proven,” head coach Hue Jackson said on Sunday. “The guy has a ton of skins on the wall doing this in a lot of different places with a lot of different players and a lot of different systems. I need growth over there as fast as I can get it. I truly believe in his track record and what he has done.
“Like I said, this wasn’t an easy decision. I agonized over this probably more than anybody because it does, it does hurt some people, but when I look at it at the end of the day, I have to do what I think is right to get us to where we need to be. I think Gregg is that guy.”
So now that Jackson has corrected one of his biggest mistakes, it’s time to start looking at just what the Browns have in Williams.
Williams spent the past three seasons with the Los Angeles Rams and the Rams defense was ninth in overall defense in 2016 in yards allowed (337 per game), which is nice, but were 23rd in points allowed (24.6 per game), which is not so good.
“He comes from a 4-3 system. He comes from a 3-4 system. He has done a little bit of it all,” – Head coach Hue Jackson on Gregg Williams
That could be a result of the Rams playing rookie quarterback Jarod Goff the past eight weeks of the season, but the points per game were only a slight uptick from what the Rams gave up in 2015 (20.6) and 2014 (22.1).
So is Williams just another version of Horton – a coordinator that fans have heard of but isn’t very good? To try and find out, we turned to Michael Moraitis (@MichaelMoraitis) from Ramblin’ Fan for some insight.
“I think the Rams did make a mistake letting Williams go, but it isn’t surprising considering he is a Jeff Fisher guy and wasn’t happy about Fisher being fired,” Moraitis said. “Williams did a solid job with the Rams and definitely got the most out of the defense. The two problems his defense had this year was that they allowed a lot points per game and they blew fourth-quarter leads. The former wasn’t surprising considering the Rams offense was dreadful and couldn’t sustain drives, so Williams can’t directly be blamed for that. The latter is probably more of a personnel issue, but it’s something to watch for in Cleveland.
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“Overall the Rams defense was a lone bright spot for the team last season despite some ups and downs, so Williams certainly deserves credit for doing a good job overall. He isn’t a miracle worker though, so if the Browns can put some pieces in place that fit his system, he’ll turn the defense around rather quickly.”
An offense that can’t sustain drives, a defense that gives up points in the fourth quarter and allows too many points overall? Yeah, we’re pretty familiar with that.
But the Browns have the making of a nice nucleus on defense with Emmanuel Ogbah, Danny Shelton, Christian Kirksey and Jamie Collins (if he re-signs with the team). They also have an opportunity to add some major defensive help in the 2017 NFL Draft, so hopefully personnel won’t be an issue for much longer.
If/when the Browns get the players in place, just what will be they doing under Williams? Bucky Brooks at NFL.com gave an overview of Williams’ defensive philosophy back in 2014 when Williams was first hired by the Rams.
"Williams will use every front in the book. At his core, though, he’s a 4-3 over/under guy. He implements a defensive audible system that adapts to offensive formations, allowing his guys to be in the best possible call on every down. Although the complex nature of the scheme puts a ton of pressure on the linebackers and safeties to make adjustments, it is a system that produces outstanding results when mastered."
"On passing downs, Williams certainly isn’t afraid to mix in a variety of blitzes from exotic looks — including some Okie fronts (3-4 or nickel 3-3 packages) — as well as the standard 4-2-5 nickel front. He will order up Cover 0 all-out blitzes in any area of the field, which makes him the ultimate gambler as a play-caller. I’ve talked to many of his former players over the past few years, and they’ve raved about his aggressiveness and attack mentality."
Browns fans should be excited about the idea of a Browns defense taking on the identity of being aggressive and attacking, but the part about the system doing well “when mastered” should give everyone pause.
It is going to take time for the players to pick up what Williams wants them to do, which means there will still be some rough Sunday’s come this fall. Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has said he is going to give this rebuild time to work, and his commitment maybe tested come the fall.
There is another key point in Brooks’ story, which is that Williams wants a “dominant safety” as the “designated playmaker in the middle of the field.”
The Browns do not have anyone on the roster that currently fits that description, so that could be an indicator of where they will look early in the draft.
While the defense may struggle at times while they learn’s the new system, there are a few areas that they should quickly pick up on, one of which is accountability.
According to Matt Bowen, who played under Williams for two years in Washington and wrote a 2013 article for Bleacher Report (h/t to Jeremy Somerville @SomervilleCLE), it didn’t take long for Williams to get his message across:
"Within five minutes during that first meeting, I knew this was the guy I wanted to play for. He commanded that meeting room, spoke with supreme confidence and let us know right away that things were going to change at Redskins Park in Ashburn, Va."
"Hey, Williams can coach. He can motivate. And he absolutely demands accountability from his players. Forget contracts, where you were drafted, etc."
"Miss tackles? Bust coverages? Give up plays over the top? Well, then you are probably going to sit."
Browns players also need to be ready to put in work during the week, according to Bowen:
"His meetings reminded me of college-level courses that combined chalkboard sessions with film work. I still have the notebooks from my time in Washington, and they are filled with concepts, blitzes, coverages and so on."
"I thought I knew how to study tape, but that wasn’t the case. Under Williams, I really learned the NFL game. Instead of “watching the tape,” I let the film tell me a story."
"The meetings were no joke, and we were tested every day when the film started rolling. Williams had no problem putting you on the spot to answer questions, identify concepts or offensive schemes."
That all sounds good but, again, it is no guarantee of success. Although with as bad as the Browns defense played under Horton, the team has nowhere to go but up.
“The plan is to improve these players every way that we can. I would hope that our young players do take the next jump next year and become huge contributing members to our football team,” Jackson said. “As I said, we are going to put other players on this football team who as well need to be developed and placed within our system and play extremely well and play extremely hard.
“That is what I am chasing. I have a vision of what I want our defense to play like and look like, and I am going to get that. That is what I am looking forward to.”
It may have been an easy choice for Jackson to move on from Horton, but now the hard work starts over again. If Jackson is right, then the Browns defense should be fun to watch in the coming years.
And if he’s wrong? Then the defensive coordinator may not be the only one being “relieved of his duties” next time.