Two key takeaways from the Cleveland Browns two Preseason games so: The offense could be great and the defense could be terrible.
This is especially concerning given how many draft assets have been put into the defense over the last couple of years.
Maybe the return of John Hughes and Joe Haden will make a difference. Maybe all of the youngsters just need more time in a real defensive system, unlike the last two years, and we will see development early in the Regular Season. Maybe the Browns are just showing vanilla schemes for now and will flip the switch when in Week 1.
More likely, the defense will struggle. They can't stop the run, at all. Haden is a good corner but struggled greatly last year and is returning from a recent surgery. The rest of the Browns secondary is uncertain at best. The Front 7 will likely depend on first and second-year players to get a pass rush, and have struggled so far.
Are the Browns just left with the hope of a good offense and a terrible defense leading to another losing season?
Those that have followed the Cleveland Cavaliers for years know about Sasha Pavolic. The big shooting guard once told a coach that "My defense is my offense." The thought was that if he scored enough, it didn't matter how bad his defense was.
A dumb, supposedly joking, statement but one that may apply to the Browns this season but maybe not as bad as it seems.
We only have to look back to the Peyton Manning led Indianapolis Colts for an idea of how an offense can be a key for a defense.
(Disclaimer: Will not be comparing Robert Griffin III to Manning besides the fact that both play QB and could lead high power offenses.)
Since Manning played over a decade with the Colts, I will just pull data from his MVP and Super Bowl appearances with the Colts as comparisons. Manning won four MVPs and went to two Super Bowls, one MVP season was in his 2nd SB appearance so I will look at 5 years.
2003 MVP Season: Offense: 3rd Overall, 1st in Passing, 19th in Rushing. Defense: 11th Overall, 5th in Passing, 20th in Rushing, 23rd in Sacks, 11th in INTs
2004 MVP Season: Offense: 2nd Overall, 1st in Passing, 15th in Rushing. Defense: 29th Overall, 28th in Passing, 24th in Rushing, 3rd in Sacks, 9th in INTs
2006 SB Season: Offense: 3rd Overall, 2nd in Passing, 18th in Rushing. Defense: 21th Overall, 2nd in Passing, 32nd in Rushing, 30th in Sacks, 20th in INTs
2008 MVP Season: Offense: 15th Overall, 5th in Passing, 31st in Rushing. Defense: 11th Overall, 6th in Passing, 24th in Rushing, 16th in Sacks, 11th in INTs
2009 SB/MVP Season: Offense: 9th Overall, 2nd in Passing, 32nd in Rushing. Defense: 18th Overall, 14th in Passing, 24th in Rushing, 16th in Sacks, 15th in INTs
One more number that matters when looking at these 5 seasons, the Colts records: 12-4, 12-4, 12-4, 12-4, 14-2
I am certain, every Browns fan would take those final records.
So what might we glean from these numbers? First, the Colts passing offense was never worse than 5th while it never was better than middle of the league in rushing (15th) with a few years at the bottom. Second, the defense was never in the top half in stopping the run but was very good (3 of 5) and good (1 other season) for 4 out of 5 seasons.
The narrative during Manning's seasons in Indy was simple: Manning's offense gets the lead, the opponent are forced to throw and the Colts defense puts pressure on the offense that is predictable. While it doesn't show in the sack numbers every season, the Colts put a ton of pressure on QBs which led to INTs and short series.
When defenders are not worried about the run, they can attack the quarterback and the defensive backfield can know that the ball will be out quick, allowing them to be aggressive in coverage.
This obviously left their run defense vulnerable but with the Manning led, powerful offense, the defense was okay with giving up rushing yards as the opponent couldn't afford long, clock-consuming drives when they were down.
Obviously, Griffin is no Manning but he could hold the reigns of a drastically improved offense. The combination of his deep throws, ability to run and a variety of big, fast, quick, long and reliable pass catchers could put a ton of pressure on defenses. We have seen the Griff to Terrelle Pryor deep ball. Adding Josh Gordon and rookie Corey Coleman (as Hue Jackson talks about in the above video), the receiver group could keep defensive coordinators up at night.
Instead of the Browns defense having to guess run or pass, if the offense can be explosive, get the lead and scare the opponent, the defense can focus on one dimension. Even a quick 7-0 lead, the Browns offense, which also includes dynamic back Duke Johnson, reliable Gary Barnidge and a few rookies with great upside, would be menacing on the sideline. The pressure on the opposition to score before Griff gets the ball again would be great.
It worked in Indy. Teams would make decisions based solely on the Colts offensive firepower. Many of the decisions were poor and fed right into Manning's hands.
The Browns and Griffin have a long way to go before they will demand that kind of respect but if they do, the offense will be key to the defense this year.
Imagine a Browns defense that doesn't worry about the run, can pin their ears back and force poor decisions because they know their offense can score at a moments notice! That freedom can't be measured. That confidence is hard to grasp but easy to see.
Griffin, Pryor, Gordon, Coleman, Johnson, Barnidge and the rest of the offense might be the most important players for the Browns defense this season.
Do you think the Browns offense can be their defense like it was for the Colts?