Cleveland Browns new defensive coordinator Ray Horton, 52 years old, may not have the hairstyle befitting a man of his age, but he does have three new defensive players that fit quite well with his coaching philosophies.
This is an excellent sign for a Browns defense that has failed to excel at stopping opponents.
In the early stages of free agency, the Browns signed linebacker Paul Kruger and defensive tackle Desmond Bryant to two contracts worth almost $75 million. Add in linebacker Quentin Groves for almost $3 million and that's some serious cash.
There appears to be a reason for the Browns' spending spree and it lies with these three traits: smart, disciplined, but with the ability to play aggressive.
Aggressive is the new buzzword in Berea. No longer do the Browns hammer on incessantly about "the process" or how they "battled." Horton's defenders, clad in burnt orange and seal brown, will be coming for the other team's quarterback.
Horton's mentor is Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. Horton broke into the league as a defensive back with the Cincinnati Bengals where LeBeau was on the coaching staff. Then, during Horton's coaching career, LeBeau hired him once in Cincinnati and once in Pittsburgh.
As a result, Horton likes to blitz because he likes to create pressure by his defenders playing fast and aggressive.
It is a hallmark of the Steelers' defenses. Their front seven is aggressive, but they will rarely be out of position. It is how Kruger plays football.
Kruger isn't the kind of linebacker you want playing in space. Sure, dropping back in a zone he's adequate, but his true skills come against the run and against the quarterback.
His awareness is top notch. Kruger is rarely out of position against the run and he has above average closing speed, which comes in handy when tracking down ball carriers or quarterbacks. Fittingly, Kruger finished last season with career highs in sacks (nine), passes defense (six) and tackles (30).
And we are all aware of how strong the Ravens were against the run.
And what about Bryant?
Bryant played right defensive tackle in Oakland's 4-3 scheme. Now, he'll be an end in Horton's 3-4. Like Kruger, Bryant is solid against the run and can also get to the quarterback.
According to Pro Football Focus, Bryant (6-foot-6, 300 pounds) ranked fourth among defense tackles for his 35 total quarterback pressures. Finally, you want smarts? Bryant went to Harvard.
As Horton schemes his players to get after the quarterback and a byproduct of that aggressiveness is the ability to stop the run.
In 2010, a year before Horton became the defensive coordinator in Arizona, the Cardinals were 29th in yards allowed (373.6) and 30th against the run (145.2). A year later they were tied for 14th in yards allowed (355.1) and 12th against the run (124.1).
Finally, last season the Cardinals were back to being under .500, but the defense wasn't the problem save for the 58-0 loss to Seattle in Week 14. According to an article on Horton in the Jan. 5 edition of the USA Today if you take away that blowout loss, "the Cardinals ranked 12th overall for yards allowed, and fifth against the pass. The unit also allowed the lowest cumulative passer rating by opposing quarterbacks, 71.2."
Moreover, FoxSportsArizona.com looked at advanced stats weighted for schedule, field position and other factors and, "Arizona's defense ranked sixth overall (last) season after finishing 20th in 2011."
So, you limit the effectiveness of the opposing team's quarterback and slow their running game? Seems like a winning formula especially since the Browns have done little in either area since 1999.
Finally, Groves, a lesser-known free agency signing, is expected to play the same position he did in Arizona a season ago - left outside linebacker. Groves is coming off a career year where, according to Browns coach Rob Chudzinski, "really blossomed in the 3-4."
Last season, he played in all 16 games and recorded four sacks, 46 tackles and one forced fumble. Groves, who had 2.5 sacks his rookie year with Jacksonville in 2008, did not have a sack from 2009-11.
It is a good start for Horton, who by all accounts brings a much-needed scheme to a perennial porous Browns' defense. More importantly, it appears the Browns are helping Horton achieve his goals by providing him with the right players for his scheme.
Novel concept, eh? It's one that might just work – even in Cleveland.