July 28, 2014

Browns building dominant defense

Groves_SheardJabaal Sheard missed Sunday’s game with a knee injury. Quentin Groves was also out. Defensive lineman Billy Winn wasn’t able to go. Those are three productive players on the Browns’ front seven.

And the defense didn’t miss a beat.

The Browns are building a defense that other teams have to take notice of. The term ‘front seven’ generally refers to the defensive line and linebackers that that are in the front of the defense and have the primary responsibility of stopping the running game and getting pressure on the quarterback.

For the Browns, the front ‘seven’ includes Paul Kruger, Jabaal Sheard, Quentin Groves, Barkevious Mingo, D’Qwell Jackson, Craig Robertson, Desmond Bryant, Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin, Billy Winn and John Hughes. Yes, that’s eleven players.

The Browns have managed to build not just a very good starting defense, but one with depth. That depth was tested Sunday as Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo played every snap on defense. In fact, eight Browns defenders played every snap including both Jackson and Robertson as well as Joe Haden, Tashuan Gipson, T.J. Ward and Buster Skrine.

No matter which way you look at the numbers, they add up to the Browns being a top 10 defense. The Browns are third in yards given up per game at 291. They are eighth in points per game allowed at 17.5. They are fourth in rush yards allowed per game at 79 yards, and have yet to allow a 100 yard rusher. They are third in passing yards allowed, one of only five teams that gives up less than 300 yards a contest.

The defense is also beginning to feel like they are becoming a special unit.

“I speak for myself as well as the team, I feel like defensively we have a ton of confidence.” said Tashaun Gipson. “At the end of the day, what we do is go out there and put good game tape on film. When we have our front seven playing like this and you have our back four playing the way we did, it’s easy. When you have, in my opinion, the best cornerback in the league shutting down one side of the field, it’s definitely easier. I tip my hat off to the defense. It’s a defensive game, it’s nasty out there, but we got the win.”

Joe Haden had one of the best games of his career, keeping A.J. Green in check. But Haden knows it isn’t just him that opposing teams need to worry about.

“If people out there don’t respect it, we’re just going to keep going out there and do what we do until we get the respect that we deserve.” said Haden. “We feel like we have one of the best defenses in the league and we’re just going to keep fighting and pushing every week to keep proving it.”

Joe Thomas sees them every day in practice, and he thinks this group has something special as well.

“No question. They’ve played outstanding football in the last four games we’ve played.” Thomas added, “Our defense is going to to be tough against anybody. It’s exciting because on offense we know that even if we don’t have a great drive, or we get stopped three and out, we know we’re going to get the ball back right away so we get to be aggressive. We don’t have to worry about playing conservative.”

Holding the Bengals without a touchdown was impressive. They had not scored less than 20 points in a game this season before playing the Browns.

There is more work to be done. There will still be moments when the secondary struggle, but the improvement is not hard to see.

(Photo: Candice Vlcek)

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    The defense has been stellar to say the least. I’m still not sold on the secondary other then #23 however. If I were Gipson I’d keep my mouth shut and just play. Let that do the talking.

  • JHop

    For all the shock the Richardson trade caused, I must admit that Lombardi did one hell of a job with picking Mingo in the first round this year. He (again) looked absolutely dominant and played far above what you’d expect from a rookie.

    He has by far been the best rookie from the 2013 draft class through these first four weeks, with the sole exception being EJ Manuel, who you could argue has had a more drastic effect in Buffalo.

  • Harv 21

    Two things I like:

    -this defense is physical, they are fast and hit hard. Adrian Peterson hit a homer yesterday. Against us, when he tried to bounce out of the clogged middle toward a big gap Mingo tracked him and flattened him from behind before he could plant and scoot. We didn’t have freakish athletes like Mingo and Bryant a few years ago.

    - 90-yard drives by your offense let your defense regroup and lessens the overall minutes on the field. We had two of those drives yesterday. On that last pass breakup by Skrine where he ripped the ball out it looked like he could play another quarter. A far cry from the body language we saw from the defense at the end of the first two games.

  • FearTheElf

    I agree about Haden and we definitely need to add another CB and safety in the offseason. Ward can hit, but I don’t think he’s great in pass coverage.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Well said Rick. I would even put in Kitchen to make a front-12. He’s been very good at playing that NT role when he’s been in the game… is getting a consistent push.

