The Cleveland Browns defense had another down year in 2019. If a few key players can deliver, can the 2020 defense become one of the league's best?
Despite the promising offseason, the Cleveland Browns defensive unit failed to produce in a high caliber way. According to NFL.com, the Browns defense ranked 30th in run defense, 22nd in total yards per game, and 20th in points per game. In order to be a playoff contender, the defensive numbers have to drastically improve.
In order for the defensive statistics to be better than 2019, the Browns must stop the run, and get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks — something that didn't happen in 2019 outside of Myles Garrett. Missed tackles were also an enormous issue for the Browns last year, but it can be fixed.
Fortunately for the Browns, they have the talent on their defense to be a better unit in 2020. Several of the players drafted in recent years have developed into legitimate players and will continue to get better.
Here are 3 players that must step up for the Cleveland Browns defense in 2020.
Honorable mentions: Denzel Ward, Greedy Williams
When Denzel Ward is on the field, Ward is a dominant, lock-down corner that can take away half of the field. The problem with Ward is he is not consistently on the field for the Browns defense. He sat 3 games as a rookie and 4 games this past season with injuries. Ward needs to gain weight and strength this offseason to help develop durability. We need him on the field for the Browns in 2020.
Greedy Williams is naturally gifted with great size and speed and has what it takes to be a top corner in this league. In 2019, he showed real promise, but only in flashes. He struggled to tackle consistently and sat out a few games due to injury. If Williams can work on tacking in space, he will be much improved in 2020.
3. Sheldrick Redwine, Safety
Safety Sheldrick Redwine was selected in the 4th round of last year’s draft out of the University of Miami, Florida. He started the last 5 games in 2019 as a rookie due to players being out. He showed promise in his few chances throughout the season.
The Browns safety room was plagued with injuries as Demarious Randall was banged up most of the year, Morgan Burnett hurt his Achilles in week 11 and was out the rest of the year, Eric Murray was banged up for a large portion of the year, and Jermaine Whitehead was released.
With Randall likely leaving in free agency and the future of Burnett unknown, Redwine steps into the forefront. An athletic, fast player who enjoys playing downhill, Redwine needs to be able to fill the role Randall will leave.
A sure tackler, Randall was one of the bright spots on the team in terms of tackling in the secondary. Sheldrick Redwine, at 6 feet and 196 pounds, is more than capable of making the play in the box and in open field.
Browns fans should get familiar with seeing Redwine in the orange and brown. He can make explosive plays for our defense and will be a key to turning the defense around.
2. Olivier Vernon, Defensive end
Defensive end Olivier Vernon had an up and down year. An injury in Week 9 against Denver derailed the rest of his season. Prior to the injury, he had spurts of dominance and times when he would disappear.
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What he did do well – set the edge against the run. He played a huge factor in not allowing runs to bounce outside of him. While he does not get in the stat book for that, he prevents what could be a huge play. It is then up to the other defenders to corral and tackle the back.
What he struggled with – getting pressure on the quarterback consistently and keeping contain on mobile quarterbacks. With Myles Garrett lined up opposite of him, there were expectations that he could exploit tackles one-on-one and get sacks.
He only finished the season with a disappointing 3.5 sacks. On several occasions, he also let opposing quarterbacks leave the pocket and make plays. He has to eliminate those errors in 2020.
Luckily, Vernon is capable of much more than what he showed in 2019. In his last full season with 16 games played, Vernon had 8.5 sacks and has had as high as 11.5 sacks in a year before. While these are not top tier numbers, they are certainly still productive. Again, he has been and will continue to be extremely good at setting the edge on run plays. He can close gaps using his strength.
Vernon can certainly produce sack levels between 7-11. He just has to stay healthy and stay aggressive. With Garrett putting intense pressure opposite him, Vernon needs to capitalize on his opportunities.
The Browns need the powerful Vernon to assert his dominance and get pressure in the backfield. If he can consistently produce for the Browns defense, expect a much better year for the unit.
1. Myles Garrett, Defensive end
Defensive end Myles Garrett is widely considered the Browns' best player. He was playing as such until Week 11 against the Pittsburgh Steelers when he struck quarterback Mason Rudolph in the head with his helmet. He was then suspended for the rest of the year and possibly more.
The defense was completely different with the departure of Garrett. He's an absolute dominant presence and is almost impossible to block. Opposing offenses have to game plan for him. He draws chips from running backs and tight ends, double teams, and even triple teams. Sending extra blockers on Garrett frees up our other players to make plays.
Garrett also excels at run defense. Often times it may go unnoticed, but Garrett forces run plays to be stretched out for no gain. He is athletic and strong enough to keep leverage and chase backs to the sideline before they can turn up the field. Even if he did not actually make the tackle, he certainly made the play. He is the motor of the Cleveland defense.
Offenses cannot run long-developing pass plays with Garrett on the field and he causes opposing quarterbacks to have a short internal clock and flush the pocket or make poor decisions. This results in the secondary only having to cover for short periods of time. The impact Garrett has on the game is hard to quantify.
Unfortunately, when not on the field, he gives the Browns none of that.
The Browns need Myles to work all offseason and come back with a chip on his shoulder. He should be ready and hungry to play football again. Watch for Myles to have an incredible year and lead the defense to much better numbers.