I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed in the results so far this season when it comes to defending the pass. I am starting to feel like a broken record when it comes to this phase of the Browns’ game. I couldn’t believe that fill-in-the-blank player who came in to replace fill-in-the-blank player could possibly be worse. Terry Cousin was a name in the blank along with Hank Poteat. Brandon McDonald eventually found himself on that list for me too. So certainly this year with the additions of proven veteran Sheldon Brown, rookie Joe Haden and the return of Eric Wright, who had been the best of the worst, meant that the Browns would have to improve, right? It doesn’t appear that way as they get gashed time and again on big plays. What’s going on?
Like anything else, it is never as simple as it seems. I don’t have to be labeled an Eric Wright apologist to say that the “Eric Wright SUX!” tweets that I have been reading are far too reductionist. Eric Wright has definitely had a rough year this year. Then again, like most things in life, even those with simple answers, there are some other things going on.
First, there is a reason that the Browns only offered the tender to Abram Elam. There is a reason that the Browns went out and drafted T.J. Ward and Larry Asante in addition to Joe Haden. T.J. Ward has had some plays that have impressed us all, but as Eric Wright has taken almost all the blame on the big plays thrown in his direction, truth is some of those were Ward’s responsibility too. The Browns lack cohesion and communication in the backfield. That is natural with a rookie at safety. But that’s not all.
In the off-season Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert were very explicit in saying that they were happy with their off-season, but they hadn’t been able to plug all the holes they wanted to plug. We all knew at the time that they were talking about the defensive line where they didn’t really add anyone other than late rounder Clifton Geathers. They were also talking about the linebacking corps which they improved from a depth standpoint with veterans Scott Fujita and Chris Gocong, while bringing back Matt Roth and the rest. This is important though.
The Browns haven’t been able to develop any sacks from the defensive line this season. Kenyon Coleman has one. Yes, I know the linebackers are supposed to get sacks in the 3-4 defense, but not all of them. And those linebackers have accounted for nine sacks. The team’s 10 sacks makes them 22nd in the NFL right now.
This is important because it helps explain some of the lack of success in the defensive secondary. It is easy to just look at Sheldon Brown falling down on occasion and Eric Wright’s struggles and just summarize that they just stink. It might not be the whole truth though. Those guys have struggled, but the Browns haven’t gotten enough pressure on the QB. They have sold out the secondary frequently in an effort to gain more pressure via the blitz.
So, if you are keeping score at home, yes the corners have struggled. In addition to that though, it is important to know that the Browns have blitzed a lot this season, largely unsuccessfully. The Browns upgraded their competence at linebacker, but still lack a true playmaker. Additionally the Browns had to forego trying to improve the defensive line in order to try and shore up some other positions. It is all very fluid. The Browns have a long way to go yet, but things might not be as easily diagnosed as many people would like them to be.
Some things are better. Some things still need to be improved. Despite the struggles of the secondary, including Eric Wright, I don’t think the Browns have taken a step backward this season. Wright might not even be back next year, but right now even with him playing poorly, he is probably taking more blame than he is due.
The only record more broken in Cleveland is the one that preaches constant patience. That is what I have for you though. The personnel is improving. The communication will get better. The Browns better work on that pass rush in the off-season.