The Cleveland Browns front seven needs help during off-season
The Cleveland Browns have some talent in the front seven, but most under performed in 2018, making the positions a priority for John Dorsey in the off-season.
The Cleveland Browns had two stars among its front seven in Myles Garrett and Joe Schobert in 2018. The Browns will probably make several moves this off-season, because the rest of the front seven fell apart last year.
The 2018 Browns defense gave up 4.7 yards per carry, making them 23rd in the NFL statistically against the run. That is usually one of the yardsticks used to measure production of the front seven. They also gave up 20 touchdowns on the ground, which was second highest in the NFL.
They generated 37 sacks, tying for only 22nd best in the NFL despite defensive end Myles Garrett amassing 13.5 sacks by himself. Garrett made the Pro Bowl this year, deservedly so, and Schobert made it the previous year at linebacker.
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For those who believe in the Pro Football Focus rating system, the Browns had no one else remotely close to an average NFL starter. At defensive tackle, Larry Ogunjobi was the 88th ranked “interior defender.” If you assume as a guess that half the teams play a 3-4 base defense, then there are approximately 48 starters in that group. 88th best implies a low second-string player.
Trevon Coley graded even lower. The best edge rusher behind Garrett was Chris Smith, ranking 82nd, with Genard Avery and Emmanuel Ogbah ranked worse. Rookie Chad Thomas was a no-show, but we can assume if he could not break into a weak rotation like the Browns’, some major improvement is necessary if he is to have a meaningful NFL career.
Linebackers other than Schobert were likewise given very low grades. Jamie Collins was ranked high enough at 58th overall to barely justify starting him (Collins will likely be cut as a salary cap move this off-season), with Christian Kirksey and Ray-Ray Amstrong ranked far below starting caliber.
We are left with the narrative that the Browns had two stars among the front seven, but everyone else on the front seven failed to produce last year. How is this possible? .
Part of the reason may be health. It’s hard to know how banged up everyone was in 2018, but in the recent past many of the same players played well. One of the under-the-radar stories of 2017 was that the Browns front seven was good for second in the NFL in yards given up per rushing attempt, behind only Denver at 3.3 yards per carry.
The defensive line was manned capably by Garrett, though he played in only 11 games during his impressive rookie season due to an ankle injury. Coley came out of nowhere to be a starter at right defensive tackle after getting cut by both Baltimore and Washington.
Big Danny Shelton, the Samoan strongman, was at the other tackle and Carl Nassib at left defensive end. Nassib was actually second string behind Emmanuel Ogbah but had more reps because of Ogbah being injured. Others in the rotation on the defensive line included Caleb Brantley, Nate Orchard, and Jamie Meder, who will always be remembered as the hero of the team’s only triumph in 2016 by blocking a kick against the Chargers.
All told, the Browns had 34 sacks, which was good for 21st in the league. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams made a point of asking for help in the secondary in the off-season. The idea being that if they could cover the receivers just a fraction of a second longer, Myles Garrett and company would increase their sack totals.
Hence prior to the 2018 season, the Browns added plenty of secondary help with Denzel Ward, Damarious Randall, and Terrence Mitchell, as well as Jabrill Peppers massively improving in his sophomore season. But the sack totals stayed about the same. The conclusion is that the pass rush, as well as run defense, was just not as strong as 2017, other than through the efforts of Myles Garrett.
At linebacker, Collins was out for most of 2017 with an injury, so Schobert and Kirksey picked up the slack by playing 100 percent of the defensive snaps. Kirksey was clearly better in 2017 than 2018. The same can be said for Coley. He seemed to tail off at the end of 2017 and never really made it back to the form that propelled him into the starting lineup.
If the problems are physical, there is some chance that Coley or Kirksey might re-emerge if they can get healthy. That situation occurred in 2014 with defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin, who struggled with the Browns, only to mount a strong comeback with the Seattle Seahawks.
But if significant improvement does not occur, there could be as many as four or even five new players in the rotation or starting. This is where the Browns need to improve their personnel. Gregg Williams was a sound tactician and very likely it was not his fault for the Browns poor play. The players really did get worse, and assuming Mr. Dorsey agrees, there will be some new blood coming in.
The prediction is that the Browns will focus their off-season efforts on these positions as a high priority. The Browns will probably use both free agency as well as the draft to acquire new talent among the front seven.