The Cleveland Cavaliers fell short of an NBA Title, losing 4-2 to the Golden State Warriors. Yet the Cavs captured the city of Cleveland's hearts with their style of play, not just with their success. The Cavs won two games in the Finals without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
They won with defense. They won with effort. They won by pounding the ball and grinding the clock.
They won that way because they had to. With both Irving and Love unavailable, the Cavs focused on the things that they were good at and became very good at them. Obviously having LeBron James helps but even he changed his style of play to fit what was best for the team.
The Finals version of the Cavs is a great representative of what the Cleveland Browns are likely to be this season:
Defense. Effort. Pounding the ball. Grinding the clock.
Yet, while the fans embraced the "Grit Squad" Cavaliers, Browns fans are full of consternation toward a similarly built team. How similar?
The Cavs became great on defense with Matthew Dellavedova, Iman Shumpert, Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov starting around LeBron. They were able to make it difficult from the best offense in the NBA, winning two games and almost pulling out a 3rd victory in Game 1.
The Browns have put a ton of resources toward building an elite defense. Their secondary is great with the Joe Haden, Tramon Williams, Tashaun Gipson and Donte Whitner as starters, plus K'Waun Williams, Pierre Desir, Justin Gilbert and others providing great depth. They added Randy Starks, Danny Shelton, Xavier Cooper and Nate Orchard to provide talent and depth to their front 7.
The Browns defense, like the Cavs defense, is built to keep the team in every game. The aggressive nature of the Cavs defense made the Warriors have to adjust their style. The Browns hope to force their defensive will upon their opponents, forcing them to adjust their style.
Thankfully for the Browns, their defense doesn't also have to play offense. That caused problems for the Cavs on the other end of the floor but the Browns will turn things over to Special Teams and then their Offense.
Pound the Ball
The Cavs slowed the pace of the games by pounding the ball into the ground which helped grind the clock down. This kept the ball out of the hands of the more offensively talented Warriors. This allowed the Cavs to play their style of game instead of allowing the Warriors control the pace.
For the Browns the plan is to do this with their run game. With a great defense, the Browns can shorten the game by getting 1st downs with their running backs. Instead of getting chunks of yards, but also risking turnovers, the Browns will look to get 4 and 5 yards at a time.
Much like LeBron's ball pounding offense, especially driving to the hole, opens up things for outside shooters, the Browns play action passing can excel. Succeeding with the run will open up passing plays for the Browns receivers and tight ends. Getting defenders peaking into the backfield, and even taking a step forward, will give space for pass catchers to make an impact.
The comparison between LeBron and the Browns run game is an interesting one. LeBron is obviously the best player in the NBA but his style of play in the NBA Finals correlates well with the Browns run game. The Browns have one of the Top 5 offensive lines and hope to have 3 running backs to excel behind it. LeBron is elite, the Browns offensive line is elite and their backs can be.
Elite defense and pounding the ball are complimentary ways of playing both basketball and football. Because of their limited offensive talent, the Cavs had to play great defense. Play a slow it down, grind the clock style offense helped compliment the defense they were playing on the other end.
For the Browns, and the NFL in general, this is good practice. Peyton Manning led teams have done a great job of this. Because they have a QB that can score in bunches, the Colts and Broncos have invested in pass rushers. With Manning likely to push the score, it made sense to invest in Dwight Freeney and others instead of investing in run stopping defenders.
A solid run game will give the defense time to rest. The defense takes the pressure off the offense from having to score a ton of points. Instead they work together to make each others lives easier.
The Cavs, like the Browns, went against the grain of their sport. Both the NBA and the NFL are trending toward more and more offense. The Cavs made a valiant effort to win going against the grain, the Browns are attempting to do the same.
Will Things Change?
Interestingly, for both the Cavs and the Browns, some of this will change. For the Cavs it is simple: Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving will be returning next season (most likely). When they return, the Cavs defense just won't be as great but their offense will be through the roof.
For the Browns there is far more uncertainty. The Browns have all of their draft picks next year and have done a great job of building depth on defense, running back and offensive line. They may need to replace Alex Mack, Karlos Dansby and Donte Whitner over the next couple of years but have drafted replacements in case they do.
For the Browns to change the way we expect the Cavs to, quarterback, wide receiver and tight end positions may need addressed. If Johnny Manziel somehow becomes a quality QB or they draft a starter in the 1st Round, it will be huge for them taking the next step.
Without a quality quarterback, bringing in a stud wide receiver and tight end may be somewhat pointless. Much like Love's time in Minnesota, where he wasn't surrounded by talent that could get him the ball, pass catchers may be misused without a quality QB.
The Browns have two receivers who I think will be good to great: Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel. Much like Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith, Hawk and TG can be great in their roles but will flourish with attention given to the LeBron type run game and playmakers in the Love/Irving roles.
At this point, assuming Manziel is not for sure the answer, the Browns could draft a quarterback, a couple receivers and a tight end in next year's NFL Draft without blinking an eye. Barring injury, the team's roster is talented across the board.
What becomes interesting for the Browns is that adding talented offensive players doesn't directly impact their run game or defense like it does for the Cavs.
What is the Point Jared?
The Cavs set a framework for what we should expect from the Cleveland Browns this upcoming season. There are tons of differences between the two sports and the two teams. However, the Cavs won 2 (almost 3) games in the NBA Finals with defense, pounding the ball and grinding the clock. The Browns will try to win similarly.
Will you get behind the Browns the way Cleveland got behind the Cavs? I hope so. It may not be pretty but the Browns can win a bunch of games, a playoff spot is not out of the question.
No one believed in the Cavs once Irving went down but they showed heart. They represented our city and our fans perfectly. The Browns are going to attempt to do the same next year.
Can the Browns win with the same style as the Cavs?
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