The Cleveland Browns made a wise decision in adding Andrew Billings, who will free up Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi more as pass rushers.
The free agent acquisition of defensive tackle Andrew Billings was a smart move by the Cleveland Browns. Billings was added via one-year deal for only $3.5 million guaranteed, and the former Cincinnati Bengal could be of plenty of use as a run defender.
Billings was a piece the Bengals were able to rely on as an interior run defender for three years, including this past season, of which he started 14 games and made 35 tackles. That was a career-best to this point for him, and he also had four tackles for loss.
Billings has shown the ability at 310 pounds to occupy multiple blockers in the run game. For the Browns, that should help out Larry Ogunjobi and Sheldon Richardson considerably. He’ll be more effective in that way than Eli Ankou, and realistically, rookie Jordan Elliot, too.
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Along with that, as last season wore on, the defensive line wore down, and Ogunjobi and Richardson were not able to generate nearly as much interior pass rush.
With Billings in the interior defensive line rotation for the Cleveland Browns, expect more pass rushing emphasis for Ogunjobi and Richardson.
With both of those pieces being the key interior pass rushers for Cleveland, having Billings mixed in with them a fair amount on early downs should preserve them more in the rushing sense, as DPD’s Dan Justik emphasized.
Moreover, with the Cleveland Browns giving up the third-most rushing yards in the NFL last season, per Pro Football Reference, having Billings’ stout presence should help keep edge defenders such as Myles Garrett, Olivier Vernon and Chad Thomas cleaner. That’s if Vernon, who was only active in 10 games last season due to a knee injury, is healthier, and of course, seemingly if he agrees to pay cut.
In addition, with Billings being able to greatly help prevent other defensive linemen from being washed down, that should keep linebackers Mack Wilson, B.J. Goodson, and rookie Jacob Phillips cleaner. The same goes for Karl Joseph to an extent, who could be a big contributor in the box as a hybrid safety/linebacker.
Furthermore, with Billings’ impact on the interior in the run game as a “one-tech” as Justik highlighted, Richardson and Ogunjobi should be healthier/fresher as the season progresses overall. With that hopefully being the case, it’d allow for more five-man pressure packages throughout games for defensive coordinator Joe Woods as well.
Granted, Billings is solid as an interior rusher, too, and did have four quarterback hits last season, but that’s not what the Browns were prioritizing by signing him. Billings’ yeoman’s work in the run game should keep Richardson and Ogunjobi more healthy as the season progresses, given less run game burden, as was alluded to.
The 24-year-old Billings is again much more viable in that realm than Ankou/Elliot, and realistically should be more effective in a higher percentage of snaps.
Billings played 61 percent of the Bengals’ defensive snaps last season, and while Cincy was the league’s worst run defense in 2019, Billings was hardly the reason for that. He plugged gaps consistently, whereas there was often inconsistency across the board at other levels.
For the Browns in 2020, Billings’ skill-set should further preserve Richardson and Ogunjobi to get after opposing quarterbacks in passing situations, as opposed to last season, when they didn’t often have that luxury.
Plus, with Garrett’s rushing presence, veteran free agent acquisition Adrian Clayborn, feasibly Vernon, and Thomas, who improved last season, the pass rush should be more consistent on passing downs with Billings likely doing his work on earlier downs.