When QB Donovan McNabb of the Philadelphia Eagles noted the type of coverage the Browns tend to play, he was respectful yet, at the same time, chomping at the bit to face this unit. McNabb systematically picked apart the Cleveland defense with his accuracy and ability to locate open receivers in the set.
The Browns base defensive scheme is slightly modified for each and every opponent. The primary reason behind the struggles of this Browns defense has been the inability to execute on a consistent basis - as well as injury issues and the overall lack of quality at positions of great importance.
In this base 3-4 set, as with most teams who utilize this particular defensive scheme, the linebackers play a crucial role in stopping the run, rushing the passer and dropping into coverage -- slipping into the passing lanes in most cases tends to be the flavor of choice.
When breaking down the linebackers of the Cleveland Browns in the base and speciality schemes, an alarming and obvious trend follows the depth of these positions of importance. Inefficiency from the outside linebackers in the passing game -- both as pass rushers and defenders in coverage -- is evident. Veteran Willie McGinest -- yes the 36-year-old -- has far better skill and ability than any outside linebacker on the roster.
McGinest, despite his advancing age and experience, has done a reasonable job in dropping into coverage. While being a step short on occasion, McGinest positions himself well between the QB and pass receiver. That's a skill predicated on experience, talent and recognition that provide the veteran an opportunity to make plays -- a facet which has been limited within the scope of this Cleveland defense.
Weak-side outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley possesses great speed and quickness. While Wimbley runs well, but he is limited when engaged by the opposition rushing the passer and struggles to get off blocks against the run. Surprisingly, Wimbley does not display reactionary skills and often appears less than decisive in his decision-making responsibilities as he is far too often chasing a play, as opposed to making the play.
Due to the inability of the defensive line and outside linebackers to produce a pass rush, the Browns' defensive scheme relied on blitz packages to pressure the QB. The blitz packages of the Browns lack imagination and the quality and temperament of player(s) to be successful. Making matters worse, on film the Browns defensive scheme and blitz packages fool nobody; the corner blitz and slow-developing safety blitzes are very slow, and the players show far too early.
In the 3-4, the inside linebackers are relied on to shoot and pick gaps to penetrate and make plays. Whereas the OLB's are responsible to rush, drop and play the run, the ILB's in the Cleveland scheme must make plays at the point of attack against the run and no more than seven yards off the line of scrimmage.
D'Qwell Jackson has performed well in the 2008 season. Jackson has benefited from the improved overall play of the defensive line, which has been minimal to a point. Jackson's speed and quickness are undeniable, but it is his recognition and exceptional reactionary skills which has prevented this Cleveland defense from struggling any worse than it has this past season.
In a nutshell, this Browns defense masked it's true identity well in the opening weeks of the 2008 season. With a pass rush that has been non-existent, a run defense that has been porous and inconsistent, and a defensive backfield that has faced numerous challenges, the defensive as a whole has been a large source of disappointment.
The bottom line with this defense is as follows:
The defensive line does not possess the patience or overall health and talent to be effective in the 3-4. In this scheme, the ends must possess the ability to stand-up and maintain gap integrity; this line consistently gives up the gap and creates zero push outside of NT Shaun Rogers, who has been consistently doubled throughout the season.
Outside of McGinest and Jackson, the linebackers of the Cleveland Browns offer little in the grand scheme. The depth at the positions are one-trick types, which will not lend to a competitive and winning-type unit at this level.
With the opposing QB's having all day to survey the playing field, the DB's within this defensive scheme cannot be expected to cover receivers at the professional level for five seconds or more play-in and play-out. While there is no excuse for the soft coverage the Browns like to field, the opposition simply knows and, as McNabb did, acknowledge the Browns' tendency to play the soft zone and let teams pick away at the defense, all in the hope the offense will make a mistake.
The defense in Cleveland has been a recipe for disaster -- even early in the season when many were singing praises for the way the defense started out; however, the most telling signs came in the games the Browns played early in the season -- after the season opener -- games that were built for the defense to excel based on weather conditions, type of team played and game tempo.
Basically, what you see is what you get with this Cleveland defense. With LB's that cannot rush the QB and do not display the physical qualities to drop into coverage successfully, it's advantage offense.
Which just happens to be the trend every season Romeo Crennel has been associated with the Cleveland Browns.
Adkins: Defensive Simplicity
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