What's In a Name?

All great defenses require a nickname. Since the Browns defense will be one of the best ever - right? - Cornflakes takes on the task in this week's column. At this point, we must point out that all T-shirt and bumper sticker printing rights have been secured and we're paying an artist to come up with a cartoon character that we can put on hats, backpacks, and stuff. You're on notice, NFL marketing weasels! Heh.

Every great defense needs a nickname: The Purple People Eaters, the Doomsday Defense, the Dawgs, the Fearsome Foursome, the Orange Crush, even the hated Steel Curtain. The Browns: The Next Generation defense needs a nickname because it's great. We've been telling each other it's great for 9 months, the players tell us they're great, so it must be great.

In honor of the former owner's son, let's climb into Mr. Peabody's Wayback Machine. In the 1920's, the French were war weary. They had been bled white in a war that was won by static defense in trenches. Human waves were chewed up by technologies perfected in the last half century: the machine gun and high explosives. Everyone knew as dogma that a strong, impenetrable defense was the key to warfare. So they went out and spent the next decade spending most of their national treasure on the ultimate trench. It was hundreds of miles long, replete with an underground railroad to move troops, pillboxes up the yang, and heavily armored turrets. It was to be invincible.

The only problems were money and change. The French ran out of caysh when the Depression hit in the 1930's and left hundreds of miles to the north wide open, and they didn't figure on technology changing. Younger tacticians like Heinz Guderian understood the value of armor, and that static, trench warfare was obsolete. The Frogs had built the ultimate weapon – for the last war, not the current war.

Along came May 1940. The Nazi Punks looked across the border and saw the Maginot Line, as the great set of redoubtable bull works was named. It was massive, expensive and on paper was formidable. The French were secure behind it, and sat waiting for the strike to come, certain to repel it with great loss on the side of the enemy. The Wermarcht had no intention of obliging them. The enemy used misdirection and scouting. They found a primeval, thickly wooded forest where the Frogs great defense ended, and there was no way they expected to be hit there.

The modern German armor simply ran around the immobile and static Maginot Line. In the end, they ended the campaign by hitting the Maginot Line from behind after they lay waste to the ineffective remainder of the Frog's defense, which had been built to simply support the Maginot Line – the centerpiece of the Frog's defense. You could say that first they shifted and ran around it, and then they countered and ran through it. And since the French had shot their wad on the Maginot Line, their meager air force was powerless to stop the pass, err, air attack as well.

Fast forward to 2002.

The Cleveland Browns under both the Clark/Palmer and Davis regimes built the franchise around the front seven, especially the defensive line. In four drafts between the two eras, number one overall and number three overall draft choices were spent on the defensive line, augmented by a very high price free agent – since renegotiated down a bit, and another medium priced free agent revolving door at the other end position. Significant dollars were spent on two outside linebackers, and a not-too-cheap free agent MLB was added. The bulk of the team's non-QB dollars are locked up in this group.

The results have not been pretty since the middle of last season. The offense has taken the scapegoat role up until now, but the day of reckoning came last Sunday. One key injury took place this pre season, and the fans can debate whether certain individual players are more to blame than others, but the results are indisputable. This high priced, mostly veteran group yielded but 3 points fewer than the group that opened Black Sunday, featuring such luminaries as John Thierry, Wali Rainer, Roy Barker, Stalin Colinet and John Jurkovic in that front seven.

The Browns 2002 unit has achieved a top five defensive rating – in their minds. They simply forgot to do so on the field. It is hard to fathom that the raw talent is lacking due to the resources allocated, and the Browns defense, built as a 4-3 where the front line gets up field and the linebackers fill, is perfectly suited to countering NFL offenses. Did I mention those NFL offenses played in 1994?

More and more NFL defenses are incorporating multiple fronts, rotating from 4-3's to 3-4's in the same game and moving players all over the field with little regard for designated position before and after the snap. Thousands of years ago Sun Tzu penned, "All warfare is based on deception". The Browns send their front four up the field no matter the down and distance, and the linebackers rarely blitzed Sunday against the Chefs, let alone the D-backs. Meanwhile, the rest of the NFL is disguising every look, shifting on defense, and following the lead of the new genius tactician – gasp – Bill Belichick. The trend is most definitely swinging back to the 3-4 with defensive linemen being phased out as the centerpieces of great defenses, replaced as the impact players by fast, huge, versatile linebackers who can pass rush, cover, and fill multiple positions. The only Browns player in this mold is out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon, and is rumored to be run out of town ala Bernie Kosar simply for his politically incorrect comments that irritate the "everything's coming up roses" tag line.

I can't necessarily take credit for the new nickname. Some guy who mixes screwdrivers from $ 4.00 fifth of vodka brand named after a Rookie peninsula cooked it up in his genius moment of inspiration. But I sure as hell can make the T-shirts before anyone else.

Ladies and germs, I stand ready to give you the nickname of the Browns' D, in particular our vaunted front seven, presently featuring no fewer than four number one draft choices, the third highest paid player in the NFL this season, four free agents signed to fairly decent jack, tied up in a bow with a number one pick overall: The Maginot Line.

We'll find out over the next few weeks if they deserve the moniker. I'm not sure Gus counts.


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