  • ottograham14

    Kiko Alonso for Buffalo is probably the DROY at this point but Mingo should be right up there.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    Good piece. A few more fun stats I just saw:
    2.9 ypc, 1st in NFL.
    5.9 ypa, 2nd in NFL (KC).
    4.2 ypp, 1st in NFL.
    14 sacks, T-3rd in NFL.
    Longest rush allowed: 14 yards, best in NFL. Only team in NFL to not allow a 15-yard carry.
    Longest pass allowed: 37 yards, 3rd in NFL (JAC, TEN). Only those three haven’t allowed a 40+ pass play.
    2 pass TDs allowed, T-1st in NFL.

    Only surprise is that they’ve allowed the third-most rushing TDs in the NFL with 5, though I believe three of those are by QB scrambles?

  • Kildawg

    Ponder had 2. They let Pierce and Peterson run one each in. Drawing a blank on the fifth, probably that back Miami has.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    Yup, it was Daniel Thomas, good call.

  • Kildawg

    Only true missing piece I see is a legitimate #2 CB. I like Skrine as the CB3 and he would really thrive there. More secondary depth in general would also help. Plenty of depth for the front 7 though.

  • Kildawg

    The most disappointing part was letting Ponder burn them with the same play twice in that win in the Metrodome.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    Free safety may be their biggest need. Gipson is OK but not great, but as a backup he’s great depth.

    Skrine actually is holding up well as a CB2, but agreed that he’s really spectacular as a CB3.

  • mgbode

    I agree. Also, see the Pitt defenses over the years and Arizona’s last year. They generally had 1 good CB and a bunch of middling guys they masked through coverage schemes. And, I use their defenses (instead of NYG – similar) because that is the tree from which Horton came.

  • Root4Cleveland

    With forthright and sincere respect, Elf, can we please not talk about the off-season yet? Isn’t there plenty of time for that between late October and April?

    Shamrock is right. Talking after (2) wins is brash. He wouldn’t say that if they were 0-4 for having scored no points and allowed the exact same yardage/points. You are what your record is: 2-2. That’s not “great” but for us fans it is exciting. Looking forward to Thursday.

  • Root4Cleveland

    Fantastic point about the 90-yard drives. Those are under-appreciated and precisely what we’ve been missing the last few yea…eh…decades? If you read into the numbers and watched the games the last two seasons it was pretty obvious the defense was better on the field than on paper. The system/personell has improved too, no doubt, but I think having breathers between series is every bit as important as any two players they drafted or signed this past off-season.

    I’ll also say that Jauron’s D was solid, but Horton’s is definitely an upgrade.

  • Root4Cleveland

    As great as the D is playing I’m scared to say it, but I’d trade a DL for a DB now. Tier 2 player for Tier 2 player straight up. I’m pleased thus far, but still not comfortable with Skrine playing the 2. Every time the opposing QB takes a 5-step drop I cringe, and God forbid any of the starters get hurt. At least its fun to watch, though. Only one major let-down thus far in game one that I remember.

  • markn95

    Ray Horton deserves a lot of credit too. Can’t remember the last time a 4-3 to 3-4 transition (or vice versa) went so smoothly for a team. Credit the previous regime for picking most of the guys in the front 7 (and even Phil Savage for nabbing Rubin and D’Qwell Jackson) but it was the 3-4 and the addition of pass rushers like Kruger and Mingo that really helps.

  • hash

    If some of these guys keep playing every down, they are going to be worn out halfway through the season. Which could ultimately lead to injury.

    They are playing fantastic football, no doubt. But let’s keep a safe rotation going.

  • Gunner

    if you read the article they had to play every down due to injury it will go back to a rotation.

  • Gunner

    i agree with the corner back and with the front seven but i say in the draft try to get a clay mathews or a guy like patrick willis type line backer swell to add more depth at linebacker

  • Gunner

    think we match up really well against buffalo because with a rookie qb they are depending on run to take pressure off of manuel but the good thing about that is that both of their starting running backs are banged up not going to be able to carry a heavy load which is going to force manuel to throw and we are going to be all over him with pressure.

    plus hes hasnt had that terrible performance that a rookie always has at least once expecially at Qb. so the situation is really good for us to win another game.