The Cleveland Browns defensive success will depend on their linebackers
New Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry had every opportunity to improve one of the worst linebacker groups of 2019 this past offseason, and instead, the room appears to be even worse. Pro Bowler Joe Schobert was never offered a legitimate contract, and he is to be replaced by free agent B.J. Goodson and rookie third-rounder Jacob Phillips.
This was the plan all along; outside of the rare talent, the linebacker position is going the way of the running back. It is almost always more valuable to have a defensive back on the field rather than a linebacker, which is why so many teams (the Browns included) are moving toward a nickel base. In fact, defensive coordinator Joe Woods wants to eventually run a dime base, keeping just one LB on the field.
In theory, swapping out linebackers for defensive backs increases the amount of speed on the defense, and improves the unit’s coverage ability. The problem is that in order to take advantage of these benefits, a team must have the correct personnel in the secondary. Even before the devastating Grant Delpit injury, the Browns were not particularly deep at safety, and that combined with the injuries they’ve suffered at cornerback could lead to some issues.
It just so happens that the Browns take on the division-rival Baltimore Ravens to kick off the season, and there is perhaps no offense that is better at taking advantage of weak LB play than the Ravens.