Who could forget Rob Ryan? The Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator from 2009-10 became a celebrity among the NFL circles. He was boisterous. He was confident. He swore. He didn't care what others thought.
His defense was… ok.
Ryan is now the defensive coordination of the Browns' opponent Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys defense is… ok.
"You always look back at what they've liked to do at other places," Browns coach Pat Shurmur said on Friday. "Then it's important to watch the coordinator working with the players he has and the situation that he's in. I'm sure we're going to see wrinkles. Having some knowledge of what he likes to do may help. We'll see."
In nine games, the Cowboys are ranked near the top third in defensive yards allowed per game (eighth at 318.8), rushing yards allowed (13th at 105.2) and passing yards (seventh at 213.6). Not great, but not bad either. OK.
Ryan's personality is associated with an aggressive-style of defense. That means Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden should expecting blitzes early and often.
"I don't think Rob's afraid to really blitz anybody," Shurmur said. "I don't think he's blitzing anywhere near maybe what I would have envisioned. When you say Rob Ryan and his defense, at least that's the evidence that I see laid out in the games they've played so far. Are they playing good defense? Yeah. They are playing a lot of man-to-man? Absolutely. Will they blitz you occasionally? Yeah, but I don't see it as a steady, one after another after another after another. Does he have the capability? I'm sure he does. I'd just prefer he doesn't bring it out of the can this week."
Weeden will be under fire from more than the Cowboys' defense. In his last outing Nov. 4 in a 22-15 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, Weeden finished 20-for-37 passing for 176 yards with two interceptions. Weeden now has 12 interceptions to nine touchdowns on the season, including four in the season-opening loss to Philadelphia Eagles 17-16 on Sept. 9.
"We never want to throw interceptions," Weeden said. "My aggressive manor and mindset sometimes gets me in trouble. I'm not going to take that away from myself. I have to take care of the football."
Seven games remain for Weeden to showcase his aggressive skills are what the Browns want and need from their quarterback position moving forward. Like it or not, the Browns' new brass are auditioning their quarterback in their final seven games.
Weeden has played like a rookie at times. Other times, he's shown abilities no Browns quarterback has shown since 1999. In this final seven-game stretch, only the Steelers (twice) and the Broncos appear to be the only opponents battling for a playoff spot. Yes, that includes the 4-5 Cowboys. And the Steelers starting quarterback may not return this season.
These seven games are winnable for the Browns, including the first one at Dallas this Sunday. The time for moral victories with this young team is over. It is time to starting winning to show everyone from fans to CEOs that this group of young players is headed on the right path.
"We've been pretty beat up this season," Browns running back Trent Richardson said. "For us, we're just trying to turn this place around. Take it one day at a time, one game at a time and try to get to that point where we're always winning."