Craig and I discussed the potential problems with Cleveland switching from a 3-4 base defense t0 a 4-3 in our most recent Cleveland.com podcast. Additionally, Terry Pluto listed several difficulties in his Sunday column.
The biggest issue with making the switch is obviously the personnel. The Browns don’t have anything on the roster that resembles a 4-3 defensive end. Will they try to convert linebackers such as Matt Roth to play the end position? Roth may be able to provide a little depth at the position, but he shouldn’t be counted on to start and play the majority of snaps there. That also is assuming that he wants to play with the Browns next year, as he is one of many free agents the Browns will have to try and re-sign when the CBA is agreed on.
If you look at successful 4-3 defenses, they are strong on both ends of the line, and at the middle linebacker spot. Take the Bears for example. The Bears’ defense took a significant step up this year with the addition of Julius Peppers, and the emergence of Israel Idonije. Both defensive ends had 8 sacks on the year. That kind of production from your down linemen means you don’t have to call as many blitzes. They also had Brian Urlacher at middle backer. Even at age 32, Urlacher had 125 tackles and played at a high level. The Bears ranked second in rushing defense by the way, and gave up 3 fewer points per game than the Browns did.
What exactly will the Browns have to find, either through free agency or the draft to make this defense work? Let’s begin with 2 starting defensive ends. I have little confidence in Kenyon Coleman’s ability to be an effective pass rusher at age 32 coming off an injury riddled season. Brian Schaefering and Dereck Robinson are great guys, and gave 100%, but they just aren’t at the talent level to be impact ends.
Inside at the defensive tackle position the Browns could be set. That is if Shaun Rogers plays a whole season, something that hasn’t happened since coming to the Browns. Assume that the Browns will need at least one reserve DT that can learn the game to be paired alongside Rubin for the future.
At linebacker, the Browns have a lot of options, but may not have the right options. Scott Fujita was far and away the Browns best LB last season. He doesn’t seem to be the prototype middle linebacker however. I figure he will lock down the strongside backer job. That would leave Gocong at another backer, most likely the weakside. What about in the middle? Barton? D’Qwell Jackson? Free agent? Like I said, lots of options, but not really lots of answers.
The secondary is a question mark to some degree as well. Ward and Haden are locks. They were fantastic as rookies and should be starters for years with the team. Who lines up with them is another story.
Did Abram Elam play well enough down the stretch to be the other starting safety? What about opposite Haden? Is it time for Sheldon Brown to move to safety? Will Eric Wright be brought back?
All these holes and question marks are basically created because of a shift to the 4-3. Now, the Browns haven’t come out and said they will be making the switch, but given Jauron’s history with it, and Holmgren’s preference for it, it seems like a lock.