5 reasons the Browns defense underperforms expectations

Browns, Myles Garrett. Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
Browns, Myles Garrett. Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Browns defense has disappointed this season, and there are at least five reasons for it, none of which are necessarily the fault of defensive coordinator Joe Woods. 

The Cleveland Browns defense has been a major disappointment this season, as many observers felt that they could be a top-five unit in 2022. Even after a great performance against the quarterback-less Houston Texans, the numbers say they are a below-average unit, giving up 25.0 points per game, and also ranking below average in terms of opponent’s yards given up.

The original game plan for this season was that the Browns would be one of the top rushing teams in the NFL, while Jacoby Brissett would hold the passing game together and the defense would hold the opposition, allowing the Browns to win games in the absence of Deshaun Watson. It didn’t quite work that way, with the result being a 4-7 record under Brissett.

They performed well against Houston, but the Texans were missing top receiver Brandin Cooks, and playing with journeyman Kyle Allen at quarterback. A win is a win, but the Texans are not exactly the Greatest Show on Turf.

Joe Woods tends to receive much of the blame for the underperforming defense. Fans are calling for his scalp and demanding a more aggressive blitz-happy, gambling style of defense. Of course, that means man-to-man coverage in the defensive secondary, which really means the Browns would get torched more often than they generate sacks, based on their performance to date.

Woods aside, there are a number of reasons for the difficulties on defense, beginning with the off-the-field exploits of resident superstar, Myles Garrett, which unfortunately impacted the team materially this season.

5 reasons the Browns defense underperforms expectations

Myles Garrett, Browns
Myles Garrett, Browns. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

5. Myles Garrett’s bad driving habits have hurt the team

When Buddy Ryan was coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, he used to tell Reggie White, “You’re the best player I’ve ever seen. But you’re not as good as you could be.”

Both statements were huge, coming from an all-time great defensive coach to an all-time great player.

Ryan was always exhorting White to find another level and he turned out to be right, as White went from All-Pro to Hall of Famer under his tutelage. The same may be true of Myles Garrett. We have never had a defensive talent like this in Cleveland. When he’s on the field and healthy, he’s unbelievably fast, dominant, strong, and able to separate quarterbacks from footballs like no one else.

Garrett no doubt believes that he’s fully committed to his craft, taking care of himself and training all out. However, he stopped himself this season because his off-the-field eccentricities took precedence over his football career. Namely, he likes to drive cars too fast.

Fundamentally a kind-hearted person, he sought to save the life of a squirrel who ran out on the road in front of him, took evasive action, lost control of his Porsche 911, and struck a fire hydrant, injuring himself and his female passenger. The squirrel was able to suit up and play the next week.

Garrett has had a sore shoulder ever since. Fortunately, the Browns had a left shoulder brace left behind by Baker Mayfield, which Garrett has been wearing all season long and that has helped him out. However, he missed the Atlanta game, which the Browns lost by only three points after giving up two sustained drives in the fourth quarter, and he appeared to be sub-par in game five, a two-point loss to the Chargers that also went down to the wire.

Both games were regarded as defensive breakdowns by Cleveland. So, shall we blame Joe Woods’ bad play calling, the squirrel, the fire hydrant, or Garrett’s lack of discipline on the road?

As great as Garrett has been thereafter, might he have been just a little better playing with a healthy shoulder?

Players on championship teams need to sacrifice the obvious things like drinking and drugging. But perhaps they also need to be not doing things like dunking basketballs or driving too fast or other activities that the team believes constitute an unnecessary injury risk.

Certainly, there could be a discussion about how much commitment is necessary to win a Championship, and how much off-the-field fun might actually be healthy for a winning culture. However, in general, players who won’t sacrifice key parts of their lifestyles to win a Championship finish second.

Yes, Garrett is the best defensive talent we have ever seen in Cleveland. But he is not as good as he could be. The team needs the best version of Myles Garrett possible every Sunday to be at its best.