Browns defense most upgraded among AFC North competition

We've heard it all before: The Cleveland Browns always win the offseason! But this year the defense has added so much talent that it is difficult for even the most cynical among us to ignore.
Cleveland Browns Offseason Workout
Cleveland Browns Offseason Workout / Nick Cammett/GettyImages
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The 2023 Cincinnati Bengals must revamp their secondary

The Bengals were second-best in the division in terms of points allowed. However, complementary football is a real thing, and some of their apparent defensive success was due to the offense holding onto the ball and denying the opposition the ability to possess the football.

Cincy allowed only seven more points than the Ravens (322 points allowed versus 315 by Baltimore, but the Ravens’ D was on the field for 1093 snaps versus 1036 for the Bengals. Thus, the Bengals averaged 60.9 defensive snaps per game, and by taking 57 fewer snaps than the Ravens they essentially played almost an entire game less than the Ravens.

Still, the Bengals were busy signing offensive players also, while waving goodbye to three prominent members of their 2022 secondary in S Jessie Bates, S Von Bell and CB Eli Apple and they signed S Nick Scott, who played both SS and FS for the Rams, collecting 86 tackles in 2022. The Bengals keep on having injury problems on the offensive line in the playoffs, so they are building a very deep offensive line this season. Their paranoia is understandable, given the immense value of Joe Burrow.

They drafted defense this year, selecting DE Myles Murphy in the first round, CB D.J. Turner in Round 2, and SS Jordan Battle in Round 3. The rookies will have to play right away in the thin defensive backfield. The Bengals have drafted well in recent seasons and thus their first three rounds will probably yield acceptable NFL starters in their first season, but they are drafting at the bottom of the round now, rather than the top. No more generational talent guys like Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase.

The net result is that they lost three-fourths of their starting secondary, and they signed one veteran and they hope to fix the rest with Day 2 rookies from the draft. They like young corner Cam Taylor-Britt, who was improving rapidly in his rookie season, despite a relatively low grade from PFF. If they set the over/under at 322 points allowed for the 2023 season, the same as last season, let’s take the over, and the weakness will be through the air.

Bengals give up: S Jessie Bates, S Vonn Bell, CB Eli Apple.

Bengals get: S Nick Scott.

Bengals draft: DE Myles Murphy (Round 1), CB D.J. Turner (Round 2), SS Jordan Battle (Round 3).

The Browns, though shallow at cornerback, are not as shallow as the Bengals, and the Browns are vastly superior at safety. The fact that Cincinnati added a first-round draft pick doesn't give them a player to compete with Za’Darius Smith, and let’s not even talk about The Superman. Hands down, Cleveland's defensive ends are better than the Bengals' defensive ends.

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah had an off-year last season, so the Bengals linebackers score higher than the Browns, and the Bengals deserve an edge at defensive tackle because D.J. Reader is really, really good. In 2022, it was a massive edge because the Browns were forced to use players ranked 90th in the NFL or worse.

Still, the real problem is losing three starters in the defensive backfield. That is going to hurt the Bengals. It's not impossible that they might improve upon last season's points-allowed total, but more likely we'll see Cincinnati give up some more passing yardage this season due to the lack of experience in their secondary.

Picking up a defensive back or two might not be a bad idea if the opportunity arises.