The Cleveland Browns first-team defense was dominant during the preseason, and they could be one of the most talented defenses in the entire NFL.
One of the most promising things that the Cleveland Browns showed during the preseason was how good the starting defense can be.
Throughout all four of the preseason games, the Browns first-team defense was creating plenty of problems for the opposing offense, including shutting out the Philadelphia Eagles in the “dress rehearsal.”
It was obvious last season that Cleveland had one of the best front sevens in all of football, and needed a better secondary in order to show off their talents. The Browns front office spent a lot money this off-season trying to rebuild a secondary that was constantly getting picked apart in 2017.
The improvements the Browns made even has Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger pumping up the defense ahead of their Week 1 game.
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Roethlisberger’s comment echoes the thoughts of many Browns fans, saying that Cleveland’s defense has the potential to be one of the best defenses in the league this year.
The strength of the defense is easily the defensive line. It appears that Myles Garrett is ready to take a massive step in his development, as he was a force against opposing tackles during the preseason. Should he stay healthy the entire season, which was a problem last year, he could move himself into the talk of being the best edge player in the NFL.
On the other side of Garrett is Emmanuel Ogbah, who was one of the best run stoppers on the edge last season. He was also a beneficiary of having Garrett on the other side of him, taking advantage of single blockers and sacked the quarterback four times in only ten games.
With both healthy heading into 2018, Garrett and Ogbah are one of the best duos of defensive ends in the NFL, although many fans of the NFL don’t know it yet. They are both stout against the run and both can get to the quarterback at will.
Larry Ogunjobi and Trevon Coley are not the most dominant defensive tackles, but their styles of play match perfectly. Coley excels at stopping the run as the one-tech, and Ogunjobi establishes great inside pressure on the quarterback. Both are young and still developing, but how they play next to each other is exactly what the Browns need from them.
The Browns linebackers are also one of the most talented groups in the league. Last season, both Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert were in the top five in the league in total tackles, with Schobert tied with the most in the league.
The biggest concern with the linebackers is how they struggle covering tight ends. But with Jamie Collins returning from injury, he will help cover up some of the coverage issues with his play-making abilities. The Browns are going to need Collins to stay healthy this season, as he can take a defense to the next level.
The biggest question comes in the secondary. There is talent, but most of the players need to prove that they can handle bigger roles and cover the top receivers in the league. Denzel Ward will have his hands full the first two weeks of the season facing off against Antonio Brown and Michael Thomas. In limited action, Ward has looked like he belongs and has the talent to be a top-tier cornerback.
Terrance Mitchell will be starting opposite of Ward after having a good August. His physical style matches perfectly with Gregg Williams’ scheme, but Mitchell has been prone for penalties. If Mitchell can cut down on the penalties, he has shown he can be a solid cornerback.
The Browns also have good depth with Briean Boddy-Calhoun, T.J. Carrie, and E.J. Gaines, as all having experience starting. When the Browns are in their sub packages, all three look to have big roles in the defense.
Damarious Randall and Jabrill Peppers will be manning the safety positions and both show upside. But Peppers struggled in his rookie season, and Randall will be playing safety for the first time in the NFL. If Peppers’ play improves playing in the box and Randall can be a ball hawk at free safety, they will instantly boost the entire defense.
If the secondary plays to its potential, there is no question that the Browns could have a top-ten defense in 2018. With as good of a front seven as the Browns have, opponents should have a hard time running the ball against Cleveland. As long as the secondary gives Garrett and Ogbah time to get to the quarterback, the pass defense could be as good as the run defense.
So yes, Roethlisberger may be saying something that the rest of the NFL says midway through the season. The Browns are a talented defense that could be one of the toughest defenses that opponents will face this season.